Ticks tough on hunters


Mar 11, 2001
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Ticks tough on hunters

By FRED LEBRUN, Albany Times-Union

November 21, 2002

At least deer hunters in the region can't complain it was just another ho-hum opening day of the gun season.

It surely wasn't that.

Not that there wasn't plenty to complain about, but who's going to listen? The wife? Your friends stuck at the office who think you're just off on a lark anyway?

Not likely, so suck it up and be brave and long-suffering, secretly reveling in the knowledge that what you do is good, for yourself, for the natural order, for society, and even the pain can be a great pleasure of sorts.

Just before the alarm went off at 4 a.m., my mind suddenly focused on the background noise that was missing. I hadn't heard the steady drip of rain on the air conditioner outside our bedroom window for at least a couple of hours. Uh-oh.

Flipping on the lights to the backyard confirmed the worst. A solid 4 inches of wet snow was already down with more coming. Winds were swirling and howling while temperatures were in the high 20s. Midwinter conditions came to mind. I got dressed anyway, a credit to my lifelong commitment to deer hunting, or an appalling testament to sheer stupidity, or both.

I do know that having four-wheel drive on my Chevy pickup was the difference between staying home and going hunting. So after a cup of black coffee the truck and I clawed our way over unplowed roads and I got properly situated in the woods by 6 a.m.

I don't believe I have ever heard a quieter opening day in the woods. No squirrels scampering, no birds flitting about, no crows even. The snow did slack off by dawn, followed by a sullen mist that kept the day gloomy gray, raw and cold.

Just as last year, the deer weren't moving. In 2001 that was because the weather was too warm. This year it was because the barometer was killing us. A low pressure system was lodged in place and the deer were hunkered down, and that remained the case pretty much through Monday and Tuesday.

It was also a remarkably quiet opening day in terms of gunshots. Where there would usually be a volley about daybreak and sporadically through the first couple of hours, this year only the occasional bang for the buck was to be heard.

I suspect field attendance was way down this year for deer hunters, probably as a result of bad weather. Not everyone, after all, has a four-wheel drive vehicle and those roads were treacherous.

I only saw two deer all day. At about 10 a.m. a smallish doe skipped across my sight before I could get the gun up, followed a few minutes later by a young prong-antlered buck sniffing the snow, no doubt with love on his mind. He is not the first male to pay big time for overactive hormones. DEC deer maven Dick Henry's words rang in my ears, that the mating season would be in full swing by opening day, and here it was for me to see played out.

When I got the deer home and started to take the skin off, I noticed an abundance of ticks particularly around the neck area of the animal. Some of them were engorged ticks, many more were loose and ready to jump on me. When I finally finished prepping the deer for a couple of days of hanging, I took off everything I was wearing for a tick check and found a couple of them.

It turns out this may well go down as the year of the tick, according to those who see more dead deer close-up than anyone. That is, the professional meat cutters who handle hundreds of whitetails.

"We handled 65 deer during the early bow season and every one of them had ticks on them. Most of them were practically infested. It's the worst I've ever seen it," attests Mike Tator of Tator's Custom Cuts in the Columbia County town of Chatham.

Charlie Conrad, who cuts meat in the Albany County town of New Scotland, says while a few ticks have always been around in deer coming in, it's gotten dramatically worse this year for some reason. Probably due to the long, dry summer following a mild winter.

Charlie, who gets bitten by them from time to time, and has them crawling all over him constantly, does offer a novel solution. Absorbine Jr., the one with hot pepper in the formula.

It's somewhat premature to assess the early days of the season in terms of take, but it does appear opening day was slow. Both Charlie and Mike, who have done this for years, confirm the numbers coming in were below average. Mike had only about 50 deer come in. Even last year, a somewhat below average year, saw 150 dropped at his door opening day.

But by Wednesday afternoon, the numbers were creeping up to what both described as a respectable "average."

"But I will say this about this season so far," Mike added. "The deer coming in are huge bucks, horses." The weather that has given us the tick infestation has also given deer a stress-free prime growing season.

Fred LeBrun's outdoors column is published Thursdays. To reach him, call 454-5453.

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