October is the sportsman/woman’s month and the beginning of many hunting seasons. Right now, we have 15 hunting opportunities here in New York state from which to choose.
The following is an explanation of each of these seasons, but before heading out to enjoy any or all of these, be sure to read the detailed rules, regulations and other hunting season opening dates in “New York Hunting & Trapping 2011-12 Official Guide to Laws & Regulations.” And be sure to have your new licenses.
In the big-game category, you can hunt black bear with a gun or bow in designated Northern Zone Wildlife Management Units (WMU). The two WMUs with the highest early-season bear takes were 5H (89) and 6C (35). Bowhunters can also launch their arrows for whitetails in designated Northern Zone WMUs now until Oct. 22 and in WMU 1C, Suffolk County, until Dec. 31.
This is really a great time to be in the Adirondacks. Temperatures are pleasant and postcard-like color changes are always great. Take advantage of it before the beautiful colors turn white with snow.
For those who enjoy all outdoor hunting opportunities, there are a multitude of small-game hunting seasons already open. My favorite — probably where I’ll be while you read this — is the fall turkey season, open right now in our area. It’s not as popular or as exciting as the spring season, but in my opinion, it’s a greater hunting challenge. In spring, when the turkeys are mating, both the toms and the hens are quite vocal and nothing makes the heart beat faster than a tom gobbling his way into your calls.
In the fall, turkeys are much less vocal and do not often answer a call, and therefore require hunting. Fall turkey hunters have two choices: Pattern the birds’ daily movements and/or sneak-and-peek around the woods and break up a flock. Once a flock has been scattered, set out a hen decoy or two, wait about 20 minutes, then begin to make soft calls. The broken flock will want to get back together and if you’re fully camouflaged and can sit still, you should get a shot. Be sure to check the regulations, because in certain WMUs, you’re only allowed a one-bird harvest.
Another favorite target of 60,000 New York hunters, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, is the coyote. This is also a very exciting hunt, especially if you do it when it’s dark. Coyotes can be hunted day or night, and there’s no bag limit. It’s estimated that there are 20,000-30,000 coyotes in the state. I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than sitting out in the dark and having a coyote respond to your call. You know it’s coming, but not where or when.
Ground cover in the woods is still rather plush, but the keen nose of a beagle will sniff out a rabbit and get it circling until it comes right by you. Cottontail and varying hare (snowshoe) seasons are open, each with a daily bag limit of six. Snowshoe rabbits are beginning their color change now and by winter, should be all white, but without a dog at this time, you’ll have to sneak-and-peak around the woods. If you don’t have dogs, I suggest you wait until we have snow, and then you can do a little tracking.
Another enjoyable hunt now open is squirrels, including gray, the most prevalent; fox, found primarily in the western part of the state; and the rarely seen black squirrel. There’s a population of black squirrels at Houghton College in Houghton, and occasionally they’ve been found in other areas of the state. Several years ago, I saw one in Saratoga County and it took me five days to fool him. By the way, if you see a red squirrel, they’re unprotected and can be hunted at any time and without limit. Squirrels are also my recommended target for young hunters and parents to begin their hunting career. Not a bad way to bond with your kids in the woods.
For a real small-game challenge, there’s not a tougher bird to hunt than the ruffed grouse. Open statewide except on Long Island, this little bird likes to wait until the hunter’s right next to it before busting from its cover. And when it does, your heart will jump. If you don’t drop your gun, you’ll get what’s usually a difficult shot. With the assistance of a good pointing dog, chances improve dramatically.
Either way, getting a daily limit of four is quite an accomplishment.
One of the least talked about small-game hunting opportunities in the state is bobwhite quail, now open only in Orange and Putnam counties. They can be hunted on Long Island, but not until Nov. 1. I’ve never hunted them in New York, but have in Texas, and they’re also quite a challenge.
There are four other birds in the migratory game bird category that can be hunted throughout the state except on Long Island — the American woodcock, snipe, rail, gallinule and crow. All except the crow require registering with the Harvest Information Program (HIP). With the exception of the crows they are usually found in the marshlands. Non-toxic shot is required for all except the Woodcock and crows. The snipe, rail, gallenule all have a daily limit of eight, and woodcock have a three-bird limit. There’s no limit on crows.
Last but not least, pheasant season, open now. Although there are still wild born pheasants in New York, the population isn’t as numerous as it was years ago. But the DEC has a new plan for management with goals and objectives for wild and propagated pheasants, and it’s doing a great job releasing birds for hunting.
I recently had the opportunity to join DEC in the annual pheasant stocking at one of the release areas in Saratoga County. It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. Wildlife specialist Brittany DeLor and wildlife biologist Jed Hayden brought the pheasants to the release site. Environmental conservation officers Mark Kline and Steve Shaw and Kayaderosseras Fish & Game Club members Mickey Elliott and Ed Angell all helped put them out.
All the pheasants released in New York are raised at the Richard E. Reynolds farm in Ithaca. Each year, DEC will stock approximately 30,000 adult pheasants in 90 sites throughout the state. You can find the location of these sites by clicking here
We released a total of 154 2-year-old pheasants, 98 cocks and 56 hens. In that area, hunters can harvest either cocks or hens, and there’s a daily total limit of two. The area was a perfect setting for the birds. It consisted of numerous rows of tall pines with wide hunting paths separating them, waist-high brush and grass and a mixture of hardwoods surrounding the area.
The birds were transported in ventilated, heavy cardboard boxes, each holding seven birds.
Each of us took a box to a different area, set it gently on the ground, and opened one end. I expected the birds to come right out, but they didn’t. None burst out of the boxes. When they finally came out, it was very slowly. When they finally realized they were free, they either flew or ran off.
The pheasant stocking done by DEC is definitely a great program, benefiting the state’s hunters, especially those parents with their young hunters who took advantage of the special youth hunt in many of these areas Sept. 24 -25.
My Saturday opening-day plans to bowhunt in the Northern Zone in the morning and hunt pheasants in the afternoon in the Saratoga Springs area were washed out by the day-long rains. However, about noon Sunday, when the sun came out, I headed for Saratoga’s Daketown State Forest to hunt pheasants. I’d heard that, in spite of the rains opening day, there were at least 40 pheasant hunters’ vehicles there and that the hunters had some good shooting.
When I arrived, I heard bird dogs working and a few shots. Not having a dog, my plan was to walk the end of the main trail where the pines met the hardwoods, then work my way back and forth slowly between each row of pines. Three hours later, having not seen or heard a pheasant, I forced myself to make one more pass.
I was about halfway through the pines when I thought I heard clucking out in front and to the right of me. Slowly, I moved in that direction, and when I reached the end of the row of pines, the pheasant broke into the narrow opening and it was a then-or-never shot. Luckily, I was on target and got my bird. It only took me 3 1⁄2 hours, but it was worth every minute.
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