High deer numbers, plenty of public land and minimal competition mean good chances for success for archers this season. Try these bowhunter-friendly public areas.
By Mike Bleech
Bowhunting season will be here soon. New York has a lengthy early bowhunting season that can keep archers in the field from Sept. 27 until Nov. 16 if they hunt both the Northern Zone and Southern Zone.
The most recent report on the 2001-02 hunting seasons, when archers took 28,931 deer and 145 bears, shows that 177,127 residents and 2,808 non-residents bought bowhunting licenses. While that might seem to be a lot of hunters, it only represents about 20 percent of hunters who are licensed to hunt deer, meaning that bowhunting pressure is actually light compared to the gun seasons.
New York contains numerous small public lands and some that are large enough to provide wilderness bowhunting opportunities that are the equal of any in the East. With an eye toward adventure and diversity, here are some outstanding bowhunting trips to consider this fall:
ALLEGANY STATE PARK The highest, wildest country in western New York, Allegany State Park contains 65,000 acres open to public hunting. This is the third-largest state park in the eastern U.S. Situated along the northern edge of the Allegheny highlands, it is a heavily forested area with a rich deer- hunting tradition. The buck take here is generally just under four per square mile. While this is slightly lower than some other deer management units, a primary reason is that much of it receives very light hunting pressure.
The terrain is entirely rugged hills. Elevations range from about 1,400 feet along the Allegheny Reservoir to about 2,300 feet in the park interior. Though most of this is covered by dense hardwoods forest, there are also remnants of old farms. With a little scouting, bowhunters should be able to locate old apple orchards and overgrown fields that attract deer. In years with high acorn crops, the oak ridges are better places to look for trophy bucks.
Photo by Tom Evans
Allegany State Park is noted for its large woods bucks. The reason is simple. Several miles of forest separate the few park roads. Deer in the interior see few hunters and live long enough to grow trophy-sized racks.
Deer will still be concentrating on food when the early bowhunting season starts on Oct. 15 in the Southern Zone. For the last couple of weeks, before closing on Nov. 16, however, the rut should be in full swing and big bucks will be moving. Watch for peak daytime activity from Nov. 8- 12 around the full moon. Key areas should be along ridgetops and old woods roads. Hot does can lead rutting bucks anywhere, however, making their movements impossible to predict.
Numerous cabins are available to rent during the bowhunting season. The park has 321 campsites and 357 cabins. About half of the cabins are winterized. This is the customary way of hunting this big park. Cabin areas are busy during the regular firearms hunting season. Nearly half of the cabins in the state park system are in Allegany State Park.
Getting to Allegany State Park is easy from Interstate Route 86. Take either Exit 18 to the Quaker Lake Area or exit 19 or 20 to the Red House Area. Both exits are well marked. Supplies are available nearby at Salamanca or in the Steamburg area. These areas along the northern boundary of the park are on Seneca Nation property.
For more information, contact the Allegany State Park office, 2373 ASP, Route 1, Suite 3, Salamanca, NY 14779; or call (716) 354-9121.
RATTLESNAKE HILL WMA Livingston County contains plenty of the quilt-like cover (blocks of various habitats) that has become synonymous with the best whitetail hunting across the country. Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area extends into Allegany County and has a mix of wood lots, overgrown fields and conifer plantations. It covers 5,100 acres and borders one section of state forest and is close to another, creating almost 8,000 acres of public hunting ground.
Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area is maintained as wildlife habitat with permanent openings and some waterfowl projects consisting of marshes and ponds. The cover around some of the water is very thick. There are some apple trees that attract deer. This is a good place to fill a doe tag. The better bucks might not frequent the apple trees during daylight hours except during the rut. Scout for scrapes and rub lines.
The state forestland is mostly woodland in various stages of maturity with no permanent openings.
Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area is about eight miles southwest of Dansville, which is south of Rochester on Interstate Route 390. From Dansville, take Route 436 west to Schute Road, and then turn left. Turn left again onto Walsworth Road into the public land.
For more about bowhunting in this area, contact the NYSDEC Region 8 office, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, NY 14414-9519; or call (585) 226-2466.
For information about local services, contact the Finger Lakes Tourism, 309 Lake St., Penn Yan, NY 14527; or call (800) 548-4386.
CONNECTICUT HILL WMA The largest wildlife management unit in the state, Connecticut Hill WMA covers 11,045 acres. The terrain consists of rugged hills. It includes some of the highest land in the area, part of the Appalachian highlands. Farmed long ago, the area has long since reverted to forest. It is now covered with mature maple, hemlock and beech trees, with some oak and pine. There are also some grassy openings.
