The bright, beautiful Harvest Moon, come to shine on our tired fields and woodlands, has passed. The leaves have begun to turn, the temperatures are dancing about, deciding which way to go, and we are, this very week, heading into the New York state hunting season, a few months of search and shoot for the many hunters of our county. They hunt not only white-tailed deer, but also other fur-bearing and feathered animals: bear, coyote, fox, opossum, weasel, bobcat, small game, migratory game birds, waterfowl, wild turkey, and they hunt with bows, crossbows, muzzleloaders, handguns, shotguns and rifles.
Last year in Otsego County, 3,088 white-tailed bucks were taken, 2,627 does, and 709 fawns, with 253,990 white tails taken in all throughout the state – the most on record – up from 224,190 in 2019.
Deer hunting is not new, although as a sport it is relatively young. Artifacts found in Germany reveal evidence of hunting 350,000 years ago, while the cave paintings in France date from 30,000 years ago. It was during the mid-Paleolithic period (the Stone Age) that early man developed the tools — of stone, bone and wood — to kill, and the age of the hunter/gatherer improved upon that of the previous gatherer/scavenger.
Later, about 11,000 years ago, the domestication of livestock and the dawn of agriculture brought hunting to new heights, with the animals now supplying, along with meat and protein, bone for implements, sinew for cordage, fur, feathers and rawhide for clothing and footwear. And then came the dogs. Depending on their breed, they helped their hunters pursue, retrieve and, often, kill, in return for habitation, food and support.
North American hunting pre-dates the United States by thousands of years and was an important part of many pre-Columbian Native American cultures. North American deer are thought to have descended from Asiatic forms which reached this continent at various times from the middle Miocene to the late Pleistocene epochs, i.e., sometime between one million and 18 million years ago. In terms of geologic time the big game species — deer, elk, moose and caribou — are comparatively recent immigrants, their forms similar to Asiatic and European representatives of the deer family.
The white-tailed deer is New York’s most important big game species beginning with their essential contribution to the welfare of the pioneers. Through the years they have been the target of myriad hunters who valued them for food, clothing, recreation, or as trophies. But the settlers cleared the land with little, if any, consideration for the possible effects on game and indeed, by the middle of the nineteenth century the tremendous increase in farm acreage and the random slaughter of deer had more than counterbalanced the earlier beneficial effects of the opening of the dense forest cover.
There was a marked decline of the New York deer population through most of the 19th century, to a low between 1880 and 1890. By 1885 deer were in danger of extermination throughout the State except for the wild, nonagricultural region of the central Adirondacks. Throughout the twentieth century the deer population returned sporadically, only to decrease again, due both to starvation, during the severe winters of 1925-26, 1930-31 and 1947-48, and to the illegal killing of antlerless deer. Since mid-century, the population has increased substantially.
Today we have an abundance of deer. Without their principal predators, wolves and mountain lions, they are in danger of over-browsing their territories, devastating the forest understory, and even threatening the gardens of Otsego County. Bears, bobcats, coyotes and automobiles take their share, but man is the primary population control.
Good luck, hunters. Good luck deer. Be safe. Be careful. Be smart.