Big-game hunting season is a time like no other

While traveling from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake earlier this week, I happened upon a most welcome sign. In fact, I discovered several signs that offered historic reminders of the popularity that Adirondack big-game hunters enjoyed from the 1930s through the 1970s.

I actually recall visiting the area as a kid back in the 1960s to see the tent platforms, travel trailers and fabricated canvas shelters that once spanned a long stretch of the highway from the outskirts of the village of Saranac Lake all the way to Coreys, and beyond to Tupper Lake.

Similar seasonal villages of temporary hunting camps could also be found along many other backroads. On the opening day of deer season, the local diners would be packed with hunters dressed in wool plaid outfits. In the evening, they would return to town to visit the local taverns and share tales of the hunt. It is an old North Woods tradition that has nearly vanished over the years.

However, a recent visit to Tupper left me pleasantly surprised as I discovered more than a half dozen tent camps, trailers and similar makeshift hunting camps that have been been established along state Route 30 and the Coreys Road.

Although the current population of Adirondack whitetails can’t be compared with the herds of the 1940s and 50s, there’s still a lot of wild land available to the public, and there are far less hunters taking advantage of the opportunity.

The big-game hunting season also provides hunters/campers with the opportunity to maintain a semi-permanent woodland residence for well beyond the usual two-week stay. Hunting camp permits allow campers to establish a base camp from early September through the end of the hunting season in mid-December. It also offers sportsmen and women a unique opportunity to enjoy nearly four months of wilderness living.

With the growing interest in hunting comes a shared responsibility to hunt responsibly and with courtesy. It is important to be aware of, and considerate to, all travelers in the woods, whether they happen to be hunters or not.

If you do happen to cross paths with other travelers, it only takes a moment to explain your planned hiking route or the areas you will be traveling through. It is a simple measure that will serve to erase the collective bad rap that continues to paint all hunters with the same brush.

Hunters have been portrayed as loud, foul, uncouth savages who continue to ruthlessly chase Bambi and his similarly helpless cartoon companions for years. Unfortunately, the cartoons of our youth have had a long-lasting effect on many.

Current-day hunters encompass a wide spectrum of enthusiasts that include school teachers, salesmen, doctors, accountants and tradesmen of all sorts. Female hunters are considered the fastest-growing demographic group to take up the hunt.

Hunters are willing to pay for their play, and they have been responsible for providing both the funding and the necessary game management tools that have historically allowed the state’s population of whitetail deer to exist and prosper. The current generation of wild whitetail deer in New York, has a direct lineage to a herd of fewer than 300 animals that were trapped in the Adirondacks to be transported to the Catskills around the turn of the 20th century.

The breeding stock of whitetails were raised in captivity on the Frost Valley estate and a variety of other locations across the Southern Tier. The Catskill herds continued to suffer from over-harvesting and harsh winters well into the 1920s, and could only be restored through progressive stocking.

Eventually the breeding stock was able to restore a wild breeding population of whitetails that were eventually restocked all across the state. It has been estimated that the breeding program was able to complete a 1,000-fold increase in the state’s whitetail population is less than a century.

It is interesting to note that many of the brood stock bucks in the program were spirited out of Paul Smiths on an electric rail line that connected to the Adirondack Railroad in Lake Clear Junction. For many years, the Paul Smiths region has been renowned as a haven for big bucks. 

Useful hunting tips

Dress for success

Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that allow freedom of movement. Shed them before you break a sweat, and put them back on before you get cold.

Regulate your body temperature by venting or removing your hat, since most heat loss occurs from the head and the back of the neck. A warm hunter is an alert hunter.

Wash hunting clothes, including socks, undergarments, hats, etc., in warm water with a scentless soap and dry on the branches of trees. Once thoroughly dry, store the clothes in a covered bin with balsam, spruce or pine branches, and/or oak/maple leaves depending upon the woodlands you intend to hunt. Keep clothes outside in the open air, especially when you’re in camp.

The most reliable method to put venison on the table is to spend your waking hours in the woods. Unfortunately, time is a difficult commodity to procure, especially as the weather grows colder and the length of daylight hours continues to dwindle.

The local woods have already begun to shed their leafy canopies, and all it will take to thoroughly open up the woods will be a few frosts and some heavy winds.

It is difficult to hunt when there’s only a limited snow cover. In such conditions, deer easily blend into the brown background and they leave no tracks.

Hunt the wind

While still-hunting, most hunters don’t move slowly enough or stay put long enough.

Use your watch as a guide. Decide on a period of time to stand still, such as 10 or 15 minutes. This way you’ll be forced to remain quiet and silent for a minimum amount of time, or longer if necessary.

Keep your eyes moving and the rest of your body still. While on watch, keep your back to a tree, rock or similar object that will break up your silhouette.

Always stop at the sound of a noise. A snapped twig is quickly forgotten by a hunter, but it is long remembered by a deer. If you do make an unexpected noise, stop and remain still for as long as you can, especially if you suspect a deer might be near. Stare in the direction of the noise and scan it completely with only your eyes. If it doesn’t see or smell you, it might go back to feeding or whatever else it was doing before it was disturbed.

Get in the habit of scanning the woods for parts and pieces of a deer. You’ll rarely see the entire deer, so it’s important to learn to recognize a wet nose, a black hoof or the glint of an eyeball.

Scan the terrain regularly with each step, using your eyes not your head, and always try to keep the wind in your face. Listen to the woods and be alert to distress calls from squirrels and birds such as blue jays, raven and chickadees. They are often the first to sound the alarm on intruders, whether two-legged or four.

Consult the experts

If you have an opportunity to spend time with veteran hunters, take advantage of it. They are often very easy to find and usually willing to talk.

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of visiting local retirement homes in order to speak with retired anglers and hunters. I honestly don’t who has the most fun. But I do know they often have an impressive collective knowledge of where both fish and game have historically been found, and they know how, when and where to take them.

There are very few opportunities in the outdoor sporting spectrum that offer the thrill of hunting or fishing on the the favored terrain of veteran woods travelers, outdoorsmen and women. It is an experience that provides us with a historic link to the past and to the fabled men and women who we are so fortunate to follow.

If you ever have a chance to hunt their old haunts or cast a fly along their favorite stretch of river, don’t squander the opportunity. Hunting and fishing secrets have always been held close to the vest, and there’s no finer way to pass them on than by sharing a wild bounty of smoked trout and venison loin with old friends. 

Although some may no longer be able to participate in the hunt, they still have the knowledge of where the deer runs are, where the lone springs can be found and where the pitch points are located.  There are very few opportunities that provide the satisfaction of establishing a personal sporting bond with those who once tracked the same terrain we now travel.

Don’t sweat it 

Perspiration can be a hunter’s greatest enemy, especially on cold days. Take every precaution to keep dry, even if it requires stripping off layers of clothes.

If you plan to sit on watch for any length of time in cold weather, be sure to wear a hat and put pocket warmers in your shirt pockets. If you can stay warm, you will be more alert, observant and on your game.

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, Adirondack traveler, hunter, birder, sportsman and president of the United States, “I don’t shoot well, but I shoot often.”

Until next week, keep your cabin warm and the deer nervous.

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