Now that the annual big-game hunting season has finally come to an end, decisions must be made regarding opportunities for the next outdoor adventure.
There appears to be no shortage of ruffed grouse this year. In the three months, in terrain ranging from cedar swamps to mountaintop spruce, I have them regularly.
The Adirondack region leads the state in opportunities for grouse, with an average of one flush per hour afield, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Possibly the most exciting grouse hunting opportunities come on those very cold, crisp mornings when a deep carpet of fresh snow covers the forest floor. In such conditions, grouse burrow into the snow for warmth where small wisps of "smoke" provide indication of their presence.
The "smoke" is actually the result of the bird's own body heat escaping into the cold air from a small hole at the top of their burrow. In such conditions, a flush becomes a heart-pounding explosion of snow and beating wings.
Hunters are encouraged to participate in the DEC's statewide grouse monitoring program. The season goes until February.
For more information visit www.dec.ny/gov and search for "grouse hunter log" or call 518-402-8883.
Pheasants under a
The state Conservation Fund Advisory Board (CFAB) has released information that the State Office of Budget management has recommended the closure of the Reynolds Game Farm to address state budget shortfalls.
The Reynolds Game Farm, located near Ithaca, has been in operation since 1927. Since 1999, it has been the sole facility supporting the statewide pheasant program. It is the last surviving game farm remaining out of seven such state facilities.
The farm provides roughly 25,000 adult birds for fall stocking, 15,000 pheasants for the young pheasant release program and about 60,000 day-old chicks. Another 600 adult birds are provided for field trails and 1,600 for youth and women-only hunts. The chicks are provided to 4-H, sportsman's clubs and the Department of Corrections to be raised. Locally, Camp Gabriels receives about 1,200 chicks for stocking by the Franklin County Federation.
Stocked pheasants have long provided an initiation to upland game hunting for many hunters. They are key to youth hunts, as the birds are big and often travel in a straight-away flight pattern which makes for easy gunning.
There are few shooting sporting opportunities as enjoyable and exiting as hunting pheasants over a good working dog. The birds also provide a great meal. In the Northern Zone, pheasant hunting season ends on Dec. 31.
According to one CFAB member, the DEC expects to reassign staff members who will retain their benefits. As a result, the closure will likely save the state only about $350,000.
Staff have been directed to close the Reynolds Game Farm and dispose of the birds as quickly as possible.
However, the farm currently has a population of 9,350 adult birds on hand for use as a brood stock for next year's chicks.
Due to the lateness of the season and the fact that the adult birds have already had their wings clipped to prevent them from flying the coop, they cannot be released. Nor would a released bird serve any sporting purposes as they can't fly even if flushed.
"We're going to be losing programs like crazy in the coming budget," a board member explained, "Without an increase in license fees, there will be no way to stop the bleeding."
At their last meeting, the CFA Board formally discussed a motion to propose a license fee increase. As budget cuts become more apparent, I expect to see the effort to increase license fee move forward.
Fly Away Home
After such disconcerting news, a feel good story from the outdoor wire may ease the sting. You may have seen footage on the evening news, or watched the movie, Fly Away Home. But the story doesn't end there.
On Dec. 5, 14 whooping crane chicks reached Hardin County, Tenn. on a guided migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka, and St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's Gulf Coast.
These majestic birds, the tallest in North America, left the Wisconsin refuge on Oct. 17, following four ultralight aircraft. The 117-mile flight leg took them from Marshall County, Ky., to Hardin County, Tenn., in two hours and 20 minutes.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private groups, is conducting the project, which is now in its eighth year, in an effort to reintroduce this endangered species to eastern North America.
There are now 68 migratory whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America, including the first whooping crane chick to hatch in the wild in Wisconsin in more than a century.
Each fall, pilots from Operation Migration lead a new generation of whooping cranes behind ultralight aircraft to wintering grounds in Florida. The cranes make the return flight on their own in the spring.
Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight reintroductions are raised under a strict isolation protocol. To ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask their human form.
The Whooping Crane recovery team has established a target number for this reintroduction. Once there are at least 125 individuals, including 25 breeding pairs, migrating in this eastern corridor the population could be considered self sustaining. The project is already well past the halfway mark.
Named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 500 birds in existence, 350 of them in the wild. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.
For more info, visit the WCEP web site at www.bringbackthecranes.org