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Pointers for a safe big game hunting season

Saturday, November 17, 2012 - Updated: 7:09 PM

By RON KOLODZIEJ

For the Recorder

The southern zone regular big game season opened today and it's hoped the trend toward even safer hunting seasons will continue. According to figures provided by the Department of Environmental Conservation, during the 2011 seasons there were 26 personal injury hunting-related incidents, including four fatalities. All of those fatalities occurred during the regular deer season and one was self-inflicted.

The number of hunters has declined some 20 percent since the 1960s but the accident rate has declined more than 70 percent, due in large part to the dedicated efforts of over 3,000 volunteer Sportsmen Education Instructors who offer free but mandatory hunter safety courses for all new hunters seeking their first hunting license.

LAST YEAR

Last year, a burst of lake effect snow arrived on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, just in time for the following day's opening of the southern zone regular big game season. In some areas much of it disappeared by that afternoon but there was enough of it around in some areas to really help opening day hunters. A bit of snow cover provides great advantages in visibility and tracking, so perhaps it helped some of you too, even though it didn't stay around for very long except in higher elevations and sheltered areas.

In any event, the snow cover, however sparse it might have been in many areas, didn't do me any good but that's to be expected considering my experience on opening days. My opening day record is abysmal, though it's much better on every season's second day. This is the opening day of the 2012 southern zone regular season so I don't expect to accomplish much. Perhaps tomorrow will be better! One can only hope.

TREESTAND SAFETY

We can largely thank bowhunters for the popularity of these devices since they have to get as near as possible to their quarry, and treestands help do that, but there are some important though basic safety guidelines for the use of treestands, We've had at least one fatality that I know of this year that was related to treestand use and I hope there aren't more now that the southern zone regular big game season has opened..

First, always wear a reliable fall-arrest type harness when using a treestand. Second, always read the directions after you've purchased a treestand and before you attempt to install it. Also, never exceed the weight limit specified by the manufacturer.

Practice putting up and removing your treestand, preferably in your backyard or other close-to-home venue and do it with an experienced buddy in the event you get into a problem. Always carry some way of communicating with hunting buddies or others in the event you need help. This could be a cell phone, two-way radio, signal flares, whistle or similar device. Also very important is picking the right tree. Select a live straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended by the treestand manufacturer. Also, never place your treestand on a leaning tree. I know that sounds basic but all too often a leaner can become a "widowmaker" and your weight up high can cause the tree to topple if it's the least bit unsteady or poorly rooted.

Always use a "haul line" to bring your rifle, bow and other gear up into the stand after you've climbed in and attached your safety harness. Be certain your weapon is unloaded when doing so and don't attach the line to the trigger guard. Make sure the muzzle is pointing downward when bring up your rifle.

Never hurry when climbing into a treestand. Make slow, deliberate movements and always have an "escape plan" in mind.

I'll admit to not being a big fan of treestands. I guess I'm one of those rare birds that prefers to hunt from the ground but I do appreciate the value of properly constructed and properly used treestands, though I normally use one only when bear hunting in Canada, and those are permanent or semi-permanent ones. Climbing 15 or 20 feet up into a tree to enjoy a day of hunting involves a number of risks, not the least of which can be hitting the ground really fast and hard if the device -- or your installation -- fails. Be careful and don't take chances when using a treestand.

BEAR PROBLEMS

I wasn't aware of this but it appears that some biologists in the Department of Environmental Conservation are concerned over the number of underweight young bruins they're seeing. We've experienced a season of scant berries and beechnuts this autumn and according to the agency, that has resulted in a number of scrawny bear cubs wandering around looking to fatten up before hibernating. There have been a raft of calls about bears wandering backyards and parking lots, at a time when such nuisance calls are rare.

