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Deer hold early advantage over big game hunters

November 3, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Fortunately, the Adirondack region was largely spared the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, which had been described as a superstorm. Despite the lack of any significant impact in the Adirondacks, it is important to note that the storm was the second major extreme weather event to roll through the region in just the past two years.

Although the storm eventually delivered high winds that toppled a few trees, it did not produce any major flooding, and evidently there were no new slides created on the local mountains.

However, as the storm approached, the state Department of Environmental Conservation took the extraordinary measure of "advising all backcountry users to be out of the woods by dark on Sunday, Oct. 28. Hunters and hikers should stay out of the backcountry until the storm has passed."

A similar order that "closed the woods and trails" was issued in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. While the most recent announcement was met with a few rumbles and grumbles from disgruntled hunters and hikers, it was simply a common sense precaution to warn outdoor travelers of the potential dangers of being stuck in the woods during the storm.

It is far easier and much safer for travelers to depart the woods along open trails than to struggle through the blowdown of a severe windstorm. Experienced hunters understand that with the potential for high winds and heavy rains, the deer would likely have bedded down to ride out the storm anyway.

To date, the annual big game hunting season has largely favored the deer. They have a distinct advantage, especially when there is no snow on the ground and the leaves remain on the trees. When such conditions combine with a failed mast crop, it makes it all the more difficult to find sign and pattern the deer.

As one old-time hunter explained to me, "We just aren't seeing 'em in any of the usual places. They're not hitting the beechnuts, 'cuz there just aren't any nuts this year. But mostly, it's been too damn hot to hunt, and the deer just don't move in such weather."

The observation was spot on. In fact, a member of my own hunting party recently remarked, "It's hard to believe it's the second weekend in camp, and we never even had to light a fire in the woodstove."

Last weekend, visibility was rather limited in the woods, especially in lower elevations where beech whips still retain most of their leaves and the deer easily blend into the landscape. In the upper elevations, there still hasn't been any appreciable snow cover to date. And judging by the forecasts, there isn't any snow on the near horizon.

However, I do expect the visibility has improved significantly following the recent winds and stormy weather, which surely knocked down a lot of leaves.

In addition to the warm weather, a lack of snow cover and the failed mast crop, the most common problem in local hunting camps appears to be an overabundance of mice. Whether they are white-footed mice, deer mice or just damn mice, it appears the mouse invasion has become a problem all across the region. And, as many local homeowners will vouch, mouse problems are not limited strictly to hunting camps.


The rut

Although it may seem a bit early, there has already been ample evidence that the annual whitetail breeding period is soon to begin. October's full moon, which occurred on Monday, Oct. 29, is considered to be the annual "rutting moon," which many hunters believe is responsible for triggering the breeding period for whitetail deer.

Hunters have been reporting the establishment of scrape lines, and most claim they've been seeing plenty of rubs. However, many veteran hunters believe the increasingly warmer autumn weather continues to delay the advent of the event.

Whatever the case, it is now the high season for whitetails, and over the next few weeks bucks will become increasingly single-minded while looking for love in all the wrong places.

Find an active scrape and be prepared to spend a lot of time in one place. It is the time for hunters to get out early, and sit tight. Patience is likely responsible for putting more venison in the freezer than any other single component of the hunt. Dress warm, pack plenty of food and fluids and get comfortable. If you're willing to wait the deer will eventually come your way.


Keep an eye out

Recently, the state police and the DEC issued a press release asking hunters and other off-trail travelers to be on the lookout for any signs of Colin Gillis.

Hunters, as a user group, tend to spend more of their time traveling away from the marked trails and deeper into the woods than most other woodland travelers. In addition, hunters are likely to be more observant as they scour the woods for sign of deer.

According to the joint press release, Colin Gillis, 18, of Tupper Lake, was last seen on March 10, walking on state Route 3 between the communities of Tupper Lake and Piercefield. He is 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds.

Gillis was last seen wearing a white American Eagle v-neck shirt with black stripes and short sleeves, blue Levi boot cut jeans and red Nike Air high top sneakers. He may also have been wearing a reversible black or red L.L. Bean coat and carrying and orange and black day pack.

Not to be forgotten are the similar search efforts that were instituted when Wesley Wamsganz of Saranac Lake disappeared while hiking in the High Peaks Wilderness Area in late November of 2010. Other than a few pieces of clothing left behind on the marked trail, there has been no sign of Mr. Wamsganz since he was last observed on the trail near Marcy Dam in November of 2010.



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