By Indrek Kongats
With no “No Trespassing” signs to litter the beautiful landscape, ASP has 65,000 acres (101 square miles) of unspoiled wilderness with very few hunting restrictions. Even the special hunting permit that is required is free of charge, and can be picked up at the Park Police office located in the main building at Red House Lake. You will require a New York State Hunting License and must abide by all Federal and NYS hunting regulations.
The major restriction is that in the most populated area around Red House Lake and the administrative building, hunting is prohibited. The boundaries are clearly defined on the park permit. You can even hunt with a centerfire large caliber rifle in most of the park, once again clearly defined on the must-have park permit. Carefully read the park permit for all special regulations regarding hunting in the park.
Although black bear in the park is prohibited, what you can hunt—and the hunting is excellent— is for everyone’s favorite, the whitetail deer, upland game hunter’s nemesis the ruffed grouse, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel and pheasant. Once the snow flies, hunting can get a little easier as you can locate game tracks in the snow.
Hunting the Whitetail
Whitetail deer is still open for late bow hunters and muzzleloaders, Dec. 12-20. The regular rifle season ends Dec. 11. Hunters have been chasing the deer since Nov. 19, so the deer will be a little leery, but relieved that the majority of the hunters are out of the woods come mid-December.
Still-hunting and stalking for the archer is pretty tough when it comes time to bag a whitetail, but with fewer hunters in the woods, it may be the only option. Getting in range requires exceptional skill. For the muzzleloader, it’s very similar to shotgun hunting and moving about quietly is the most enjoyable way to hunt in the winter time with snow on the ground. A good deer hunter can read the signs. He’ll know from the tracks whether he is chasing a buck or a doe, he’ll know if the deer are bedding down for the day or moving on from feeding areas.
Some people think still-hunting, moving quietly and slowly trying to spot the game before it spots you is the purist form of hunting. Still-hunting isn’t sitting still waiting for the deer to come by your stand or hiding place. That type of hunting requires lots of patience with the hope that an animal is still using the game trail that has been staked out.
Still-hunting means moving with stealth. Stopping and listening, looking for the flicker of an ear or the shape of an antler amongst so many similar antler looking branches. Your senses are at their peak and your heart races as a small sign is spotted and you stop and hold still waiting for the definitive answer that the deer is there.
Hunting the Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed grouse hunting in the park is also very good, with a lot of mixed forests of hardwood and evergreens, apple orchards, old fields and wetlands, including forest streams and brooks. Grouse season runs right through to Feb. 28, plenty of time to flush birds with or without snow on the ground. Winter hunting for grouse is easier than hunting in the fall, especially if leaves are still on the trees.
Grouse do not change color as do their northern counterparts, the ptarmigan, which turn completely white in the winter to blend in perfectly with the snow. Ruffed grouse stand out like a sore thumb, dark brown against the white snow and even easier to spot if they are eating buds high up in a tall leafless aspen.
In the winter, you can walk in silence over a blanket of snow, hardly making a sound to spook weary birds. Stopping every once in awhile will make a bird that’s hiding under the boughs of a heavily snow laden bush nervous. It will flush thinking you know its position. Without leaves, you’ll have clear shots and can see where a wounded or dead bird has hit the ground.
Snowshoes are a must when hunting off the beaten path and the best kind for the grouse hunter are the shorter and wider bear paw types that maneuver easily in heavy cover and deep snow.
Most people never bother looking up to find grouse, as they expect the birds to flush from dense ground cover. A grouse will spot you well before you spot them and will run or take flight well away from danger. If you are chasing a single bird or spook a covey, then start looking for them in the trees because that’s where they will be. The exact location is as defined as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The grouse will land in a hemlock for sure, about halfway up and close to the trunk on an exposed limb where it has full view.
Hunting the Cottontail
Cottontail rabbits are another winter treat. Like the grouse, they stay brown all winter and unlike the snowshoe or varying hare that turns white, cottontails remain the same color year round. Cottontails are North America’s most popular small game species and offer great sport, whether you are just learning to hunt with your grandfather or you are a grandfather yourself. Experienced rabbit hunters know the tricks of the rabbit and that knowledge makes them easy table fare. The tracks in the snow almost always reveal their location and once flushed, will try to make a full circle back to their lair.
Cottontails are active mostly at night and hold tight during daylight hours. During miserable prolonged weather conditions, the cottontail will stay well undercover or even underground, but come sunshine and signs of snow melting, it will have had enough of cabin fever and will be out and about and the bobbing of its white tail well signal the hunt is a foot.
Look for cottontails in brush piles, tall grasses bordering the forest’s edge, along roadways, culvert ditches and one of their favorite haunts—stream banks heavily laden with the tangle of briar branches.
Rabbits dart, zigzag and go in and out of cover so quickly that it makes the flight of a grouse seem predictable and in slow motion.
The challenge of hitting a bouncing bunny is truly worth the bragging rights that you’ll have earned and will have the pleasure of reciting during campfire story telling time.
Rabbits are excellent game for the table and that’s the very reason to hunt them. Every good rabbit hunter has an excellent recipe that he may or may not share but along with this article is one that you are sure to enjoy shared by rabbit hunter and game chef extraordinaire, Morten Fadum.
Although you can hunt any small game with a rimfire rifle, shotguns are best suited to the flushing kind like grouse and rabbits. Squirrels on the other hand just sit there and look you right in the eye foolishly. Squirrels and cottontails like the grouse are in season till Feb. 28, 2017.
Photo Paul Crawford.