CANANDAIGUA — It’s the day deer hunters dream about each November: Opening day — and the chance to bag that big buck.
And it starts tomorrow at sunrise.
Opening day is "a big opportunity for people to get out there and harvest a deer or just get out," said New York State Environmental Conservation Officer John Stansfield.
A number of years ago, the hunting season opened during the week, "but they moved it back to the weekend so people who have jobs and things going on during the week get a fair chance," said Frank Smith, former conservation professor at Finger Lakes Community College and certified hunting instructor with 55 years of hunting experience. "They opened it up for more people so more people can get out there. The first couple of days are usually the best to harvest a deer."
There is an added twist to this year’s season.
In Ontario and Wayne counties, hunters are now able to use a centerfire rifle, said Stansfield. A centerfire riffle functions just as it sounds: The firing pin strikes the primer in the center of the round, causing the round to be fired. Rimfire, on the other hand — which functions with a primer on the rim of the bullet casing — will not be legal for rifles.
"The use of rifles during hunting season in Ontario County will help bolster our reputation as an excellent destination for hunters and allow more visiting sportsmen and women to appreciate our unmatched natural landscape," said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua.
With the addition of rifles comes added range, but the accuracy depends on the sportsman. Hunters may have a better sight on their target, but they will need to exercise more caution when firing.
For the most part, said Smith, operating a firearm safely comes down to common sense. As he looked down a list of hunting “incidents” from 2012, there was an account of a hunter firing a round into his foot while he climbed his tree stand.
"Well, didn't we tell you not to climb with your gun?" said Smith.
In another incident, a bullet ricocheted off a pond. The lesson, said Smith: “Don't fire at a flat surface."
Smith said if people follow the rules of hunter safety and use caution out in the fields and woods, they can stay safe.
Still, with more people out this weekend, there is more risk of hunting injuries, although they have been down in recent years.
According to Smith, most hunting injuries occur from falls. Hunters trip on a branch or fall from their tree stand, and this often happens when the adrenaline is high after a successful shot. These types of injuries comprise what is generally considered hunting “accidents.” Hunting incidents, on the other hand, are when a hunter, fishermen, trapper or bystander is injured by the discharge of a firearm or arrow in a hunting scenario. In past decades, these incidents comprised the majority of injuries.
"I remember hunting in the ’70s," said hunter Tom Geldard of Canandaigua, and "a deer would walk through the field and the whole treeline would light up. I was young then, but I remember thinking, this is crazy. Going out then was dangerous, but it's much better now."
Hunter safety courses were made mandatory in New York in 1949. Since then, the trend for hunter incidents has gone down, said the DEC’s Stansfield. This is largely due to a more comprehensive course for hunters.
"The 10-hour course we teach now is a lot better than the three-hour course that I took for mine," said Smith. "People say hunting is dangerous. Well, driving is dangerous. There's less injuries in hunting than in bowling; they're just more severe, more publicized."
Still, added Smith, those who haven't taken a hunter education course in a while should consider taking it again.
Geldard echoed this thought, saying he has taken the course several times over the years and always finds value in it.
For hunters gearing up for this season, the DEC reminds you to report any deer or bear killed within seven days, and to fill out your carcass tags once your harvest is confirmed.
Some bottom-line advice from Stansfield: “Be patient. Don't shoot at something unless you know it's a deer — that's something I can't stress enough."
Other than that, he said, "get out there, be safe, and have a good season."