The Regular Big Game Hunting Season has finally begun across the Adirondacks, and as sportsmen and women return to the woods, it is important to note the role that hunters hold in the region’s vast outdoor heritage.
For many, the thrill of the hunt defines their Adirondack experience. But, the success of their hunt isn’t always measured by the size of a rack or the quantity of deer harvested. Rather, a hunt is gauged by the quality of the experience, and it often entails traveling off trails where few other hunters are likely to be encountered.
It is a process that permits them to go beyond their ordinary everyday existence, and return to a quieter, deeper, and older world. It is a world of excitement and tradition, where the freedom to roam is unhindered and the tie to our ancestors is evident.
Deer hunting typically requires equal portions of pre-season prep and in-season sweat. It is a pursuit defined by numerous close calls, a high degree of patience, and occasional second-guessing.
Most Adirondack hunters have experienced the unencumbered frustration of catching just a fleeting glimpse of the ghost of the woods. It is not uncommon to see more tails than racks, in the ‘dacks.
The process of the hunt offers plenty of time for exploration, and provides equal shares of challenge, hard work, stealth, boredom, and nature study. On occasion, the hunt also provides exhilaration for about one out of every seven hunters.
Whitetail deer are quite possibly the most-hunted animals on earth. They have been pursued across North America for as long as there have been records, and likely longer.
Deer hunting it he Adirondacks region reached its zenith in the 1950’s, when the logging industry was at its peak and much of the forestlands were in the early stages of re-growth. Conditions were ideal, with plenty of browse for the deer in the cut over forests, and the woods were more open. Proportionally, there were also a lot more hunters in the woods at the time, than there are today.
Currently, NYSDEC estimates the state’s whitetail population ranges around one million animals. During the 2010 season, hunters harvested 230,100, an increase of 3.3 percent over the previous season.
However, the Adirondack region accounted for only a small fraction of this total. Statewide, the success rate for deer hunters filling their buck tag is estimated at about 15 percent. Anecdotally, the overall annual success rate for hunters in the Adirondacks is less than half that number.
Who hunts, and how they do it
The most recent survey conducted by the NYSDEC provides a snapshot of today’s hunters. Typically, the average whitetail hunter in New York is a rural, white male, of about 50 years of age. Twenty seven percent of NY hunters are over sixty years old and forty two percent are over forty.
On average, these hunters spend about 17 days on the hunt and 94 percent hunted relatively nearby, within their home geographic area. Slightly more than half took to the hunt in the Northern Zone, and 86 percent pursued deer in the Southern Zone.
About 95 percent of all hunters got out during the Regular Season, with about 36 percent also participating in either the archery or muzzleloader season.
Nearly, one third of all hunters spent their time hunting from a stationary stand, and 27 percent spent their hunting time stalking or still-hunting. Only about 3 percent spent their time putting on deer drives.
In the first year that New York state allowed 14 and 15-year-olds to hunt big game for the first time, 15,651 junior hunters took advantage of the opportunity, and harvested about 3,679 deer.
This year, New York has permitted 12 and 13 year-olds to participate in the Bow Hunting Season, when accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. It is expected that the influx of young participants will help to decrease the average age of New York’s hunting population.
Where to start
Almost every hunting season, someone asks me the question “Where can I learn how to hunt?”
Most deer hunters will honestly reply, “I’m still learning how to hunt!” However, I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. I’ve had numerous opportunities to hunt with a number of highly competent hunters over the years. The learning curve never ends.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always an easy opportunity to come by an experienced hunter who is willing to share. Understandably, it is a short season!
The vast majority of successful whitetail hunters are a rather quiet lot. They have worked long and hard to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for success, and they’ve spent a lot of time in the woods. It is understandable, if they aren’t terribly very eager to share it.
However, in most local communities there is a fair share of old timers, who are more than willing to provide some helpful hunting hints. Even the most experienced hands, were inexperienced at one point in time.
Their accumulated knowledge of Adirondack deer hunting could fill volumes; but often, nobody asks. And sadly, the knowledge passes on with them.
These are the folks that can provide information about an untold number of natural deer funnels, where hidden springs can be found, and lost orchards or similar locations were once discovered.
Often, these old hunters are just as interested in sharing their information, as we are to learn about it. The most important element in this learning process is respect and feedback. Stop by the local Nursing Home, or the Senior Center to discover what the real Adirondacks once had to offer. I expect you’ll find a lot more than you bargained for!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org