By JOEL CUTHBERT
POSTED: November 15, 2008
'Tis the season for hunting with a shotgun, and local sportsmen are preparing to don seasonal colors - camouflage.
Sunrise today marked the start of the 2008 regular deer hunting season for the entire Southern Zone, which includes Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties - and a host of happy hunters - and extends through sunset Dec. 7.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Web site, nearly 700,000 state residents and over 50,000 out-of-state residents hunt within New York annually. In addition to the hordes of in- and out-of-state hunters, this year also marks the expansion of big-game hunting with a firearm in the Southern Zone to 14- and 15-year-olds if accompanied and supervised by an experienced adult hunter.
"We're not noticing a big jump, but people do start to come out here as close to the beginning of the opening of the season as possible every year," Andrew Nixon, executive director of the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, said. "... A lot of people hunt on land where they have a relationship with the landowner or landowners. They've come before; they know them. They go straight there and so that's how they first appear in the area ... It's often a multi-generational activity."
NYSDEC data states approximately 85 percent of New York state is private property and indicates such privately owned land, as opposed to the acres of available state land, is where most hunting occurs. While approximately 60 percent of private property is posted against trespass, NYSDEC officials assure area hunters many landowners will allow access if asked for permission.
Still, whether from local hunters stepping out of their back doors or urban enthusiasts migrating to the more rural counties of the Southern Zone, Nixon said many area grocery stores and diners - especially those open early in the morning - will benefit greatly this year, as they do each year, from shotgun season.
Similarly, local retail stores already reaped the benefits of the season. While the county visitor's bureau may not have recorded an influx of out-of-town hunters, local businesses that stock hunting equipment and supplies noticed an increase in the overall sale of those items.
"Shotgun season is the most popular hunting season of the year," Brad Balentine, manager of the Dunkirk-Fredonia Wal-Mart, said regarding sales.
Despite the current state of the local and national economy, he said sales associated with shotgun season remain steady, a fact he attributed to Wal-Mart's low prices on such items.
"The last week has been very heavy ... It has been very busy in sporting goods," Balentine confirmed. "... (Hunters) come in and stock up on shells; everyone needs the newest camouflage and stuff. It's been very busy, a good year."
Jeff Jankowiak, owner of JJ Guns on Route 20 in Sheridan, also indicated a tremendous increase in customers lately due to the start of shotgun season this year. However, a last-minute rush of hunters is typical of this time of year, he added.
In addition, Jankowiak said he caters to a diverse group of hunters who come in to purchase guns and supplies for hunting season.
"(We get) all different (types of customers), from ladies to men to young people," he said, talking over the din of customers which crowded his store Thursday evening.
While the Southern Zone deer hunting season opened this morning, big-game hunting is prohibited in certain parts of Erie County. This includes the area around the city of Buffalo bounded by Tonawanda Creek from the East Branch Niagara River to Route 78 to Greiner Road to Route 268 to Route 5 to Ransom Road to Route 33 to Route 78 to Route 20 to Route 20A to Lake Erie.
In addition, rifles are prohibited in Chautauqua County - though allowed in Cattaraugus County - and opening day in the Allegany bear hunting area of central and western New York isn't until next Saturday, Nov. 22.
The NYSDEC Region 9 office will operate only one deer check station in Western New York this season, which will be located on Route 16, northbound, approximately one mile south of the town of Holland. The station will be in operation today from noon to 9 p.m. and Nov. 16 from noon to 8 p.m. There will also be a wildlife technician at Allegany State Park to check deer today.
Hunters are encouraged to bring their deer to the check station in order for NYSDEC staff to record license data, determine the age of the deer, and make other biological measurements.
"Hunter participation at deer check stations is greatly appreciated and enables us to collect valuable data necessary for assessing the status of the deer population," NYSDEC Region 9 Senior Wildlife Biologist Tim Spierto said in a press release.
Hunters are also encouraged to donate a deer to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program sponsored by the Venison Donation Coalition. Deer can be dropped off at the check station before 7 p.m.
As shotgun season commences, the NYSDEC reminds hunters to always point their guns in a safe direction; treat every gun as if it were loaded; be sure of their target and beyond; keep their fingers off the trigger until they're ready to shoot; and wear hunter orange. For more hunting safety tips, visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9186.html.
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