Demystifying hunting as the season kicks off

All woodland travelers should be aware the annual big-game hunting season has already begun. However, it will be at least two weeks before hunters are carrying firearms. Bow hunters have been in the woods since the early bow season began on Sept. 27.

The regular archery season will begin on Oct. 26 and run through Dec. 8.

The northern zone muzzleloading season will begin Oct. 19 and end a week later on Oct. 25. The regular big game season will begin Oct. 26 and continue through to the end of the season on Dec. 8.

This is a time of year when all outdoor travelers should take the necessary precautions to dress in bright colors, and take care of their four-legged friends by dressing them with a bright-colored bandana or collar.

As a rule, most hunters prefer to avoid marked trails, especially in areas that attract a lot of traffic. There will not be a lot of hunters found in the High Peaks Wilderness.

However, there will likely be hunters in other popular hiking areas such as the Saranac Lake Wild Forest, the McKenzie Wilderness Area, the St. Regis Canoe Area and the Hays Brook horse trails near Paul Smiths.

It is usually pretty easy to figure out if hunters are in the woods. If the trailhead parking lot is filled with a couple of battered old pickup trucks with empty gun racks in the rear window, that’s a pretty good sign.

If you do happen to meet up with a hunter, make your presence known with a whistle or a simple “Hello.”

Despite the misinformed rhetoric of the anti-hunting community, the vast majority of hunters are safe, considerate and cautious folks. They are seeking recreation just like any of the hikers, birders or bikers you’re likely to meet on the trail.

They aren’t from outer space. In fact, most of the hunters you are likely to encounter are probably your neighbors, your doctor or a local school teacher.

Despite media portrayals, today’s hunters are not a bunch of blood-thirsty imbeciles who spend their time slinking around the woods and shooting at every sound they hear.

More likely they are typically quiet and passive observers. Many times, hikers, paddlers and bikers will simply pass right by, or even under a hunter’s tree stand, during the course of their regular travels.

In fact, there is likely a wider range of commonality between hunters and birders than any of the other woodland wanderers. Both user groups enjoy spending time in natural surroundings, and they are all equally intent on observing their prey of choice. In order to achieve their goal, both groups are willing to travel to remote areas and sit still for long hours in the cold morning air.

Just as birders enjoy spotting an interesting species, so do the hunters. It is always a thrill to spot a deer, even if it is just a doe, and there are many other species that are just as enjoyable to observe.

Whether it’s a coyote slinking through the swamp or a pair of pine martens chasing each other over, under and through a thick blowdown, the pleasure of viewing wildlife in their natural surroundings is undeniable.

Birders stalk their quarry with binoculars in an effort to add new species to their life-list of birds. They are patient stalkers, and they learn where and how to find a bird’s preferred habitat.

Similarly, birders often use bird calls to draw their quarry into “camera,” or binocular shooting range, just as hunters attempt to draw ducks, geese, turkeys or deer into shooting range.

It is a rare occasion in the modern world when humans are still able to communicate with wild animals and birds in their natural setting. We’ve managed to communicate and domesticate both dogs and cats, but only the stalkers still have the skill to talk with wild creatures like the turkey, deer, coyote or birds. It is an ancient skill that has rarely been considered in modern times, except for those with a need to utilize it.

Both hunters and birders study their quarry and learn how and where to recognize their sign and habits. It is important to know where travel corridors lead to bedding areas, or where food sources can be found.

The only real difference between these avid game enthusiasts is in the manner of harvesting their quarry. Birders record their take through the lens of binoculars, a spotting scope and increasingly through the lens of a camera. Hunters, on the other hand, prefer to harvest their quarry with a rifle or a bow.

Hunting as a sport does not lend itself to catch-and-release practices as do pursuits such as angling or birding. Ethical hunters take great pride in their shot selection, and they strive to insure a swift and efficient kill.

Wild game such as venison, fowl or fish is also very healthy meat. It’s lean, low cholesterol, free range and all organic. It is readily available for harvest in most Adirondack locations with a hunting license, a lot of skill and a little luck.

For the cost of a license, a hunter can fill a freezer with birds, venison, rabbits and a host of other wild edibles. Where else could you stock up on such healthy supplies with an investment of under $100?

It’s really a pretty good deal when you consider the purchase of a hunting license also serves to fund conservation projects, as does the purchase of all hunting-related equipment and supplies.

For those who hunt, there is no explanation necessary, and for many who don’t, there is often no acceptable explanation.

Safety up a tree

Sadly, more hunters are injured as a result of tree-stand accidents than from any other single source. These tree stand safety tips come from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department:

– In order to get the most out of your tree stand hunting experience, be smart and observant. Choose a live, straight tree.

– Purchase a product that is certified by the Treestand Manufacturers Association.

– Inspect the stand each time you use it and know the rules.

– On state lands, it is illegal to place nails or other hardware into trees or to build a permanent structure.

– All stands, including ground blinds, must be marked with the owner’s name and address.

– Always wear a full-body safety harness, especially while climbing, since most falls occur while going up and down the tree or getting in and out of the stand.

– Don’t go too high. As you climb higher, the vital zone on a deer decreases, and the likelihood of serious injury increases.

– Make sure your firearm is unloaded until you are strapped in and seated comfortably.

– Never carry a firearm or a bow while climbing a tree. Use a haul line to raise and lower all gear.

– Familiarize yourself with your gear before you go. The morning of opening day is not the time to put your safety belt on for the first time.

– Be careful with long-term placement of stands. Exposure can damage straps, ropes and attachment cords, and the stand’s stability can be compromised over time as the tree grows.

Hunt smart, hunt safe and wear orange.