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Rod, Gun and Game: Deer hunters get all ready for opening day, this weekend

GOT MY FIRST ONE — Laurel Swigonski harvested her first deer during youth hunt weekend, Oct. 12.

SPRINGVILLE — The one special day of the year that more than a half-million New York state big game firearm hunters wait for, each year, arrives Saturday, Nov. 16, when the Southern Tier big game season opens at sunrise, for whitetail deer and black bear. The season will run through Dec. 8 at sunset.

Our Western New York area of Region 9 will offer increased opportunities to harvest deer this year, as WNY enjoyed a “no-frost” spring, allowing abundant apple and mast crops to dominate the food choices for deer and other wildlife.

In addition, we enjoyed an exceptionally mild winter, two years ago in 2011-12, and similarly mild winter conditions, in most of the state, last winter. As a result, the Department of Environmental Conservation reported that healthy deer populations have grown, despite generally increasing antlerless harvest quotas, the past few years.

This means that deer populations throughout many portions of the state are in need of substantial reduction. Accordingly, DEC increased Deer Management Permits by about 18 percent, this year, with extra tags for Wildlife Management Units 9A and 9F still available, at press time. DEC issues DMP tags to control antlerless harvests and move the population closer toward acceptable population levels, set using scientific analysis, for a healthy deer herd.

Meeting management objectives for deer harvest assures that farmers, motorists and others are safer from the damage that over-populations of deer can cause. That is why each year, DEC asks hunters to help manage the deer population to meet the conservation management plan.

Tim Speirto, our Region 9 deer biologist, keeps close track of harvest records. Last year, DEC records showed that the 2012 deer harvest in Region 9 was 6 1/2 percent higher than in 2011. This increase in harvest reflects the increase in antlerless opportunities in many of the WMUs, especially in the northern counties of the Southern Tier. Additionally, DEC reports that records show the region-wide buck harvest rose by a healthy 9 percent. Six of the Region 9 WMUs have deer populations greater than 10 percent above the desired levels. Two units in the region had a 2012 harvest within 10 percent of their objective and six units in the southern counties of Allegany and Cattaraugus have deer populations below objective levels. In these WMUs, more conservative antlerless harvests, through reduced Deer Management Permit availability was again necessary, much to the chagrin of hunters in these popular Allegheny County locations.

Public access for hunting is available in many locations across Region 9, with most access located near numerous state forest lands and cooperative hunting areas, in the southern counties of Region 9. If you did any pre-season scouting, a knock on the door of a local landowner will find many willing to allow hunting on private lands. The DEC encourages hunters to ask permission from these landowners, prior to entering private lands and if granted, remember that you are a guest. Take out what you bring in, is the rule, to reduce littering.

While Southern Tier forests are largely mature forests, the need for habitat improvement with forestation efforts usually brings an improvement in hunting. State forests that have recently been forested and private lands too, will see new forest growth, new habitat formations and better hunting, since the new growth draws in deer herds, once the snow flies.

In Region 9, thanks to the safety record of previous hunters tested in limited areas, where rifles were measured for safe use, over the last few years, the use of center-fire rifles is now allowed in Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegheny counties. Among most popular rifle bores are the .270 and 30-06 calibers. Increasing numbers of hunters are choosing to hunt with a rifle and scope, allowing for more precision shooting and a higher effective shot than with a shotgun.

George Mest at Mest Meat Packing on Route 20A in Wyoming County said, “The use of rifles in Wyoming County has provided such clean harvest kills that hunters are able to take home more venison than when deer were downed with one or two or more shotgun slugs. It is easier for us butchers to dress out the meat, with a rifle-shot deer.”

Mest provides one of the oldest deer processing facilities for hunters in WNY and I like going to them because they are butchers by trade, not amateur deer cutters. They understand NYS health laws and what good meat should look like, possibly saving you a trip to your health care provider.

Many hunters who desire a standard cut will take home four-six roasts, several packages of sirloin steaks, venison chops, stew meat and about 40 pounds of ground meat from an average adult deer. For better-tasting ground meat, many hunters add 10 percent ground pork butt to their venison. Mest packs the ground meat in convenient 1- or 2-pound machine-filled plastic bags, your choice of size, making it convenient to store in a freezer for up to one year (based on my experience). Average cost at most deer processing facilities is $70-$80 per deer; the pork butt is a little extra.

