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An online space for outdoorsmen from CNY and beyond. Tell us about the one you caught or the one that got away.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

OUTDOORS: Get your Thanksgiving turkey the traditional way

Last week, Bob Washbon and his son-in-law, Emir (“Rod”) Rodriguez, took a break from bow hunting for deer. It was midday and deer weren’t moving and evidently they wanted to save the smaller ones for Terry Yardley. They decided to go turkey hunting instead, and were scouting some farm fields that Bob was familiar with.
As they sat along a brushy hedgerow, they spotted a flock of turkeys feeding in a nearby field. Since the birds were moving away from them, Bob had to pull out his turkey call and rely on his vast repertoire of calling skill. As they birds came with range of their hiding position, Bob coached Rod when the birds were in range to shoot. One well-aimed shot from Rod dropped a large hen.
It was Rod’s first wild turkey and he was justifiably excited. He exclaimed, “Wow! I am a hunter for life!”
Even if you are a veteran hunter, it is still exciting. Although some people see the birds feeding near the road and assume that they are easy to get. But that is because the turkeys do not associate cars as predators, unlike the sight of a person or animal. They have excellent eyesight and hearing, and they are naturally wary.
Unlike spring turkey hunting during the mating season when hunters call in a tom turkey by imitating a hen turkey, the toms are not responding to mating calls. During the fall season, any bird of either sex is legal game. In many areas of the state, including much of the southern zone you may take two birds. Check the map in the current hunting guide for exact WMUs and the season limit.
Normally the hunter is dressed in camouflage and scouts for a large flock of wild turkeys feeds steadily across the fields. Suddenly from the hedgerow a hunter leaps, flapping his arms wildly and yelling as he races towards the turkeys, scattering them in all directions.
No, it is not some hunter venting his frustration at lack of success, nor some person going over the edge because his football team lost again or even the effect of watching too many “reality shows” on TV. It is a common tactic among turkey hunters who pursue these wily birds in the fall season.
One method is to scatter the flock quickly in many directions by tactics such as this. Then the hunter quickly settles down in some concealed spot, waits a short while and attempts to call the flock back together.
Since autumn flocks are usually composed of several family groups that have banded together, the majority of the birds will be the young birds of that year. These birds will quickly be disoriented and begin calling to locate others of the flock. The most effective call that hunters use at this time is the “kee kee” call, or the shrill call of a young lost turkey.
Other tactics at this time involve scouting to find the feeding habits or routes of flocks of turkeys and then trying to ambush them as they move along. Usually the birds will be moving and feeding out of range, so some calling is necessary to get the birds to come and investigate and bring them into gun range.
Another tactic that some veteran turkey hunters use in the fall is challenging the toms or the boss hens in a flock. Turkeys often respond to aggressive calling or challenges by “intruders” by coming over to show them who is the boss.
Scouting is important in autumn to find where turkey flocks are roosting or feeding. However the birds may not always keep a commuters schedule in roosting and feeding in the same areas. Studies have shown that flocks often wander two miles in a single day and may cover a wide area in a two or three day cycle.
In agricultural areas, crops such as corn are popular food sources for wild turkeys. Alfalfa or other hay fields are also popular because the birds feed on the green grasses as well as insects found there. Mast crops such as choke cherries, pin cherries, acorns, beechnuts or apples are always favorites of the wild turkeys. Checking for the availability of these food sources as well as signs that turkeys frequent the areas will help put you find the right area. This year there is a good crop of soft mast as well as acorns and nuts in many areas.
There is some question about the turkey population in many areas due to the wet spring and survival of poults the past few years. The cold weather and frequent rains mean that some nests weren’t successful, and evidently a number of chicks did not survive. Another factor contributing to fewer birds the past few years is the number of predators, including raccoons, and the fact that with damp conditions predators can easily trace the scent and attack hens on their nests. But there should be enough birds around to give hunters another challenge to make their autumn days enjoyable.
Grab your camo gear, your shotgun and your turkey calls and give fall hunting a try. Whether you are cooking one for Thanksgiving or just having turkey breasts for an evening meal, keep in mind that the meat has much less fat so be careful to use moist cooking methods and avoid overcooking it. Remember when you get one that there is a lot less meat than the birds raised in some pen, bred for weight and fed a hefty diet. But that means you won’t have to worry about eating leftovers for several days like we traditionally do at Thanksgiving!
Deer Hides Wanted: For the deer hunters who have been successful and are wondering what to do with the hide, Jim Ward of Oneida Trap Supply is again buying hides. Call Jim at (363-2913) for information and hours.
