Waterfowl season opened this past Saturday, and you could hear the booming of shotguns over on the state and federal refuges. Conditions were less than perfect, with the high winds and rain making shooting more difficult, but it sounded like the boys were getting plenty of action.
The pheasant season started the Saturday before and there were a good number of hunters out looking for the beautiful Ring-necked Pheasant. The boisterous cackle and wild flush of this bird often unnerves the hunter so much that in many cases it causes him to miss the shot!
At one time this bird was the king of the upland game birds, as there was an abundant supply of them. Everyone hunted them, even those without bird dogs.
Many of us started learning our hunting and shooting skills on pheasants, but around the end of the 1960s the bird began to decline from our fields. Modern farming practices and the protection of winged raptors, especially the Red-tailed Hawk, were some of the big contributing factors.
These birds were not native to this country but originally came from Asia. Today those that still hunt this magnificent game bird are searching for birds that have been raised at the Reynolds Game Farm in Ithaca. Over 30,000 adult pheasants are released, from this game farm, across the State onto DEC-managed public hunting areas. Approximately 60,000 day-old chicks are also hatched there to be distributed to cooperators (such as 4-H youths) that raise the birds until they are a couple of months old and then release them into places where the public can eventually hunt them that fall.
At one time, the state was in control of seven such game farms, to raise pheasants for hunting and to help supplement their population. This included our local White Game Farm in Basom. All are now closed except the Reynolds farm, with our local game farm being closed in 1999 in order to save the state money.
Our two local State WMA's have birds released every Tuesday and Friday through the season; however, no hunting or dog training is allowed on those release days. The birds are full adults and terrific specimens, but they are not the wild birds we knew back in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Of course deer season with the bow has been open since October 1st with the peak time to hunt them having started this week.
Trapping for upland furbearers (coon, fox, coyote, skunk, opossum and weasel) opened October 25th with muskrat, beaver and mink not opening until November 25th.
So you can see there are a lot of outdoor people out in the woods and fields now. This also includes folks that are just out to enjoy nature like birders, hikers and photographers, which means everyone needs to be alert for other outdoor enthusiasts around them to provide a safe environment for all and not interfere with others' enjoyment.
For the good part of my life I was a die-in-the-wool waterfowl hunter, hunted pheasants hard until the end of the 1960s and trapped from the age 12 until 1970. Now my hunting consists of just deer hunting, occasionally turkey, and nature photography. So for the opening of waterfowl season this past weekend, a cruise was taken around our local refuges to see how the season started off.
Going by a place that an immature Bald Eagle (estimated to be a two-year-old) had been frequently seen perched before, he was again spotted that morning. The tree he was in could be driven right up to, but he was usually flushed in the past by someone driving up and getting out of their vehicle “to get a better look” or picture. This morning, no one was around, and so by taking my time and progressively moving close over a period of 15 or 20 minutes by stopping and going, I got within 30 feet of him! I did not get out of the vehicle and was very careful not to make any sudden moves in the vehicle. He became comfortable with me being there, which gave me a good half-hour of close observation and photographing.
It was quite an experience to be that close to a wild eagle and have him accept my presence. I believe this is the same eagle that there has been some relatively close encounters with before. Maybe he is getting accustomed to my vehicle and knows there is no danger. My hope is that someday he gives me the same opportunity when he becomes mature (five years old) and has his majestic white head and tail and orange bill.
So even though there was no waterfowl hunting for me for the first day of duck and goose season, it was one of my better days in the Great Outdoors. I hope yours was, too!