A weird deer season
The 2015 deer season has been a weird one for sure. It started with bad news for Lake Plains archers who were limited to the antlerless only during the first 15 days of the Southern Zone bow season. In an attempt to control whitetail populations, the reverse happened – at least from what I’ve gathered in talking with Niagara County hunters. Hunters stayed out of the woods the first two weeks of the season in those 12 affected Wildlife Management Units. Instead, those same archers headed to Southern Tier camps or other areas of the state where taking an antlered buck was legal. We’ll have to look at the deer harvest results when they come out in next year.
When the early archery season started to see some rut activity near the end of October, the worst thing that could have happened did. Unseasonably warm weather flooded into the state and shut down a buck’s natural desire to breed until things cooled off.
This took us to the start of the crossbow season on Nov. 7 during the early archery season. Timing was good for the bucks to start chasing does again and that weekend I personally witnessed some bomber bucks taken – acting stupid and chasing females around, not necessarily in any order. But more warm weather arrived and it slowed the breeding phase down once again. Those deer, and the hunters, were all messed up.
By the time the opening weekend of the Southern Zone regular season arrived, some hunters felt it coincided perfectly with the peak of the rut. According to Tim Young of Trophy Room Taxidermy in Niagara Falls, it’s been one of his best years for trophy bucks. During the first three days of the regular season he tookin eight monster racks that have scored higher than 130 inches or better. His year would have been even more spectacular had the first 15 days of the archery season not impacted his business. Last year he took in 10 mounts during the first 15 days of the early archery season. This year he didn’t take in any.
It seemed like it was feast or famine for the hunting parties I spoke with. For our little group – just me and my brother Rick this year on the hills of Greenwood in Steuben County – we saw deer on the final day of the archery season … but no shots. For the opening two days of the regular season we never saw a tail. We weren’t alone in our quest. The area in general had the least amount of shooting that we’ve heard since I can remember.
Part of the problem could be hunting pressure. We saw fewer hunters in the woods and along the roads. Just with our little group we saw two hunters who took a year off, one pass away and the patriarch, Bill Hilts, Sr., was still recuperating from an illness. We are all getting older and it doesn’t seem like as many of the next generation of hunters are taking the places of the ones we are losing. We need to make more of an effort to turn things around. By the same token, we need to do a better job managing the resource, too. Not seeing any deer at all isn’t going to entice someone to get more involved with the pastime.
Another problem with the area we hunt has been huge clear-cuts that have popped up in some of the state forests. I understand the need for reforestation but I often wonder how much thought really goes into these plans and how much deals with the money end of things. Everyone we talk to say the deer have gone elsewhere. It’s been 10 years for some clear-cuts and the result has been a gnarly brush that seems better at hiding grouse. You can’t hunt it. After 50 years of hunting this state land, it has us talking about expanding our horizons. Hopefully these old dogs can learn some new tricks.
If you are an avid deer hunter and you want to expand your knowledge, check out the blog put together by Craig and Neil Dougherty at northcountrywhitetails.com. Get on their email list and check out their books. Another source of whitetail knowledge is Charlie Alsheimer of Bath – another New York-born and bred deer expert who is a most excellent speaker, writer and photographer. You’ll want to come and hear his wisdom on Jan. 23, 2016 as part of the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls (set for Jan. 22-24 at niagarafishingexpo.com). It will be a day of Charlie, with two different whitetail deer seminars and one wildlife photography workshop all in one day. Make the effort to attend – it will be well-worth the $8 admission ticket, not to mention the other 100 seminars and 120 booths.