Outdoor Journal: Bow/muzzleloader tags can be filled Monday
Hunters with a current, unfilled New York state Bow/Muzzleloader license can harvest a deer of either sex in designated Wildlife Management Units throughout the state in both the northern and southern zones beginning Monday.
The late bow and muzzleloading seasons, nine days (through Dec. 17) in the Southern Zone and seven days (through Dec. 15) in the Northern Zone, are the only time, with the exception of the Columbus Day Weekend Youth Hunt, bow and gun (muzzleloaders) hunters share the deer woods.
If these two groups can do it, why not include crossbow hunters, or better yet, let crossbow hunters hunt in any season. Sorry, I had to say that.
Certain WMUs in the Southern Zone have a late bear season. For full details and regulations, refer to the “New York Hunting & Trapping 2013-14 Official Guide to Laws and Regulations” booklet, available online at the Department of
Environmental Conservation website or from any license issuing agent.
What to Expect
The only thing I’m sure about in this late-season hunt is that in most areas, the deer have received a lot of hunting pressure. They’ll be extremely cautious and wary, always on the alert for danger.
This is really when their superior survival senses are at their best. For almost two months, we’ve been in their woods and they know it, but with a little luck and a fresh tracking snow, we still have a chance of catching up with one.
Those who’ve been using trail cameras have probably already seen a change in the deer’s travel patterns, and those photos of the big bucks many have recorded will usually have a “wee hours of the morning” time on it. Though they’re traveling late and most likely their traveling routes and bedding areas have changed, they still have to eat. Find food, and you’ll find deer.
After all the doe chasing and dodging of hunter’s bullets and arrows bucks have been through, they’re a bit worn down and need to regenerate their fat reserves for the winter weather that’s coming. It’s this need for food that will sometimes draw them out into daylight.
I was taught a long time ago: in late season when there’s heavy, deep snow and/or ice on the ground, deer will travel as far as they must to find food. If the only access to uncovered or standing food is a mile or two away, they’ll find it.
Several years ago, when hunting the last few days of the muzzleloader season in Allegany County, two of my hunting club members bagged big bucks, one in the morning and one at noon, in a field of dried-up standing corn that had never been cut.
I sat in that field during the regular season and never saw a thing, but when the snow and ice covered up their primary feed source in the adjoining posted property, we watched and waited for the deer to come to us.
On the last day of the season, I walked along the edge of that field around noon, sat down behind a brush pile to break up some of the biting wind in my face, and after I finished putting a 209 primer on my muzzleloader, I looked up and there was a six-pointer about 200 yards from me.
He came quite a ways from that adjoining property, but he never got to go back, because my 50-caliber bullet found his shoulder at about 50 yards. Find the food, find the deer.
The big bucks, especially this time of the year, will be bedding in the thickest cover, and if you want them, you have to go in and roust them out. The only drawback is that more than likely, you’ll only get a running shot, or have too much cover between you and the deer to shoot. But it’s definitely fun and worth a try.
Thick cover doesn’t necessarily have to be a large area. Years ago, I got a late Buck Tale from a young hunter who was riding his ATV across a grassy field in Saratoga County during late muzzleloading season, on his way to lunch, and when he drove by a 15x15-foot heavy bush and small pine tree island in the middle of a field, he thought he saw eyes.
Hide and Seek
He parked the ATV, grabbed his muzzleloader and slowly sneaked-and-peeked his way back to the island. He was about 25 yards away when he saw only the nose of the deer and its tongue licking it. When he saw the antlers above that nose, he shot a big eight-pointer.
There’s one thing deer, buck or doe can’t do — hide their tracks. So when there’s snow on the ground, it’s time to find their feeding areas and backtrack to their bedrooms. If you find their bedding area, it’s best to find a spot to set up/hide nearby.
Bucks usually leave the feeding area and head for the bedding area before first light, so you’ll have to get set up early and wait it out.
I’ve found the best thing for hiding is a chair blind, and have been using those made by Ameristep for squirrels, hunts with a young hunter, turkeys and deer. It sets up and takes down in less than a minute, weighs just 11.5 pounds and with the backpack carrying case, transports very easily. It’s quite comfortable, breaks the wind and allows undected movement.
One of the best times to grab that bow or muzzleloader is when the barometer starts to drop and heavy snow/ice is threatening. Deer feel it, and will usually feed earlier. This is the time to set up that blind and spend the day. They’ll come.
I tested this theory several years ago in Saratoga Springs during the late muzzleloader season. The night before, a heavy snowfall was predicted, starting sometime in late afternoon. Next morning, well before sunup, I was sitting in my chair blind on the edge of a crop field awaiting their arrival. As it started to get light, I was surprised to see they were already there, and I was back home with my four-pointer by 10 a.m.
I saved my favorite late-season muzzleloading season tactic for last. It’s one my muzzleloading gang uses when the December winds blow through our southern tier hunting ground on a large tree farm.
When those bitter cold winds of 30-plus miles per hour are howling, you won’t find deer out in a field. They’ll be lying down on the windless side of a hill, or in our case, somewhere in rows of pines all over the farm. Deer drives are exciting, but require some stringent safety rules.
Here are our “Driver Ed” rules. First and foremost, both drivers and watchers must wear orange jackets/vests and hats. We gear our drives to the number of hunters we have, usually six to eight drivers. Watchers are set up with the wind in their face. Drivers move through the woods very slowly and bark only occasionally to let others know their locations. And most importantly, no shots are taken into the drives.
I have a good friend who’s quite successful in the late muzzleloading season. He does nothing but sit from dawn to dusk in the nastiest swamp he can find.
He lives in the southwestern part of the state, and each year sends me photos of his muzzleloader bucks. He knows the hunting pressures of the regular season will have made the big bucks very cautious and forced them into hiding, and what better place to hide than a swamp?
His game plan is quite simple: He finds a deer trail and or tracks and finds a good place overlooking the tracks to hide. If there’s a tree he can put his climber on, he does; if not, he sits on the ground. Obviously, doing this requires plenty of warm clothing, insulated waders and a lot of patience.
But one thing you must remember whenever muzzleloader hunting for Mr. Big — you only have one shot.
You still have to fool those three superior senses — eyes, nose and ears — if you want to close the deal. Use your scent cover-ups, attractants and calls, and sit quietly and still. You’ll probably be doing
it in below freezing, wind-biting conditions, so dress very warmly.
Good luck with that one shot!