Today is the day that many hunters have been waiting for: the opening of gun deer season in Western New York.
There was an earlier experimental gun season in some sections of Niagara, Erie and Genesee counties and all of Orleans County, in mid September, to help reduce the high deer population in these areas. Then the early archery season started Oct. 1; that came to an end on Friday.
Gun season is in effect until Dec. 12, then a late bow hunting season kicks in from Dec. 13 through Dec. 21 and Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. During the latter period muzzle loaders may also be used. (Better know your dates if you’re a deer hunter!) Shotguns with special slugs, muzzle loaders, crossbows and regular bows can all be used. Rifles can now be used in most of the state except in Niagara, Erie and Onondaga counties.
The deer population is very high in western New York and so deer hunting has become a very important deer management tool. Trouble is, deer is very smart animals and very quickly wise up to the fact they are being hunted. The deer has a terrific sense of smell and can detect humans from quite a distance, even after the hunter has left the area. Its eyes are great at detecting movement and its instincts inform when it’s being hunted. Deer blend into the environment very well and they know that if they remain still and hidden. hunters will often overlook them. When a deer does have to escape, it does so extremely quickly.
The greatest kill rate is usually the first day of the gun season. After that the deer’s survival skills kick in and it is much harder for hunters to find them. Older deer remember what happened the year before when there was a sudden influx of humans in the woods and they pass that on to the younger generation.
During the bow season, one buck or doe can be taken. During gun season, only a buck can be taken unless the hunter has obtained a doe permit. These permits are good only in the areas they were designated for.
Venison is a very good and healthy meat, and many people hunt deer for this reason. Others like the challenge of the hunt; many today are seeking that big trophy buck.
I used to be a very serious deer hunter, keeping a deer camp on 62 acres of woodland in Allegany County. I managed the land for deer and it was a big part of my life after I slacked off on waterfowl hunting. The past four years I have not hunted at all, mainly because of health issues, so I “get” my deer with the camera instead. (It’s easier to get out of the woods but it’s not good eating!)
Years ago, the preferred method for hunting involved groups of hunters getting together and putting on drives to “push” deer into view. That isn’t seen much today, as most hunters now take stationary stands and wait for the deer to come to them. Tree stands are very popular now; these elevated “shooting huts” are seen more and more on private lands. Ground blinds from camouflage material, small tents that can be quickly set up, have also come into heavy use in recent years.
Elevated “shooting huts” are nice for older hunters as they provide better protection from the weather, as well as great visibility, and since deer usually get used to seeing them year-round they are not as leery. Hunter movement is concealed and even scent is concealed to a degree. I know some guys who have put a small wood burning stove in their hut.
Tent ground blinds work much like shooting huts but visibility is not as great for the hunter, and the deer don’t get used to seeing them because they are not up year-round.
Tree stands come in different forms. When I started using them they were permanent structures built from lumber between several trees. I used to put a railing around mine and nailed burlap from the railing to the stand floor, which concealed some of my movement, and the stand was up year-round for the deer to get used to.
Later, portable tree stands became the rage and of course I latched on to that quickly, since they can be moved around as the deer movement changes. Access was either with screw-in steps or some form of ladder. There is even a stand that you can actually climb the tree with. Then there is the ladder stand, which is basically a ladder with a stand attached to the top that is leaned on and fastened to the tree.
Safety is a big factor when using any kind of elevated stand and there are many very good safety harnesses that can be worn easily and won’t interfere with shooting. A safety harness could save a hunter from a life-threatening fall. Back in the day I used a homemade “sleep belt,” since I had a tendency to doze off while waiting for my buck to come. The belt went around the back of the tree and then me, and it could be snugged tight so I didn’t lean forward or to the size as I snoozed. It was easy to detach with a quick push of a button when a deer approached. (I did often wonder how many deer walked by me as I snoozed!)
So, the shooting you hear today will probably be deer hunters. Good luck to all of them.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or firstname.lastname@example.org .