IFHCNY: The Independent Fur Harvesters of Central NY will be discussing plans for the Fur Rondy at Nichols Pond and at Solon at future meetings. There will be a fur sale on December 21 at the Pompey Rod and Gun Club. The next meeting will be Thursday, November 14 at the Pratts Falls Park in Manlius. Food is served at 5:30 p.m., with the meeting to follow at 6:00. New members are welcome. For more information contact President Al LaFrance at 682-2050.
Compass Points: Remember when hunting the big woods, especially in the North country, you should always carry a compass. It is a simple, yet vital tool to avoid getting lost or at least travelling a long distance in the wrong direction. Although many of the new cell phones have apps that include a compass, you can never count on cell phone service in the north woods. One major thing to remember when you are using a compass is that having it near electronics such as a radio in your pocket can often cause the needle to be off anywhere from 30 to 45 degrees. When using a compass, be sure to turn off radios and phones and hold it as far away as possible.
Clarus LED Lantern: A flashlight is an essential tool for an emergency kit at home, in your car or RV and no outdoor enthusiast would be caught without one for hunting, camping or boating. Holding the light while trying to accomplish a task that requires two hands can be frustrating. The new UCO Clarus LED Lantern solves this problem with a collapsible and compact light that can function as a flashlight or a lantern. The UCO Clarus LED Lantern provides 150 lumens of light in a four-ounce (including battery weight) multi-use package. The frosted globe of the Clarus LED Lantern provides diffused light that is easy to read or work by, and it easily slides up for lantern mode and down for flashlight mode. Powered by three AAA batteries, the Clarus LED Lantern provides up to 70 hours of light.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NY Northern Zone deer season opens with high hopes

The first orange light appears on the southeastern horizon as the sun rises and its soft light filters through the barren branches of the trees along a hillside. A hunter snuggles into his jacket to protect against the early morning chill while watching the gray shadows along what he hopes will be a route for a whitetail buck. As the forest comes alive with the sound of birds, squirrels and other creatures, the anticipation, excitement and hope build.
This scene, or variations of it, will be repeated countless times across the Northern Zone this opening weekend. We all have our favorite methods of hunting, just like we all have our special areas. But regardless of where and how we hunt, the anticipation and excitement will be similar.
Calendars have been marked for weeks. Hours of scouting resulting in plans have been made and revised. On Saturday thousands of red or orange clad hunters will be afield at daybreak eagerly watching for America’s number one big game animal – the whitetail deer. The threat of rain or chilly temperatures will not dampen the enthusiasm of hunters for this weekend or the following six weeks.
The traditional Northern Zone deer season opener is still a magic moment even though it has lost some of the significance since the advent of the popular bow hunting and muzzleloading seasons. It is still a big event for those who enjoy hunting the big woods and carrying on tradition.
For those who hunt the Northern Zone there is a special feeling that can’t be described or easily put into words. Of course there is the eagerness and hope that we will be successful in bagging a deer, but it is the special feeling of being in the woods, the challenge of trying to outwit one of nature’s noblest animals and a feeling that we have several weeks of fun and adventure ahead of us.
Opening day in the Northern Zone is more of a time of excitement and anticipation than it is a time of increased success. Unlike the Southern Zone where over 40 percent of the bucks taken are shot on opening day, success throughout the Northern Zone is evenly spaced throughout the season. Thus the odds this weekend are no better, but the excitement is greater
The fact that northern woods have less deer per square mile, the bigger territory and less hunters afield means that success is lower. But the challenge of hunting these wily animals, the excitement and the chance for a big buck keeps many hunters going. The tradition of deer camps or testing your skill and woodsmanship in the big woods is a magnet for many people regardless of success ratio.
The numbers of deer across the north country seems good so far this year. Last year’s mild winter following a normal one the year before has meant that deer survival has improved. People afield have observed an increased number of deer and have seen more mature bucks.This does not mean that there is a deer behind every tree or that they will be easy to get. These are big woods and deer will use their many keen senses to avoid hunters. Your best bet is to find escape routes or funnels and let others move deer past you, or hunt the popular food sources. An abundance of mast crops this year means that deer will not be concentrated in small areas.
Of course, many of us who hunt the Northern Zone do it because we like to. There may be less deer than in many areas of the Southern Zone, but we like the challenge and experience. Your odds of getting a deer in the Northern Zone are perhaps half of what they will be in the Southern Zone, but most hunters like the big woods, the variety of wildlife they often see and the challenge of testing your skills as a hunter.
You feel like you are hunting because you typically have lots of area to try your favorite tactics. If the deer are not in the location you anticipate, you often have the room and ability to move elsewhere. You are not hemmed into a small patch, hoping that deer pass through, as in many areas of the Southern Zone. A part of the appeal of Northern Zone is hunting is the ability to look into a patch of woods and not see out the other side!