Feeding patterns during bowhunting season vary from year to year, depending on mast crops. The area must be scouted for current mast conditions each year. Acorn crops are generally more reliable than beechnuts, especially since beech bark disease has passed through the area. However, if you can find a beech tree that is still producing nuts, you should have no trouble finding deer. Trails between bedding and feeding areas are good places to set up.
Though probably not the best place to hunt for trophy bucks, this is a high-percentage venison hunt. The buck harvest in this deer management unit is about four per square mile.
The Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area is on the border between Tompkins and Schuyler counties. It is easily reached from Route 13 between Ithaca and Elmira. Carter Creek Road leads into the public land and connects with several other narrow roads through the area.
For local information, contact the Ith
aca Tompkins Visitors Bureau, 904 East Shore Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850; or call (800) 284-8422.
For more information about bowhunting in the region, contact the NYSDEC Region 7 office, 615 Erie Boulevard West, Syracuse, NY 13204-2400; or call (315) 426-7403.
THE CATSKILLS The Catskill Mountains can provide backcountry adventure and spectacular scenery almost equal to the Adirondacks. The deer here tend to be smaller and younger because there is far more hunting pressure. There is, nonetheless, plenty of land for all. The Catskill Forest Preserve covers about 300,000 acres. For a very good chance of seeing deer in great expanses of public land open to hunting, this area is hard to beat.
Hunters should note that more than 60 percent of the lands inside the Catskill Park boundaries are privately owned. (The Catskill Forest Preserve is the state-owned land inside the Catskill Park borders.) While a good portion of the public land is available for hunting, hunters are reminded to respect private property rights. Do not hunt on private lands without express written permission.
The mountain scenery in this region is spectacular. Many peaks rise higher than 3,000 feet. But unlike the Adirondacks' high peaks, there is a better deer population here. Plus, the odds for acquiring deer management permits are good.
The buck harvest in Deer Management Unit 3A, which includes most of the Catskills, has been in the neighborhood of better than 1.5 per square mile. In Deer Management Unit 4W, the western end of the Catskill Preserve, the buck take rose to 3.5 per square mile during the 2000 hunting season. Last fall, the objective for the unit was 4.0 bucks per square mile. In Deer Management Unit 3C, along the southern border, the buck harvest was 3.4 bucks per acre.
Deer densities are not consistent throughout the Catskills. The success of your hunt will depend on pre-season scouting. Spend some time studying maps and driving, especially during early mornings and evenings, to find a good general area, and then spend some time walking to find specific hunting locations.
Last fall, the deer population showed the results of an outstanding crop of acorns from the previous fall. Harvest numbers were good, and rack sizes were better than average. The acorn crop was not good last fall, and the most recent winter was more severe than the past few winters. All things considered, hunters should not expect the younger bucks to sport racks as fine as last year. This should not be interpreted as a gloomy forecast, though, just a return to near-normal hunting after an outstanding season.
Camping is allowed on the Catskill Forest Preserve. Nine public campgrounds and several private campgrounds are scattered around the area. Of course, there are far more civilized accommodations for those who do not like to rough it.
Catskill Park covers parts of Ulster, Greene, Delaware and Sullivan counties. Interstate Route 87, between New York and Albany, passes along the park's eastern border. Route 17, between Binghamton and Middletown, passes along the southwestern border.
For information about local services, contact the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, 114 Main St., Delhi, NY 13753; or call (607) 746-2281
For Catskills Forest Preserve information, contact the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Lands and Forests, 21 S. Putt Corners Road, New Paltz, NY 12561-1696; or call (914) 256-3000. For Greene and Delaware county information, write to Route 10, HCR 1, Stamford, NY 12167; or call (607) 652-7365.
CARTERS POND WMA Waterfowl habitat can also contain some excellent whitetail cover for bowhunting. While thick brush can frustrate firearms hunters, this kind of close-in work plays right into the hands of archers. Carters Pond Wildlife Management Area was purchased and has been managed for waterfowl. But the wetlands, wood lots, thick cover and agricultural plots in the area provide ideal habitat for deer. Because of the wet nature of the region, hunters should consider wearing rubber boots for this trip.
Deer, especially mature bucks, are typically reluctant to venture out of thick cover during daylight hours. This is a good area to use rut-related hunting tactics. Mock scrapes, scent lines or grunt tubes might lure a buck within bow range.
