Outdoor Journal: Hunter orange not law, but can keep you safer
Bowhunters only have today and tomorrow to fill their deer tags before the special season ends.
Come sunup Saturday, there’ll be thousands of hunter orange-clad hunters anxiously sitting or sneaking and peeking their way through the woods in the state’s Southern Zone.
This opening day seems like it’s been a long time coming, and I’ll be up before the alarm goes off and probably in my tree stand well before the sun comes up.
I know hunter orange isn’t a requirement, but the Department of Environmental Conservation says more than 80 percent of big-game hunters wear it. I had a close encounter with another deer hunter’s bullet early in my deer hunting career, and now enter the Southern Zone deer woods in full hunter orange camouflage.
Because I’m an all-day sitter, especially opening day, I’m called the “Orange Michelin Man” by my camp buddies because of my layers of extra clothing. It definitely works for me, especially when it’s miserably cold and windy.
Under those conditions, most hunters sit for a while, then move. I don’t. I know those hunters will become my drivers. I love those freezing windy and snowy cold mornings. Being an all-day sitter, I’ve shot a number of bucks when other hunters head out for their 9 a.m. coffee and noon lunch breaks.
Most importantly, when you enter the deer woods, wear some orange and be safe. Here’s another good reason why. In the past 10 years, only one person wearing hunter orange was mistaken for game and killed in New York state.
What is going on with bowhunters? Until last Sunday, when I wrote this column, I’ve had only a handful of bow deer kills. That’s not many, considering bowhunters have had 29 days to hunt in the Northern Zone and 46 days in the Southern Zone.
I’m only guessing, but perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve experienced. However, I’ve heard more hunters talking about the rut just beginning. That should make this weekend a good one.
2012 Deer harvest
Here are some of last year’s bow harvest numbers: bowhunters shot 2,033 deer in the Northern Zone, and 1,090 were adult bucks. In the Southern Zone, 33,171 were taken, of which 22,785 were adult bucks. It should be interesting to see how many archery kills there are this year.
Since New York changed the opening of the firearms deer seasons to Saturday, there are more hunters in the woods opening day. This first weekend usually records the highest two-day (weekend) of the season. Last year’s total deer harvest of 242,957 was just a bit higher than the previous year’s 228,359, but the adult buck (1.5 years and older) was almost 9,000 higher (118,993 compared to 110,002). As for the 605,105 Deer Management Permits given out last year, they resulted in 94,367 harvests.
Where are all the bucks? Based on last year’s statistics, most are still in the Wildlife Management Units in western New York. The highest harvest was in Steuben County: 5,562 bucks, 11,524 total.
Allegany County (WMU 9Y) had one of the highest deer harvests last year with 4,392 bucks and a total of 8,032. This is where I will be this weekend, at the Good Guys hunting cabin.
The only new regulation this year is that rifle hunting in Ontario and Wayne counties is now allowed for big game.
Hunting vs. shooting
Last week, in the Opinion section of The Daily Gazette, I was questioned on my definition of hunting. It was in response to my column about my experiences deer hunting in Texas at the Bucks & Birds Ranch.
The gentleman who wrote it said that what I wrote about this hunt Texas was not hunting, it was shooting. Normally, I receive criticism and name calling from anti-hunting individuals. Ironically, he was not criticizing deer hunting. In fact, he was actually a bowhunter who believes that the way they “hunt” deer in Texas is not hunting, it’s shooting. Tell that to a Texan! Actually, he said it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
His interpretation of fair pursuit of deer in the wild is not sitting in a comfortable Texas tree blind overlooking a feeder. As a bowhunter for almost five decades, I’ve spent my time in many a comfortable padded seat tree stand 15-18 feet above the ground next to crop fields, food plots or a grove of nut trees regularly frequented by deer.
Let’s be honest. With today’s modern trail cameras that can tell us where and when the deer are moving to and from their bedding and feeding areas, we can confidently place our tree stands or ground blinds. But I believe it was the feeders that upset this gentleman, so let’s take a look at why they have them in southwest Texas.
On my very first visit to this Southwest ranch, I wondered about hunting over feeders. So the first afternoon, after seeing at least a dozen deer on my morning’s watch — two of which were six-pointers, one a good eight-pointer — I decided to try to do a little peek deer hunting like I do in New York.
Jack, the ranch manager, smiled and told me it wasn’t like the Allegany deer woods, and that I should expect to be bitten, stung and/or stuck in all of the nine pastures that made up this 25,000-acre ranch. He was painfully right, and three hours later, I returned to the ranch.
The trees, bushes and other plant-life vegetation in that part of Texas are absolutely brutal. It’s so thick in some places, there’s no way possible to get through it, much less sneak within range of a buck. I spotted a number of deer hundreds of yards away, and after attempting to stalk two big bucks painfully unsuccessfully, I’d had enough.
Everything out there can prick and stick you. The ground cactus alone not only sticks, but can hide in clothing and stick later in the day, or sometimes the next day. When I returned to the ranch, a smiling Jack handed me a bottle of water and tweezers. That was my one, and only, deer stalk at Bucks & Birds.
Reason number two — the ranch has a very large deer population that has to be controlled, and there’s no way it can be done on foot or sitting under a tree. About the only time you can find a deer track is when it rains, and it doesn’t often.
I’m very impressed with their deer management. The reason I’m able to shoot an eight-point or better buck there is because Texas Bucks & Birds has requirements on what hunters can shoot. At this ranch, the deer you shoot must have at least eight points, and they must extend out beyond the ears.
In New York, we have only 10 or 11 WMUs with antler restrictions, but not as stringent as those in Texas. There are voluntary antler regulations with various Quality Deer Management Associations, and after attending a presentation and tour with the Upper Hudson Valley QDMA chapter, I was very impressed with their dedication and what they are doing.
There was one statement in the letter to the editor I have to address, the writer’s doubting I get much enjoyment recalling the taking of one of these deer — WRONG.
I thoroughly enjoy every minute of those “hunts” and any hunt I’ve ever been on anywhere, successful or not. I consider hunting with or without shooting, a privilege and how and where I do it, as long as it’s legal and I’m doing it in a safe and responsible manner, to me, is hunting.
Thank you, sir, for your continued reading of my column, good luck with your deer hunting this year, and should you get a deer, I’d be glad to add it to one of my Buck Tales columns. And you are welcome to join Steve Brzozowski and me on our Texas hunt this year.
Good luck to all deer hunters this weekend. Send me your Buck Tales at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name, city of residence, where you hunted, number of points for bucks and weight; for does, the estimated weight, what you shot it with, distance, tree stand, drive or still-hunting and anything else you think would add to the tale. You can send photos. I’d like to see them, but none will be published.