The annual autumn migration that is responsible for taking young men, old men and increasingly, a large number of women into the deep woods of the Adirondacks is set to begin soon with the launch of the early bear season on Sept. 15. Following soon after this date is the early archery hunting season for whitetail deer, which begins on Sept. 27 for hunters using last season’s bow tags.
This mix of hunting seasons is soon to be followed by the muzzleloading season for whitetails which begins on Oct. 13, a week prior to the regular big game season which opens Oct. 20.
For bird hunters the ruffed grouse season begins on Sept. 20, followed by the pheasant season on Oct. 1, which follows the annual youth pheasant hunt scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 29-30. Crow season also begins on Oct. 1, as well as the woodcock season. Woodcock hunters must register with NYHIP at 1-888-427-5447.
For information on waterfowl seasons, including ducks and geese, please visit the NYSDEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife.
Those seeking smaller game such as squirrels have already been at it since the season began on Sept. 1. The coyote season begins on Oct. 1, about a month before the bobcat season begins on Oct. 25 and prior to weasel, skunk, opossum, fox and raccoon season kicks off on Nov. 1.
Tossed into the annual mix of hunting opportunities is the fall turkey season, which runs from Oct. 1-19.
Adirondack hunting in season
Hunters had been traveling to the Adirondack region for millenniums, prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent. However, due to overhunting and improper game management, the region was once nearly devoid of certain game species at a crucial point in its history.
Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, species such as black bear, beaver, wolf, cougar and even whitetail deer were nearly extirpated from the Adirondacks, as a result of hunting practices that included hounding, jacklighting, bounty hunting, crusting and trapping.
However, by 1902 a new era was unfolding as Americans began to redefine their relationship with the natural world. Fortunately, such unsportsmanlike hunting practices were soon halted due to the efforts of early conservationists such as Theodore Roosevelt, William H. H. Murray, John Bird Burnham, Charles Hallock, Col. William Hornaday, George Bird Grinnell and Harry V. Radford. They worked together to ensure the survival and conservation of many native game species.
In 1904, the NYS Fish and Game Commission prohibited beaver trapping and the molestation or destruction of their dams. However, bounties were still being offered for black bear, wolves and cougar. Even though New York Gov. Odell signed a bill in 1904 to protect black bear across the state, the bill exempted Essex County, which paid out bounties for 52 Black Bears in 1906.
The last buffalo and a lost pygmy
It was while working as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, that Col. William Townsend Hornaday was instructed to collect specimens of American bison for the museum’s collection. Although he eventually collected the required specimens for the Smithsonian; Hornaday was struck by the plight of the buffalo’s near extinction after traveling the west.
He returned to the East and committed himself to saving the massive symbols of The Great Plains of the Wild West, especially in light of the wanton destruction of other species of similarly endless populations such as the Passenger Pigeon, which was declared extinct in 1908.
Eventually, he started a political organization called the American Bison Society of which he was the president, and under his leadership the society began a captive breeding program and created ranges and reserves in the West.
Hornaday began his efforts by penning The Extermination of the American Bison, a book which exposed the wanton destruction of one of the most iconic species in the West. Buffalo were slaughtered in an effort to remove a major source of food, shelter and weapons from the Native People as a part of the strategy of war, which was similar to the 'scorched earth policies' of other conflicts. Buffalo robes were selling for only a dollar, while their bones were used for fertilizer.
In 1913, Hornaday wrote Our Vanishing Wildlife, a book that drew attention to the mindless decimation of wildlife achieved through the use of modern firearms, netting and trapping. Although many of Hornaday’s critics accused him of attempting to end all hunting, that certainly wasn’t his intention. Hornaday loved to hunt, and he had done so all over the globe. His contention as a conservationist was that if limits weren’t put in place, there soon wouldn’t be anything left to hunt.
Although the decade of 1890-1900 was considered the Era of the Great White Hunter, the times were changing rapidly. As one of the leading naturalists of the day and an avowed crusader for wildlife conservation, Col. Hornaday was offered a position as Director of the New York Zoological Park. The opportunity would help him to bring about many pieces of the puzzle. Soon, he was transporting bison by rail to New York, in order to breed the animals in captivity so the offspring could later be restocked on the Plains.
The New York Zoological Park, also known as the Bronx Zoo, eventually became the New York Zoological Society, which was later renamed the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The WCS continues its mission of protecting and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide. The organization also has an office in Saranac Lake, which has been responsible for numerous regional and international conservation efforts.
Although he was held in high esteem for his conservation efforts, Hornaday was later discredited due to a scandalous exhibit that was hosted under his direction at the Bronx Zoological Gardens. The notorious exhibit featured an African pygmy, known as Ota Benga, who was kept inside the monkey house as an example of a ‘primitive man.’
The display, which was hosted during the summer of 1906 raised questions about natural history and human evolution, Christianity and Darwinism, and it was mixed with a generous dose of Barnumism. The pygmy, Ota Benga, had been purchased at a slave market in the Belgian Congo in 1904 by noted African explorer Samuel Verner, for a display at the St. Louis Worlds Fair. He was later presented to Hornaday for an exhibit entitled the “Amazing Dwarf of the Congo Valley.”
After the New York Times featured a story on the exhibit, Hornaday was ridiculed by members of the local African-American clergy who were outraged at the spectacle of a supposed ‘primitive man’ being caged and on display at the Bronz Zoo.
Being treated as a curiosity, mocked, and made fun of by the visitors eventually caused Benga to “hate being mobbed by curious tourists and mean children.” Eventually, following the formal protests and continued threats of legal action, Col. Hornaday removed Ota Benga from display.
Benga was later sent to the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he was put to work as a laborer and 'taught ways of civilization'. Sadly, his story ended with a simple byline in the July 16, 1916, New York Times which read, “Ota Benga, Pygmy tired of America; the strange little African finally ended his life at Lynchburg, Va. Once at the Bronx Zoo; his American sponsor found him shrewd and courageous-wanting to be educated.”
After realizing he would never be able to earn enough money to pay for a return trip to the Congo, Benga had stolen a revolver and committed suicide.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at email@example.com.