By Dan Ladd
---- — The Northern Zone early muzzleloading season opened yesterday. If it seems like this season is opening later than in previous years, that is precisely the case.
When the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s new white-tailed deer management plan took effect last year, it changed the opening day of the big-game rifle season from the second-to-last Saturday in October to the second Saturday after Columbus Day.
The weeklong early muzzleloading season precedes the big-game season, which opens next Saturday (Oct. 26) and runs for 44 days. It will end on Dec. 8, making this season one of the odd-ball years where deer season runs a bit further into December. Parts of the Northern Zone will also see a late muzzleloading season that runs through Dec. 15.
I love muzzleloading hunting. Like so many hunters out there, I started out with a patch-and-ball percussion rifle. I had some great success with that little gun, including a fine Adirondack six-pointer that remains one of my more memorable hunts.
Technology changed everything in the muzzleloading world. “In-line” rifles came along with better ignition systems and scopes eventually became legal to use. More than a decade ago, the state added the late season and that was eventually followed by the creation of the Super Sportsman license that put more tags in hunter’s pockets.
All of this has resulted in an increase in muzzleloading’s popularity, at least in the North Country. For many years I was the only hunter in our group who hunted with a muzzleloader (as well as archery gear). That has all changed as nearly everyone in our group now owns a smokepole or two. Overall, it seems like there are two opening days in the Northern Zone: yesterday and next Saturday.
The excitement of hunting deer with a muzzleloader is hard to beat. You’ve got one shot and you’ve got to make it count. No two guns are alike and they shoot differently depending on the load and the equipment. I can’t emphasize this enough.
These days I mostly hunt with an MDM breach-action, in-line muzzleloader that, when equipped with a scope, can drive tacks at 100 yards. But since I took the scope off and went back to the original peep site it’s more difficult to shoot longer distances. That is OK because I’m usually in the timber where most of the shots I take, even during rifle season, are at distances of 30 or 40 yards. If you hunt in the farm country or any type of open area you might feel differently.
As for hunting techniques; our gang usually sits tight opening morning as well as the evening. We may make some slow drives at midday. If I’m hunting solo I might sit for a little while in the morning but if conditions are right then I am on the move, still-hunting and/or scouting for later in the season.
While muzzleloading hunters can harvest antlerless deer in most of the Northern Zone, I’m very cautious about where I choose to do so. Most of the Adirondack Forest Preserve lands I hunt do not have high deer populations, and therefore, I target only bucks. I do have a few private properties that I’m fortunate to hunt where there are plenty of deer. When I hunt there I’m not bashful about putting a little meat in the freezer.
State biologists are forecasting a good deer season this fall. We’ve had some easy winters and there is an ample food supply. Now all we need is some cooperation from Mother Nature. Good luck this season and please hunt safely.
Larry Benoit passes
I was very lucky to have the chance to meet Larry Benoit, the legendary deer hunter from northern Vermont who passed away last week at age 89. A dozen years ago on my first visit to the Yankee Sportsman Classic over in Burlington, I sat next to him during a seminar given by his sons. I saw him there a few times more over the years before he gave up the trade show scene.
His deer tracking book, “How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life,” is one of the great and inspiring hunting reads of all time. In the 1970s he was labeled by Sports Afield magazine as the “Best Deer Hunter in America.” His celebrity status rose and was eventually passed on to his sons who still are a big draw on the seminar circuit. The Benoit family is pretty much responsible for putting northeastern, big-woods style hunting on the map.
Thanks to Larry’s book and the subsequent family endeavors we can forever have glimpses into the hunter that he was during his prime.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.