Hunting the Northern Zone is special because you feel that you are part of the natural world. It is big country and hunting the way it used to be. It is not like those artificial “Bubba videos” featuring an Alabama hunt on fenced in property with food plots, seven different tree stands and more bucks than most people see in an entire season. If you just want to shoot, go to a sporting clays range. If you want to hunt, go to the North Country.
Hunters have their own favorite methods of hunting including sitting on watch, driving or still-hunting. One thing you should definitely not do is wander aimlessly through the woods or fields, expecting a deer to pop up in front of you and stand there. Remember that deer have great senses of smell, hearing and sight, and they will easily detect and avoid anybody just out for a stroll.
Sitting on watch may be more productive this weekend because there will be more hunters than normal in some areas and they may move deer around. Normally early morning or just before sunset are the periods when deer are on the move. Keep in mind that most big bucks are nocturnal by nature.
Since there are fewer hunters these days and consequently smaller groups of hunters, many opt for having some hunters sitting at likely spots while one or two others still hunt towards them. The key is to move slowly and have the watchers at likely escape routes or funnels. Consider wind direction when placing watchers, or planning the route of the hunters on the move.
Of course, safety should be a concern in any method we use. Be sure of your target and beyond. Always treat every gun as if it is loaded, and be certain to keep it under control. Unload your gun while climbing tree stands, stone walls, etc. Wear orange or red for your own safety. Remember that blaze orange is most visible, especially in periods of low light.
Good luck to everyone. Remember that any buck is a trophy, regardless of size. And even if you don’t have any action on opening weekend, keep in mind that it is a long season for a reason. Enjoy the experience because the season will be over before you know it.
Deer hides wanted: For the deer hunters who have been successful and are wondering what to do with the hide, Jim Ward of Oneida Trap Supply is again buying hides. Call Jim at (315-363-2913) for information and hours. Reel Drag: By now only a few dedicated anglers are still fishing. The rest of the fishing fraternity have put away their tackle. But was it properly put away?Rods should be carefully stored so they won’t be damaged or take a “set,” and unused monofilament should be stored in a cool, dark area away from sunlight. But the most important thing is to lighten the drag on your reels. Leaving the drag tight or with too much tension on it for long periods of time can ruin your drag, so put down this column and go down and release the drag on all your reels now! Field Dressing Game Guide: Waterford Press has a pocket-sized, waterproof guide that is ideal for every hunter¹s pack. Field Dressing Game provides a simplified introduction to safe practices and procedures for field dressing various species of game and fish, including rabbits, squirrels, deer, ducks, geese, pheasant, turkeys and small game birds. Also included in this handy guide are useful facts about safe cooking of wild game.
Waterford Press Guides are available for purchase at (800-434-2555), at book and outdoor retailers around the country and at select online retailers. See for more information.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why I hunt: A personal reflection

The autumn sun’s golden light filters down through the remaining leaves on the birch trees, casting a soft glow on the hillside. The pungent smell of fallen apples and decaying leaves brings back memories of past autumns. The only sound is the honking of geese overhead or the crunch of the hunter’s footsteps in the dry leaves. Suddenly there is a booming sound of a grouse rocketing from the thick ground cover as it wings its way to safety.
Fast forward the scene to late November. The hunter leans tightly against an evergreen on the hillside, partly to disguise his outline, and partly to shelter himself against the chill of the snow driven by the northwest wind. The trees are now barren of leaves and the landscape is now brown and gray. The hunter studies the shapes of two deer in the shadows of the distant woods and hopes that one is a buck that will come his way.
What do these two scenes have in common? They are familiar to many of us who hunt and they evoke pleasant memories and keep drawing us back to the fields and forests. I am often asked why I hunt. I don’t pretend to answer for most hunters but I will attempt to explain my own personal reasons as well as some of the hunters that I know.
A significant part is the challenge. There is knowledge - and luck - involved in finding your quarry, whether it is big or small game. The stalk, the reaction and skill in your shot depend on you, not on the equipment or the technology. Most of the time we are unsuccessful and that is what makes it more rewarding when we are successful.
I enjoy the setting and being involved in the natural world. Although some may see the autumn landscape as desolate or depressing, many of us feel comfortable and see it as interesting and a normal part of nature’s cycle.
Especially in autumn we are drawn back to nature as a way of reconnecting with our roots. Much like many people who enjoy fall festivals, visiting orchards or farm markets, etc., as a small connection to our previous generations when fall harvest was an important part of their lives, hunters feel drawn to nature and rural settings and a primal urge to take part in the harvest or provide food for the winter.
