Hunt… off the track

Albany, N.Y. — Jim Massett is generally regarded in the deer hunting fraternity as one of the best trackers in the Adirondacks.

And the recently concluded 2015 season for the 78-year-old Massett was a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons.

“This was the first season in 65 years that I never saw a deer,” said Massett, who resides in Chittenango (Madison County) but hunts throughout the remote Adirondack wilderness in search of big bucks.

“Not one.”

Massett hunted 131⁄2 days, logging 91 miles, including 11 in one day. He cut the occasional track but never caught up with a buck – or any other whitetail.

“It was just a tough, tough year for us all around,” he said. “For a lot of different reasons, I think.”

Preliminary harvest statistics show Northern Zone deer hunters experienced a frustrating season marked by a general lack of tracking snow and unseasonably warm weather.

DEC officials said the overall deer harvest in the Northern Zone was down by 26 percent from the opening of the weeklong October muzzleloader season through the end of November.

The buck kill was down by 8 percent through the same period, according to reported deer harvests.

“When we include the reported take from the start of the archery season through the last Sunday in November, the number of reported antlerless deer is down 23 percent while the reported buck take is down 9 percent compared to 2014,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said.

Massett understands the areas he hunt are known for sparse deer populations. But he’s built a solid record of success, so much so he offers seminars on big woods hunting during the winter sport show season.

He says the deer population in most areas of the Northern Zone may be even lower than usual on the heels of a rough, prolonged winter of 2014-15.

“Certainly there’s not many deer,” he said. “I really think the winter was tougher on the deer than they (DEC biologists) think it was. And there were other factors. The weather this season wasn’t the greatest. We hunted in snow three different days, but it wasn’t good tracking snow. The rut came early this year, according to (noted whitetail expert) Charlie Alsheimer; I had a wedding to attend that weekend and couldn’t hunt. Coyotes are always in the picture. Everything seemed to work against us. I’m making excuses now, but it was a tough season for sure.”

Another dedicated Adirondack hunter, Gary Bullis of Utica, agreed it was a struggle.

“This was the first year in decades while hunting the Moose River Plains that the lack of snow and warm temperatures produced very little deer sign,” Bullis said. “I believe that caused their pattern to change. I did see a lot of rubs and scrapes, but only on the hilltops. I don’t think there was any severe winter kill; I just think Mother Nature wasn’t on our side this year.”

Heading into the season, DEC biologists predicted winter mortality in some areas of the Northern Zone would lead to a lower deer kill than the 2014 season, with fewer yearling bucks available to hunters.

The Northern Zone deer kill accounts for just a fraction of the statewide tally each year – about 13 percent last year. The 2014-15 Northern Zone deer harvest was 29,075, including 16,727 bucks.

Most of the 2014 kills (12,668) came during the regular firearms season. Muzzleloader hunters accounted for 6,894, bowhunters 1,752, and another 7,751 were taken on Deer Management Program and nuisance deer permits.

DEC will release final harvest statistics early next year.

For Massett, it was a season of frustration perhaps like no other. His lone consolation prize was finding matching shed antlers on a fine 9-point buck.

“But there wasn’t a deer attached,” he laughed.

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