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Big game season over; skiers out; ticked off again

December 12, 2009
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

Following the completion of the annual big game hunting season last Sunday, outdoor enthusiasts have been making a rapid transition from hunting season to the ski season.

It's difficult to escape the irony that the first major winter storm of the season didn't arrive until the hunting season finally ended.

November 2009 was one of the warmest on record, with an average temperature of nearly 50 degrees. On Nov. 9, Massena recorded a 70-degree day. In Watertown, the average was 51.7 degrees for the month, making it the fifth warmest in 60 years, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

After conducting an informal survey of several regional big buck contests, it appears that this year's deer take will be down considerably.

Although more hunters were in the woods this year, the combination of warm weather and a lack of snow cover certainly had an negative impact on hunters' success.

XCers on the trails

Following the snowfall earlier this week, cross-country skiers had already been out on the trails when I spoke to the folks at the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center.

Although staff reported a meager snow base, they were quick to note that skiers were still able to enjoy the limited cover, explaining that "our trail system is completely covered in bark, which allows skiers to get out without ruining their equipment, even with very little snow cover."

Located in a traditional snow belt, the Paul Smiths region usually receives a much heavier dose of snow than the rest of the region.

Just a few miles north of the VIC on Route 30 is the Hayes Brook Horse Trail System. With miles of trails covered by a thick carpet of pine needles, the Hayes Brook trails also provide a safe base for early ski outings.

I'm always astounded by the rapid transformation of the landscape that occurs with a deposit of just a few inches of fresh snow. It hangs on the tree limbs and pine boughs, boulders and bushes and refreshes the scene like a new coat of paint on a run-down old house. The first, fresh snow serves to hide the accumulated scree and debris of previous seasons as it ushers in the holidays and the joys of winter.

Ice and snow are the heart and soul of the region's winter economy. The white cover ensures a flow of greenbacks, and winter sports enthusiasts always celebrate its return.

With just a slim layer of ice on the ponds, skaters and ice fishermen will have to wait for an opportunity enjoy their winter pleasures. So, too, the ice climbers, who will likely require a more substantial ice flow before pursuing their craft.

According to the fine folks at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, "It's only the pros who are out now, and they're working on some very thin ice."

The hunting report

Although the regular big-game hunting season has concluded, there remain numerous opportunities to go afield after small game such as rabbit, ruffed grouse, squirrel and pheasant.

However, the big news this week comes from the state Department of Environmental Conservation with the announcement of Operation Jackhammer, a major deer poaching crackdown that was conducted primarily in the preseason weeks prior to the opening of this year's big-game hunting season.

The enforcement effort, considered the largest coordinated anti-deer-jacking initiative in the state's history, was focused on deer jacking at night by spotlight. Jacklighting, as the practice was once known, has been illegal in the state of New York since the late 1800s.

Obviously, there are a number of hunters who never got the message. The DEC announced that the initiative to crack down on illegal deer hunting, spanning an area from the Hudson Valley north to the Canadian border, resulted in nearly 300 charges against 107 individuals in just six weeks.

In all, DEC officers charged 107 individuals with 187 misdemeanors and 87 violations. In the Adirondack Park and surrounding North Country there were 102 misdemeanors and 37 violations.

Approximately 40 guns were confiscated and 42 illegally taken deer recovered. DEC did not release information on the total number of "Robo-Deer" that were destroyed during the effort.

The Turn in Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) Hotline encourages anyone with information on environmental crimes or violations to call its 24-hour hotline, 1-800-TIPP-DEC (1-800-847-7332).

Worrisome whitetails

North Country hunters were astounded to learn of the beating a Moira resident suffered when he was recently attacked by a whitetail deer while loading firewood in his yard.

According to news reports, Gerald A. Dabiew, 56, of Moira, was covered from head to toe with cuts and bruises following the attack. Mr. Dabiew has since recovered from his injuries.

Mr. Dabiew explained that he fended off the 10-point buck by wrapping his legs around its neck and holding onto its antlers. The buck repeatedly picked him up and slammed him on the ground.

Although whitetail attacks are uncommon, they are not unheard of. As the whitetail rut has occurred across the nation in recent weeks, there have been a number of unusual incidents.

As DEC Region 5 Wildlife Biologist, Ed Reed explained, "This is breeding season for whitetails, and they get pretty aggressive, usually with other bucks. But they have been known to attack people. If it (a buck) sees something moving, he feels like it's somebody encroaching on his territory."

It's a little-known fact that nationwide, more people are attacked and injured annually by deer than by bear. It turns out that Bambi isn't quite so cute as people thought.

According to Outdoor Wire, a deer jumped through a window last week in Lima, Ohio and crashed into a private football party. After hearing the noise of the deer smashing through a patio window, residents called police about suspected intruders.

After police officers arrived, they chased the deer from behind the couch and out the front door.

Things didn't turn out so well in Iowa when a love-struck buck ran out of luck in early November. The seven-point buck was killed when it rammed a 640-pound concrete statue of an elk in the backyard of a rural home in Viroqua.

The buck was likely defending its breeding territory when it attempted to spar with the lifelike statue of an elk in the side yard. Although they were about the same height, the statue weighed nearly three times as much as the 180-pound deer.

"I could tell the buck poked the statue a couple of times by the chipped paint on it," explained Mark Brye, the homeowner, adding that the buck eventually rammed it like a mountain goat. The buck shattered its skull, staggered about 20 feet and fell.

Brye claimed the buck with a tag provided by the Vernon County conservation warden. He laughed at the explanation on the warden's tag note: "Lawn ornament fight - lost."

"The statue is OK, but the antlers broke off when it tipped over," Brye said. "One side of the antlers is in one piece, but the other side is in five pieces."

He is considering removing the antlers from the unlucky buck and gluing them on the elk statue as a remembrance of the strange but true story.

Ticking me off, again!

A few weeks back, I reported on discovering a startling abundance of ticks in the local autumn woods. It had been expected that the North Country would eventually experience a probable increase in ticks and other pests as a result of warming trends accompanying climate change.

In the past, I've found woods ticks, which are rather large, easy-to-spot insects. But this is the first season that I've begun noticing deer ticks, a much smaller version that are considered the major carrier of Lyme disease. Deer ticks, which are transported primarily by deer mice, are about as small as the period at the end of this sentence.

However, it should be noted that all species of ticks in New York state have been found to carry Lyme disease. Although ticks are most prevalent during the spring and fall, they can still be found on warm days, even during the cold-weather months.

Washington County Public Health Director Patricia Hunt told the Glens Falls Post-Star that Lyme disease cases were up about 25 percent in the county this year.

Outdoor travelers are advised to check their clothing and bodies for ticks after outings afield.

If you discover a suspected tick bite, look for a distinctive bull's-eye that typically occurs a few days afterward. If you find such sign; seek medical attention immediately to ward of the potential of contracting Lyme.



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