Although most of us no longer need to harvest game to provide our winter’s food, there is still an unspoken feeling of satisfaction when we do so. Most of us enjoy wild game for its variety and nutritional value and there is a special pleasure when we have taken it ourselves.
Some people will ask if we couldn’t enjoy a walk through the woods or fields without hunting? The answer is yes, but it’s not the same. There would be a piece of the puzzle missing. Even though we have a good time and enjoy the experience without getting any game, it lacks focus and purpose if we are not at least trying to hunt game.
Although it may seem to some people that the hunter is just sitting or wandering aimlessly through the woods, that is not the case. You are forced to pay attention and your senses are on high alert. Thus you will see, hear or notice things that you probably would not notice otherwise. For example, that horizontal shape that seems out of place, the attention to likely looking cover and the sound of something approaching all take on new meaning when you are hunting.
As a hunter I do not feel guilty. I know that hunters only take from the surplus. The habitat can only support a finite amount of big or small game and hunting is part of the natural process and cycle of life and death.
Nature is not kind or merciful and many of the species will perish from predators, disease, starvation or weather. Overall, about 80 percent or more of the given population of small game species will not survive another year.
Deer can quickly overpopulate and exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat if the population is not kept in check. They soon eat all suitable browse and face starvation whenever there is a tough winter. By keeping deer populations in balance with the habitat, the hunter plays an important role in the health of the herd and should never feel guilty.
On a personal level there’s the mystery, the challenge and the excitement of deer hunting. Trying to figure out and outwit one of nature’s noblest creatures involves all your senses and attention. You immerse yourself into the world of the whitetail deer and one misjudgment or mistake on your part will spell failure.
Deer are a tough challenge and only one out of 15 will succeed in taking a mature buck. The excitement, the experience of being in the autumn woods and the comfortable feeling of being part of the natural world keeps bringing us back.
Whether it’s sitting in a duckblind during a sleet storm, walking through an abandoned pasture after grouse or calling in a strutting tom turkey there is a feeling and excitement that is difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it. It awakens all your senses and is rewarding to make you feel in control of events. It is a momentary escape from the world of impersonal technology or the pressures of the modern world.
It is the reason that I hunt but I suspect that there are others who share the feeling.
Care Of Your Catch: Salmon fishing is reaching its peak, although the runs are usually later on the western tributaries of Lake Ontario. Whether you are hiring a guide or doing it on your own after reading the latest issue of “Lake Ontario Outdoors” magazine (available at Hanifin Tires, Sweet Temptations Café, or Philipsons) you will have considerable time and money invested in your outing. And of course salmon are one of the best eating fish, a great delicacy whatever way you cook them. To insure peak flavor you need to take certain steps to take proper care of your catch. Dispatch your fish quickly with a blow to the head. You do not want it flopping around on rocks, bank, etc. and bruising the flesh. Cut out the gills or otherwise bleed it quickly to insure better quality meat later. In fact it is a good idea to gut your catch as soon as possible. Keep your fish cool. Place it in a cooler but leave the ice block or cubes in the bag. Keep it well drained so the fish is not setting in water which will make the flesh soft. Whether you take it to a local fish cleaning station or process it yourself, make sure that it is washed thoroughly and then dried before cooling it with fresh ice. If you take it to a local fish cleaning station be sure to wait and make sure that you are getting your own fish back. If you get some other angler’s fish, they might not have taken the care mentioned above with their own catch. Cutting it into steaks or fillets is a personal preference. But remember that cutting it into steaks may leave the ends of bones to penetrate the freezer bags. Leave the skin on the fillets because that makes it easier for grilling or broiling later. When freezing your catch for later use, pat each piece dry with paper towels and place the desired portions in double freezer bags. Squeeze excess air out to reduce freezer burn. Place the bags on racks spread out in the freezer so they freeze quickly.
CANOE & KAYAK STORAGE: For a lot of people, last weekend was the end of canoe and kayak trips. If you are getting ready to store your canoe or kayak for the winter there are some things you should keep in mind. If at all possible store them inside a building because ultraviolet light will cause the colors to fade. Don’t toss them alongside some building and cover them with a tarp because water will be trapped between the tarp and the vessel and cause discoloration or even damage, to the material. Canoes can be stored upside down at the ceiling of a garage or shed because the gunwales or edges are the strongest part of the canoe. However, kayaks should not be stored that way because they will take a permanent bend or “set.” The strongest part of a kayak is the side. The best way is to loop two straps through strong eye bolts on the side of the garage or shed and suspend the kayak. That way the bottom will be flush against the wall and the straps will be supporting the side, which is the strongest part.