Deer Hunting: A blue-collar pursuit

Bleak, dark and dreary days are very much in character with November, as daylight hours dwindle and weather turns cold and wet. A fresh snow will make the woods look as new as a house with a fresh coat of paint, covering as it does, the grays and browns of autumn. It will also provide hunters with a most welcome advantage in their pursuit of game. Aldo Leopold, the renowned conservationist once remarked, I have often noticed that a deers taste in scenery and solitude is very much like my own. Leopold isnt alone. Whitetail deer remain the most commonly hunted, big game animal in North America. In the United States, whitetails are pursued predominantly by rural, white males. It is the prey of choice for Joe Sixpack, even though women currently constitute the fastest growing segment of the hunting fraternity. Deer hunting is not simply a recreational pursuit, it is a complex cultural phenomenon which is closely linked to our natural values, hunters identities, and the American family. Hunters generally have a strong relationship with their fathers or father figures, who were responsible for introducing the majority of hunters to the sport. According to the most recent survey, 12.5 million, roughly 5 percent of the US population, hunted and spent a total of $23 billion on their sport in the past year. Yet, in the last decade, the number of hunters has declined by about 10 percent with New England, Pacific and Rocky Mountain states experiencing the greatest decline. Unlike many Adirondack youngsters, I did not grow up in a hunting family. My first experience in deer camp didnt come until the age of 11, while staying at The Niambi Hunting Club near North Creek. I was well into my 20s before I took up the sport seriously. Since that time, I have been fortunate to hunt and learn the nuances of the sport from a number of experienced whitetail hunters. Ive also learned a great deal from a fair share of shoulda, coulda, oughta deer hunting moments. Id like to share a few of these lessons and encourage readers to send in their best advice. There are innumerable lessons to be learned and these basics have just barely scratched the surface. Deer Hunting 101 Select a comfortable, reliable deer rifle and take good care of it. Learn to use it properly, take the time to sight it in regularly and clean it often. It is the best way to hunt safe! Carry a sling but only use it when youre dragging a deer out of the woods. More whitetails have been saved by rifle slings than any other single piece of equipment. When you are on the hunt, the rifle should be in your hands not on your shoulder. Be on the hunt from the moment you enter the woods until the moment you depart. Too often hunters are unprepared for a shot as they exit the woods or are handcuffed when surprised by deer they didnt expect. Dont be in a hurry to get to a vehicle or camp. If you stay with the hunt and concentrate, it will dramatically improve your odds of getting a shot, rather than watching a flag disappear off in the distance. Pick your time. If you need to pick a vacation for deer hunting, choose Nov. 3 - 17. This is the timeframe when does likely come into estrus across the northern two/thirds of the United States. In the big woods, find a real scrape. If you have the patience to sit there, youll have a shot at a buck eventually. It is the only sure way to pattern an Adirondack buck. Travel safe! When walking a trail with other hunters, only the lead man should chamber a round. This comes from Saranac Lakes Arthur Pratt, who explained, Youll miss a deer a thousand times, but youll never miss a man. The one man/one bullet rule has been passed down through generations and the Pratt family never lost a hunter. Remain as scent free as possible. A deers greatest defense is its nose. Wash hunting clothes in scent free detergent and store them in a airtight container with cedar boughs, leaves or other forest debris from the area you hunt. Always hunt a dumb snow, the seasons first heavy dumping. Deer are not so smart when snow reveals their fresh tracks and a white background highlights their brown coat. Get in the woods early as deer will move as soon as a storm lets up. When traveling, stay as hidden as possible. Move from one tree or patch of foliage to the next and move slowly. Stop in cover only and keep your back to a large object to prevent a silhouette. Stop and scan often. Stand still. You cant pick up movement when you are moving. Dont expect to see a whole deer, its rare that you will. Get down on your knees and look for deer at their level. Learn what pieces of a deer look like, recognize a black nose, the flick of a tail, an ear or the symmetry of a leg. Always check for wind direction. A deers nose is its greatest protection. It can pick up a scent at a distance of a quarter of a mile. A hunter must be as scent free as possible and should always hunt into the wind. A feather or piece of string attached to a gun barrel makes a great wind indicator, so do puff-ball mushrooms. Pay heed to the sounds of the forest. Too often, hunters disregard sounds which sound an alarm. Red squirrels scold whatever ventures into their territory, as do Blue Jays. Ruffed grouse will flush when startled as will chickadees. Ravens awk with disapproval at something large passing this way. The wise hunter takes advantage of such warnings. Come here! Keep a selection of calling aids close at hand. Often deer that are out of range or passing through thick cover can be turned by a grunt call, a tickle of antlers or a doe bleat. Use these items sparingly and mount your rifle quickly, as deer often respond promptly. Hide and seek. Look for does and youll find a buck. Does bed in or near escape cover, typically young growth such as beech whips, thick brush or heavy spruce or cedar. Check areas that include small knobs with patches of greenery, shelves or secluded benches. The leeward ends of small ridges, especially those with multiple escape routes, provide excellent safe bedding areas. Approach cautiously from a downwind direction. Persistence is more important than skill, explains Steve Piatt of Elizabethtown. Whats really helped me is getting out there, tip the odds in your favor. Ive just happened to be in the woods on the day the deer wanted to die. A last word comes from Teddy Roosevelt, President of the United States, outdoorsman and Tahawus Club regular. The answer to his success. No, Im not a good shot; but I shoot often. Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@ adelphia.net

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