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Rod, Gun and Game: How was your opening weekend?

CATTARAUGUS — Hunters who turned out for big game opening day experienced a snow-free start to the 23-day-long Southern Zone firearm season for deer and bear.

While last Saturday’s sunrise temperatures were in the mid-20s, by the middle of the day, much of Region 9 was basking in mid-40-degree temperatures and many hunters had to peel off those outer layers.

I spent the day sitting in a ground blind in the Belfast area, with my 11-year-old grandson, who can’t wait to start hunting “for real.” We can certainly vouch for the morning’s chilly start.

The clear night before, plus a lack of wind at daybreak, created an eerie, foggy layer in isolated, Southern Tier valleys. It wasn’t long, before an icy sheen covered the vegetation.

The crunchy leaves and frozen ground made walking quietly difficult, but once we were settled in, we could hear everything else in the woods moving around.

We covered the top of our 7-by-7, camouflage pop-up blind with a hunter orange rain parka, making us visible for miles. Hunters within firearm range would know we were there, from a great distance away, and I felt we would be safe.

I reminded my grandson, who thought the orange roof was a bad idea, that whitetail deer can see only black and white and shades of gray, so they would not care that we had a dayglo roof, on our tent.

One of the nine hunters in our deer camp, Mike Schubbe, had just returned home from having surgery and thought his condition would keep him home in Blasdell. But, thanks to urging from his friends and brother Tom, Mike Schubbe headed for deer camp, last Friday night.

Hunting buddies Brian Larkman and Chris Newell fixed a ground stand that Don Larkman used, every year, before he passed away. “We’re going to fix up my dad’s stand for Mike and we’ll take him there with Tom’s ATV, after he feels it’s warm enough in the morning,” Larkman said.

At 8:45 a.m., my grandson and I heard the sound of the ATV start up. Tom Schubbe drove his brother to the stand.

About 35 minutes later, we heard a telltale shot from a nearby, 20-gauge shotgun. Moments later, Mike Schubbe checked out the nice, five-point buck lying about 110 yards away, right down his shooting lane.

My grandson’s dad, Dieter Voss, joined us, to share in the moments of deer camp camaraderie.

Voss volunteered to field-dress the deer for Schubbe. We were all thrilled that Schubbe could get out and hunt, but we were even more happy that he took down the animal with one shot.

A longtime hunter, Ray Orlowski, saw a gray fox cross his shooting lane, around midday. “I let the fox continue on his journey; it was great to watch him move along,” Orlowski said.

We hunters often see other wildlife during our hunting adventures, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, grouse and coyotes. On really good days, we sometimes see a deer or two, as well.

On opening day, friendships are renewed over a card game or two and seasoned outdoorsmen discuss their new gear, warm boots and tree stands. Perhaps the best part of the day, aside from the hunt, is dinnertime, when the guys share their hunting day sagas.

Talk will sometimes lead to our plans for the next day’s push or drive, where several hunters walk through the woods in a controlled manner. Any deer ahead of the hunters are pushed into a funnel area, otherwise known as a good place for someone to take a shot.

I visited the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s deer check station on Route 16 in Holland and heard reports from many happy hunters, who brought in a high number of big bucks, this weekend.

Several 5- and 6-year-old deer were taken, but the bulk of the hunt were 1 1/2-year-olds, which is pretty typical.

Representatives from the New York State Department of Health were also at the deer check, working with associates from Jamestown Community College to collect deer tick and deer lice samples, in their study of Lyme disease and other deer health factors.

Look beyond your shot, before squeezing the trigger, and give thanks for our bounty, this year.

Pennsylvania bear harvest
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials announced that, as of Monday, Nov. 19, hunters in the 2012 Pennsylvania black bear season have taken a preliminary harvest of 1,530 black bears in 51 counties. Saturday was the first of the four-day, statewide bear season.

In 2011, the preliminary harvest was 1,936 in 2011, That year, hunters took a record 4,350 bears on the season.

In 2010, hunters harvested 1,751 on the first day of the season, the first of which opened on a Saturday.

A final tally should be in, by next week.

Record wildfire season
The scorching heat and relentless drought experienced nationally, this year, sparked a disastrous wildfire season.

According to USA Today, the total amount of burned acreage is roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut, put together.

Wildfires across the country burned more than 9 million acres, so far, this year, for the third recorded time in history, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The effects on wildlife had not been determined.

Outdoor calendar
Nov. 30: NYS musky and bass season closes.

Dec. 14: Safari Club dinner, Michael’s Banquet Center. Call 542-9929 to purchase tickets.

Dec. 15: NYS Conservation Council fundraiser, Southtowns Walleye Association, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 655-0975 or 640-2776.
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