According to Ed Reed, DEC Wildlife Biologist, "Generally, you don't get nuisance calls after September." Reed said cubs normally weigh an average of 50 pounds this time of year but biologists have seen a humber of them weighing just 15 or 20 pounds and they're unlikely to have enough body fat to make it through this winter. Add to those younger cubs the number of 2 1/2 year olds wandering around looking for new ranges after Momma expelled them and you can see a problem brewing. Human/bear contacts have increased and become problematic on some occasions and in some areas.

During the summer of 2011, we had a bumper crop of berries, nuts and other bruin vittles, so females were fat and had more cubs than usual. Then we had an unusually mild winter and the cub survival rate was high. This past summer, it was very dry in some areas, making food scarce and forcing bruins into towns to forage in trash cans, bird feeders, etc. Then the fall crop of berries, acorns and beechnuts has been low in many places, and that has exacerbated the problem. In effect, due to generally favorable conditions last year, a lot of cubs were added to the equation and there now isn't enough food for all of them.

According to Jean Soprano, who operates the only facility licensed to care for bear cubs in the State, the cubs she's seeing don't appear to be emaciated, just younger than expected for this time of year. Normally they're brought into the rehab facility in Spring rather than fall.

Reed said that DEC will determine how well adult bears fared with reduced natural food supplies over the summer and fall months when the agency compiles the results of this year's bear hunting season. However, he also cautions people who come across cubs to just leave them alone and not attempt to intervene by feeding them.

"It's a natural thing," Reed said. "Some won't make it through the winter, but that's how nature works."

It's the natural order of things and even feeding any cubs or young bruins you come across probably won't help them in the long run. They're hard-wired for natural foods now and if they don't have copious amounts of them, they most likely will not survive the winter, especially if we have a cold and/or snowy one. There just may not have been enough food to go around. But that's a normal happenstance in nature and does occur occasionally.

ANOTHER CONSOLIDATION

This may not be of interest to all of you but occasionally I've purchased a few items from The Sportsman's Guide, a generally low-cost mail order outfit that sells a large variety of sporting good items, too numerous to mention in detail. I know many of you have too, because you've said so.

Well, it seems the firm, which employes some 650 people, has been bought, along with its sister firm The Golf Warehouse, employing 250 employees, by Northern Tool & Equipment for $215 million. It's strictly an economic move which will give Northern Tool approximately $1.5 billion in annual sales.

All three firms will continue to operate as stand-alone brands.

In all, this is not an unusual move in the sporting goods industry - or any industry for that matter. For example, most boats on the market today, regardless of brand name, are manufactured by only two or three companies; The Freedom Group currently owns a number of firearms companies including Bushmaster, Marlin, Remington, DPMS, Dakota Arms.H & R and others; and even Bushnell Performance Optics includes Bolle,. Butler Creek, Cebe, Hoppe's. Serengeti, Stoney Point, Tasco and Uncle Mike's, among others. Perhaps there's safety in numbers.

BIG BUCK CONTEST

Yesterday was the deadline date for entering the Second Annual Big Buck Contest, sponsored this year by the Fulton Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. At last count there were some 85 hunters registered for this event and some great entries have already been received, taken primarily by bow and northern zone hunters but I suspect we'll see some dandies brought in now that the southern zone season is open.

To refresh your memory one final time, prizes in this event will be awarded for the three largest bucks taken by rifle, shotgun or crossbow; three prizes for the largest deer taken by bow; and one prize each for the largest buck taken by muzzleloader; the largest buck taken by a female hunter; the heaviest doe; and a special prize in the youth division (19 years old and under). Anyone who enters a deer in the event will be eligible for a special drawing for a firearm but all registrants who attend the banquet, which will be held at Skiba's Tavern on Jan. 5, will also be eligible for various items in the door prize drawings, whether or not they took a deer.

The weigh stations for this event are: Fuel-N-Food, Route 30, Mayfield; Tuman's Tavern, Forest Avenue, Amsterdam; Loopie's Pub, Mohawk Drive, Tribes Hill; and Lock, Stock & Barrel, Route 10, Palatine Bridge.

     

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