Here at the northern tip of the Southern Zone, bucks might be more involved in the rut during October than they are to the south. Still, the Nov. 9 full moon should be near the peak of wanderlust for the bucks.
The Carters Pond Wildlife Management Area is in central Washington County. Follow Route 29 east from Greenwich, and then turn north onto Route 338, which on the western side of the public land. The east side boundary follows Furguson Road, while Mill Road is the approximate northern boundary. There are no roads into the interior of this 446.5-acre parcel. Parking areas can be found close to Carters Pond near the southern end and off Mill Road.
For information on local services, contact the Washington County Information and Tourism office, County Municipal Center, 383 Broadway, Fort Edward, NY 12828; or call (888) 203-8622.
For more information about bowhunting in the area, contact the NYSDEC Region 5 office, Hudson Street Extension, Warrensburg, NY 12885; or call (518) 623-3671.
INDIAN LAKE Bowhunters tend to evaluate hunting quality differently than do firearms hunters. Archers tend to look at a quality experience and quality deer. Both can be measured in various ways. In the area around Indian Lake, which is on the southern side of the tall peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains, archers hunt in a spectacular mountain setting for mature bucks. They can trek into a vast wilderness and camp, or hunt the fringes of the area and stay in more civilized accommodations.
Bowhunting season begins on Sept. 27 in the Northern Zone. This is a great opportunity for bowhunters who have unfilled deer tags from the previous season, since the 2002-03 licenses are good through the last day of September. The new licenses are not valid until the first of October. The season continues through Oct. 17.
The terrain in the Indian Lake area consists of rugged mountains. Peaks around the lake tower to more than 3,800 feet. However, this does not mean you have to be a mountain climber to hunt here. The valleys are broad. You will probably want to hunt in mixed hardwoods and conifers in the lower elevations of 1,700-2,300 feet, where the terrain might be gentler than in hill country. Wetlands, which range from wet ground to swamps, ponds and lakes, are common.
Deer populations are sparse in the Adirondacks. This is accentuated by relatively light hunting pressure. Total buck kills here are generally less than one per square mile in Deer Management Unit 5H, the largest deer management unit in the state. It includes vast expanses of wilderness. Finding deer is not as diffic
ult as the numbers might make it appear, but hunting in the Adirondacks is still a real test of any hunter's skills.
Deer numbers are fairly low, so bowhunters need to find the common denominator that causes deer to concentrate in a very small area.
Natural funnels can be the answer in the Indian Lake area. Water and steep slopes which deer avoid are common. Some "slopes" here are sheer rock faces which cannot be traversed by deer. Deer might swim creeks or ponds or even wade through dense swamps, but they generally do not do so unless they are pushed. When you combine any two of these, you have the potential for a funnel. Find the area of land that deer use to navigate between slopes and standing water and you have a place to set up your stand.
The feeding behavior of deer in this wild country is somewhat different from the agricultural areas hunted by most New York archers. Food is less abundant, but because deer density is light, there is usually plenty of food scattered on the forest floor, though there is not usually a major mast crop such as might be found to the south, where there is a lot of food in a small area. Deer have to travel more to get enough food, and they tend to move more during the day than whitetails living in areas where there are more people. This works to the bowhunter's advantage and adds to the logic of hunting natural funnels.
The Indian Lake area is a patchwork of public and private land. While most public land holdings are marked, you will need good maps to locate the public lands. Hunters will also need topographic maps, a compass and, if possible, a GPS unit while hunting.
Topographic maps can be used to pinpoint natural funnels and to maneuver around obstacles, as well as to find a way out! Hunters can get seriously lost in this country, where three wilderness areas surround Indian Lake, the Siamese ponds, West Canada Lake and Blue Ridge.
Hunters will be able to find good maps and most other supplies in the community of Indian Lake. Various types of accommodations from motels to state campgrounds are available around the lake. The community, which is near the north end of the lake by Lake Abanakee and Lake Adirondack, is at the intersection of routes 30 and 28, two of the major vehicle arteries of the Adirondacks.
Information about local services is available from the Central Adirondack Association, P.O. Box 68, Old Forge, NY 13420; or call (315) 369-6983.
For more information about bowhunting in the area, contact the NYSDEC Region 5 office, Route 86, P.O. Box 296, Ray Brook, NY 12977-0296; or call (518) 897-1211.
For travel information throughout New York, contact the New York Division of Tourism, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; or call (800) CAL-LNYS.
For more information about bowhunting in New York, contact the NYSDEC, 50 Wolf Road, Albany, NY 12233-4754; or call (518) 457-4480.
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