The Fourth Quarter Clock Starts Ticking for Hunters

Steve Sorensen, Outdoor hunting writer. Photo Courtesy of Steve Sorensen.

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Steve Sorensen

With October’s arrival we enter the fourth quarter of the year. The clock is counting down and hunters need a game plan. Bow hunters are now in the field. They’ve done their scouting, set their treestands, and are waiting for a buck to hang on the wall. Soon gun hunters will also be in the game.
Will you be successful this season? Success depends on lots of factors. Although some are beyond your control, many aren’t. Skills are important, but so are the intangibles that go to the heart of your hunt—whether you’re bow hunting or gun hunting, and whether doe hunting or buck hunting. Here are five of them, and after that we’ll talk about the forecast for the season.

1. Attitude. Keep it positive. When everything else goes wrong, control your attitude. It’s what adults do. Venison in the freezer may be your goal, but success is more than that. It’s measured by the joy we take from the animals we see, the land we explore, and the invigorating fall air.

It’s the pursuit itself that’s captivating, the blessing of participating in the ancient ritual of the hunt. Those are the reasons failure to fill a tag is not failure. Many anti-hunters think the hunter is a bloodthirsty villain, but you and I both know many enjoyable hunts end without getting our hands bloody. Sometimes we’re glad we don’t have an animal to skin and process. We have much to enjoy in the woods of southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. Let’s not allow a bad attitude to rob us of pleasure.

2. Safety. Your safety and the safety of others are paramount. That means you must strap yourself in to avoid falling from a treestand. It means crossing fences without a loaded firearm in your hands. It means taking measures against falling down. (The memory of falling and breaking three ribs while hunting for shed antlers is a painful reminder to me that a simple fall can make life miserable.) It means taking only safe shots—always identifying your target, and always making sure of what’s beyond your target. Don’t let a bullet sail over the horizon to an unknown destination. Don’t shoot toward a barn or a road or a pasture. Safety is mostly simple common sense.

3. Changes. The woods constantly change throughout the season. Even though you’ve done your scouting, you should still be scouting while you are hunting. Visibility changes when the leaves fall, so altering the location of a treestand may up your odds. Food sources change and some are preferred more than others, so don’t depend on abundant red oak acorns if you know where a couple of trees are dropping sweet white oak acorns that will draw the deer better. Wind is prone to change, foul weather blows in, and temperatures drop. All of that affects the movement of deer, so be adaptable.

Farming practices also change the movement of deer. Harvested crop fields may still draw them, but deer may change the time they feed there. Once deer grow their winter coats they need temperatures below 45 degrees in order to be comfortable on their feet. If your free time to hunt comes during warm days ahead, it might be best to hunt where deer can find shade.

Chautauqua County NY Hunting Schedule

Big Game Early Archery Season Opens Oct. 1, ends Nov. 17, 2017
Crossbow Season Opens Nov. 4, runs through Nov. 17
Firearm Season (Shotgun, Handgun, Rifle) Opens Nov. 18, ends Dec. 10
Muzzleloader, Late Archery Season Opens Dec. 11, ends Dec. 19

4. Landowners. You can always control how you treat the land where you hunt. Someone has said hunters should leave nothing behind except boot tracks, but if I could avoid leaving boot tracks behind, I would. Don’t leave candy wrappers, and take a plastic bag along for trash you find. It’s surprising what finds its way into the woods, including party balloons gone astray. Lots of trash weighs next to nothing and will cost you nothing to haul out, so do what you can to help the landowner keep his land clean. It will help insure a place to hunt for the future, and when you’ve done something good it makes you feel good. Remember that all the time, not just during hunting season.

5. Learn the land. When firearms season comes, don’t settle into that archery treestand and hope for the best. Many deer know where your stand is and they’ll avoid it, so the treestand you sat in with your bow may be less productive in the gun season. Gun season is the time for boots on the ground. The weather will be cooler and there is always something to explore. Deer patterns are different then anyway, and learning something about the land you hunt should always be one of your goals.

Those are five intangibles that can make or break a season. Paying attention to them might give you one of your best seasons ever.

Now for this season’s deer forecast. All summer we’ve been hearing about deer diseases so you may be wondering how much of an effect Chronic Wasting Disease and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease will have on our hunting in southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. Fortunately, not much. At least, not yet.

So far, biologists and game managers have not found CWD in these areas. That doesn’t mean it won’t come, but for now we are confident the local deer herd is not infected by CWD. And while we may have a few cases of EHD, it’s certainly not at an epidemic level in these parts. And once a hard frost kills the biting midges that transmit EHD, the disease will disappear for the year.

The author’s first New York buck wasn’t a monster, but it’s fairly representative of bucks in the area, and lots of bigger ones are out there. Photo Courtesy of Steve Sorensen

As for food supplies, they are good. Apples are abundant, but check the ones where you hunt. The sweeter they are the more inviting they will be to deer. Oaks and other mast-producing trees are providing food for wildlife, with the exception of beech trees. Beech blight has made the production of the sweet, triangular beech nuts sporadic, if you can find any at all. Hickory nuts are abundant in areas, but wildlife doesn’t always use them. Check hickory nuts when you find them—deer gravitate toward nuts that are not bitter and have thin shells.

If New York hunters want a buck with respectable antlers, your odds increase in areas that border the Pennsylvania state line. The antler restriction policy in Pennsylvania has produced older, larger racked bucks, and they freely cross into New York. It will also be worth focusing on areas where you don’t see many deer, but bucks can get older. Southwestern New York has plenty of public land that provides good deer habitat. The many swamps, thickets and large state-owned tracts all hold deer, including some nice bucks.

If you haven’t hunted in a while, maybe it’s time to get out again. Don’t be sitting on the couch when a buddy calls and tells you he’s stopping by to show you the nice buck he shot. It’s the fourth quarter, and it’s time to get in the game.