After the standard cut, hunters can also order pepper stick, summer sausage, pepperoni stick or venison hot dogs. Any of these adds cost to the order, but the taste is definitely out of this world. Another full-time food processor that provides honest service, with the ability to make these extra sausages and hot dogs, is Bond’s Meats, located off Route 240 in West Valley. I took 30 pounds of meat from one of my archery deer to John Bond and, a few weeks later, received 28 pounds of summer sausage and 20 pounds of hot dogs for about $100. The extra weight comes from pork and spices added to the venison, to produce the sausage. Call George Mest at 585-652-6480 or John Bond at 592-7627.

There are many other excellent venison food processors in Region 9, but ask someone who has used the facility you have in mind, before you test them out. It’s better to be referred than to find out you only get half your deer meat back. There are some “deer cutters” around who are less than reputable for their work. Ask first. Other local deer processors with good reputations include the Buck and Doe Shop in Williamsville, at 565-2108, and the Deer Shop in Cheektowaga, at 896-3337.

If you decide you would like to donate your deer to feed the hungry, the Venison Donation Coalition offers a list of processors, where you simply drop off your deer and tell them you are donating it to the food bank. In 1999, the Venison Donation Coalition was formed to coordinate the efforts of hunters, sportsmen’s organizations, processors, food banks and generous individuals to feed the hungry with our abundant natural resource of venison. For more on this effort, visit

Please be careful, this hunting season. Check that your barrel is clear of debris, before heading out; run a clean patch through it, to be sure. When you spot a deer or bear, be absolutely sure of your target and look beyond your target, before you squeeze the trigger. Do not shoot at running deer; there is no way to look beyond your target, if you do, and if you hit one that way, the meat is usually tainted, because it takes multiple shots to down the deer that way, leaving little useable meat.

Duck Dynasty sets record

Five years ago, not many folks had heard of “Duck Dynasty,” but in its fourth premier season, the A&E network American reality television series drew 11.8 million viewers and the outdoor-oriented show has become the most-watched nonfiction cable telecast in modern television history.

The show features the daily lives of the Robertson family in West Monroe, La., where family members have turned the duck call business into a million-dollar venture. Their No. 1 selling duck call is named “Duck Commander.” The men of the family all sport long beards. Willie is the boss on the TV show, but in reality, Willie is Si’s son. Si is the elder statesman of the clan, offering gentlemanly outdoor logic and no-nonsense common sense, for every situation.

Si is actually Phil Robertson’s brother and it is Phil who originally started making those duck calls, in a backyard shed in 1972, claiming that Louisiana cedar trees make the best calls. They must be good, because the “Outdoor News” just released word, this week, that for the first time, more than 1 million calls were sold, in the last 12 months.

The show features duck hunting and dove hunting, as a primary feature of American outdoor life. The show highlights the importance of family and the love of the outdoors that bonds families together, in this rural southern community.

Youth hunting season success

Hunting out of the camp of Bill King in Angelica, 14-year-old Laurel Swigonski and her dad Dennis headed out for her first-ever hunt on Oct. 12, during the NYS Youth Hunt weekend. Arriving at their spot in Fillmore, they settled in at about 6:45 a.m. About half an hour later, they had three doe come in, but they left hurriedly. Then, at about 7:40, a huge nine-pointer entered the picture. After a few tense moments, Laurel took aim with her 20-gauge shotgun, from about 40 yards, and dropped the deer in his tracks. Dennis Swigonski said, “To be there was the greatest thrill of my hunting life. I was so proud!”

Outdoor calendar

Nov. 14: Invasive Species of Lake Erie, informative seminar presentation with Helen Domske of New York Sea Grant, free, 7 p.m., 4968 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg. For more information, call 627-2773.

Nov. 15: Last Day of NYS Southern Zone early big game archery season.

Nov. 16: Opening day of NYS Southern Zone Big Game firearm season.

Dec. 8: Last Day of NYS Southern Zone Big Game firearm season.

Dec. 9-17: NYS late archery and muzzleloading season for deer and bear, sunrise to sunset.

Send information for the outdoor calendar in the Forrest Fisher Column, 10 days in advance, to


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