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Oct. 20, 2004

Oswego County Offers a Horn of Plenty in Hunting Opportunities
By Doug Fuegel

Among New York's larger counties, Oswego County has one of the nicest port cities of the entire Lake Ontario shoreline, quaint villages, and the scenic Salmon River corridor. More importantly this time of year, hunters can explore massive amounts of rural land, farms, wooded areas and untold numbers of acres of public land -- all suited to some of the best hunting in New York State.

Oswego County is unique in that a portion lies in the Northern Zone and a portion lies in the Southern Zone of the DEC's management units that govern season opening dates. While it may be a bit confusing studying boundary lines, hunters in this area have the added advantage of more than just one season opening and closing date. In general, the land north of state Route 49 to the intersection of I-81, north to state Route 13 and west to Lake Ontario, is in the Northern Zone. The rest of Oswego County is in the Southern Zone hunting region. Refer to the DEC website at www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/wildlife for specific management unit descriptions.

Archers can hunt with a bow in the Southern Zone until Nov. 21. The Northern Zone archery season has ended.

Hunting during these early seasons offers the opportunity to pursue deer, enjoy Mother Nature's beautiful autumn changes, and enjoy the solitude of our many forested areas. Hunting conditions are changing rapidly. We had an unusually warm, dry fall and deer do not move much during warm fall days as they gain heavy coats preparing for winter.

Stalking deer is difficult when dry leaves and other debris reveals every step of the hunter. Now that temperatures are dropping daily, deer are feeding vigorously for the coming winter, and we are fast approaching the rut period of deer, which usually peaks around the second week of November.

The deer rut, or breeding season, gives the hunter several positive options to harvest a very nice buck deer. Buck deer by nature lead a solitary life and are not as readily seen, as are doe deer and fawns. During the rut, as they pursue does in estrus, they often throw caution to the wind, making themselves vulnerable to hunters. During this period buck deer will often answer to grunt calls, various doe in heat scents, and rattling techniques. Serious deer hunters may use all of these tactics under the right conditions of time and location of the hunt.

New York's Northern Zone regular big game gun season opened Oct. 23. The Southern Zone gun season opens Nov. 22. Muzzleloader hunters can enjoy a weeklong season in the Southern Zone portion of our county beginning Dec. 6.

The same Northern Zone/Southern Zone boundary line that splits Oswego County also benefits turkey hunters. Although the Northern Zone turkey season has ended, hunters pursuing the traditional Thanksgiving bird have until Nov. 7 to bag their bird in the southern portion. The season allows one bird of either sex.

In Oswego County we are fortunate that in years past the state acquired several large land parcels for public use. A popular hunting area with very easy access is the 8,000-acre Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area, located in the northeast portion of the county. The area is a combination of gently rolling hills with second growth timber and brush, with some flat wetland portions with heavy conifers that offer very good cover for deer and escape routes as they travel to and from feed areas.

All in all, Oswego County is blessed with approximately 40,000 acres of public land, offering opportunities for deer hunting and small game such as grouse, cottontail rabbit, hare, and squirrel. Much of the public land that was acquired many decades ago still harbors evidence of abandoned farms, old stone walls, caved-in cellars, and many overgrown scrub apple plots that still produce an excellent food source for both deer and small game.

In addition to Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area, others that should be on your list of good hunting areas include the 8,000-acre Little John Wildlife Management Area, the 3,500-acre Three Mile/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area, and the 1,200-acre Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area.

Several state forest parcels lay within the bounds of Oswego County with excellent habitat for deer and small game species. The largest of Oswego County's state forests, Winona encompasses 9,000 acres of open timberland, low dense areas and pole stand forest to provide good wildlife habitat. In all there are 15 state public forests within the county, including Sandy Creek, Klondike and West Osceola that I have personally hunted and found to be ideal for both big game and small game hunting.

The free fishing and hunting guide available from the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism has an excellent detailed map of the county that outlines every wildlife management area and state forest. Copies are available by visiting their website at www.oswegocounty.com or by calling 315-349-8322.

For our out-of-town visitors, the booklet also offers a complete list of lodging accommodations. Public land information is also available by contacting DEC's Region 7 headquarters in Cortland at 607-753-3051.

Although posted land can present a problem for game managers and access for hunters, do not rule out contacting landowners and asking for permission to hunt. Even though our deer herd may have suffered some losses due to the previous two harsh winters, there are still areas where deer are overpopulated and causing crop damage. In these cases landowners and farmers may welcome hunters if approached properly. If permission is granted, let the landowner know exactly who will be hunting, ask where to park your vehicles, and ask if any of the land is off-limits due to a recent winter crop planting. Always say thank you, and be willing to share your bounty with the landowner.

We encourage hunters to review the state DEC hunting rules and regulations before your trip, in order to enjoy your hunting experience to the fullest.

Success in harvesting wild game is never guaranteed, but for increased odds and an enjoyable experience, Oswego County should be high on your hunting destination list.

Doug Fuegel is the weekly outdoor writer for the Oswego County Weeklies, freelances for several outdoor publications and is a contributor to several area tourism guides. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, and a member of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council. He recently retired from several years as a charter captain on eastern Lake Ontario. He resides in West Monroe with his wife Shirley and son Jeff. You can contact Doug at 315-668-9492 or email dfuegel@ix.netcom.com.

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