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Nov. 1, 2011

It's a Long Hunting Season for Autumn Racks and Does in Oswego County

By Spider Rybaak

SUCCESSFUL HUNT - Shaun Griffith, right, and his grandfather, the late Merrill Mooney, landed this nice pair of bucks last fall in the town of Richland, Oswego County. (Photo courtesy of Shaun Griffith.)

Autumn turns Oswego County into one of the world's premier fishing destinations. Deer hunters wouldn't want it any other way. You see, with all those guys chasing trophy salmon, trout, walleyes and bass, hunters enjoy relative solitude and quiet while pursuing game on the hoof.

Split in two by the state's northern and southern zones--one of only six counties set in both--Oswego County boasts more hunting hours per season than the vast majority of its neighbors. The games begin with the northern zone's bow season opener, September 27, and runs through the southern zone's regular season's closing day, December 20, 2011.

Blessed with a patchwork of pristine country ranging from the bottomlands and wetlands of southeastern Lake Ontario and the north shore of Oneida Lake to the desolate forests of the Tug Hill Plateau and the rich farmlands along the Oswego and Oneida Rivers, Oswego County boasts one of the greatest collections of deer habitats in the state.

Much of its western half lies in the southern zone, specifically the Great Lakes Plains, an area notorious for large quantities of monster deer. Its eastern half, entirely located in the lightly populated northern zone, is split into three Wildlife Management Units, including WMU 6N, one of the harshest habitats in the state, where only the strongest, biggest deer survive.

Last season, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recorded a total of 4,238 deer taken in Oswego County. More than half--2,275, in fact--were bucks at least 1 ½ years old, making the county one of your top bets for bagging a rack.

According to the DEC's "2011 Hunting Season Forecast," hunters bagged something like 230,000 deer in 2010, slightly more than in recent years. Considering last season's mild weather and light snowfall amounted to the most challenging big game season in recent memory, the woods are full of deer, making this year the most promising of the century.

Here's a quick rundown of DEC's hunting forecast for Oswego County's four WMUs.

WMU 6G: Nestled in the Eastern Lake Ontario plain, this unit consists mostly of rich agricultural land. Deer thrive here and their numbers remain larger than DEC's objectives, "despite several years of high antlerless harvest..." However, the report continues "With take of adult female deer exceeding take of adult male deer for the last two years, hunters should expect to find a slightly smaller deer herd and a lower buck take in 2011."

WMU 6K: Wrapping around the northern, southern and western edge of the Tug Hill Plateau, this WMU receives heavy snowfall each year and its herd's numbers ebb and flow with the conditions. Lately, the number has grown in response to mild winters, but hunters have taken so many bucks, they drove the WMU "above the DEC's buck take objective" and preference points were required to receive doe permits this year.

WMU 6N: Located deep in the Tug Hill Plateau, an area famed for receiving the heaviest annual snowfall in the Northeast, the deer herd is one of the state's smallest and no permits are issued. However, blessed with a relatively mild winter and good fawning this summer, the deer population is larger than last season.

WMU 7A: Sprawling over relatively flat Great Lakes Plain country in the western part of the county, the place is mostly wooded. Deer like that. In fact, the DEC reports the "2010 buck take climbed again, indicating a population that continues to be slightly above the desired level."

Much of this area is farmland and is privately-owned. However, Lance Clark, a Senior Wildlife Biologist with DEC Region 7 says "With the damage unmanaged deer can do, I would believe some farmers would be happy to allow you to hunt deer on their property. You have to do your footwork...and just ask."

So, even if you're so clumsy you can't walk or sit quietly, or such a lousy shot you can't hit the forest for the trees, simply being in the backcountry this time of year will show you what deer hunters mean when they claim their activity is more important than simply killing game. Stepping into autumn woods puts you on crackling carpets ablaze in reds, browns and golds one day, muffled in blankets of sparkling snow the next; all of it under a constantly moving ceiling shifting from azure to partly sunny to coils of grey and white.

For more information on hunting and fishing spots in Oswego County, go to visitoswegocounty.com/fishing-hunting/

Spider Rybaak is an award-winning outdoor writer who has been published in more than 20 periodicals. He is the author of "Fishing Eastern New York" and "Fishing Western New York" guide books that cover 429 streams and lakes in New York State. Contact him at srybaak@yahoo.com". Check out his blog at http://fishingandhuntinginoswego.blogspot.com/

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