Modify the Adirondack deer season?

White-tailed buck. Photograph by Jerry Segraves, via Wikimedia Commons

After big-game season closed earlier this month, a lot of northern-zone deer hunters would have liked another shot. Rifle season closed December 2, archery and muzzle-loader season December 9. Meanwhile, white-tailed bucks were still in rut, which is when they scrape, fight and wander in search of does—and which is when they are easiest to hunt.

“Many reported seeing bucks with does, and a report from the western Adirondacks that came in early this week spoke of two bucks fighting on December 10,” hunter and author Dan Ladd wrote on his website, “So, we’ve got some late rutting activity here for sure.”

By phone Tuesday, Ladd explained that he and other Adirondack hunters witnessed a mild first rut when it usually occurs, in November. “But we also had a very strong secondary rut,” he said.

Post-November ruts are more typical of southern regions, where deer don’t have to cope with deep snow and winter survival. The mating season for northern deer shuts down in winter as deer congregate in “yards,” sheltered softwood groves that provide protection from wind and snow. Mild weather and minimal snow this fall may have contributed to the second rut.

In its monthly climate report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that this past November was the fifth warmest (globally, not locally) since 1880. The agency calculated that the 10 warmest Novembers on record have all occurred within the past 12 years.

Plants and animals are shifting their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events—such as flowering, mating or migrating—at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago, according to a national report released yesterday. Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, authored by the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University, synthesizes scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting species and habitat.

“These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.

Some hunters have suggested that deer season should be extended to match changing patterns in behavior. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which sets hunting seasons every five years, surveyed sportsmen about modifying deer-hunting season before issuing the plan that took effect this year. The timing of Adirondack big-game season went largely unchanged, but the report states, “DEC also recognizes that global climate change will alter the future landscape of wildlife management in New York. Efforts to understand and predict the impacts to deer are necessary for long-term management planning.”

Ladd said he opposed opening northern New York’s deer season later because winters here have been unpredictable.

“A few years ago in Benson, New York, we got some snow in late November,” he explained. “And the deer started to winter up just as the late muzzle-loading season was starting. During that period they were basically slaughtering them over there in Benson. There were [about a hundred] deer yarded up over there. There were people coming from the Hudson Valley, they were coming from Connecticut. They got into this winter yard area and it was just fish in a barrel.

“I mean this year, yeah, this is one of those years when I wish I could go hunting today. It’s been 40 degrees, the weather’s been nice, but it’s not like that every year. It’s a fine line between fall and winter. I’ve seen that line happen in November, and I’ve seen that line happen well after hunting season. I was critical of holding that season late because I didn’t want to see another Benson.”

This past deer season was unusual for other reasons, Ladd said: The acorn and beechnut crop was weak, and apples were scarce because a spring frost killed early blossoms. Abnormally dry conditions throughout summer limited the selection of other food. Deer throughout the Adirondacks have been subsisting on ferns.

“The buck we killed two weeks ago had no fat on it,” he said. “That deer and other deer like him, they’re in trouble if we get into a hard winter situation.”

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