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Winners were everywhere around the hall during awards presentations at the Sixth Annual Frank Privitere Memorial International Rabbit Hunting Derby.

Held at the American Legion Post No. 63 in Lackawanna on Jan. 26, that Saturday evening gathering brought together the young and older good folks that populate the hunter ranks of Western New York.

“This is where you get to see the best of hunters and gun owners,” Rick Giermata, event coordinator with the New Empire Beagle Club, said that evening.

The team competition presents prizes for the top three single entries by weight.

In planning this derby, Giermata wanted to stage it later into the rabbit season so that snowfall was possible and hunters had established good hunting locations. As hunters have seen during late-January hunts, that Saturday began in blazing sunlight and a warming trend that followed a week-long deep freeze.

Canadian team leader Matt Duhaime, from Thorold, Ont., said of the hunt, “It started slow, but the dogs got the rabbits running hard once it warmed up.”

His team’s plan was to shoot for winners. “We saw lots of 'short’ runs to holes and only took shots at ones that circled,” he said of the five big rabbits his team brought in for weighing. In the final standings, the team of Duhaime’s relatives Dan and Sam Duhaime, Krista Gaverluk, Matt Christopher and Matthew Seburn took first and second place with 3.7 and 3.5-pound entries.

This team has participated in four of the five previous derbies, taking two second places in earlier contests. Brett Bavisotto, a regular on four previous teams, did not make it for this year’s wins. Duhaime and the Duhaime family dedicated their wins to their elder/founder Patrick “DD” Duhaime, 86, who cheers on the team each year. The team also donated its money prizes to the collective youth causes Giermata had established for this year’s event.

The third-place team entered a 3.5-pound rabbit and took informal honors for the most bunnies bagged that day. Team leader Tim Harlock along with Tom Owczarczak, Ron Crane, and Mark and Zack Heberlein logged 19 cottontails that day on outings in the Bennington/Darien area.

In all, 14 teams consisting of 31 individual hunters brought home 71 rabbits for stews and other table fare.

Other donations funded uniforms for Lackawanna-based Boy Scout Troop 523. But the biggest win for a youth was Mike Stranz, 12, of Orchard Park. Mike is on track for a full recovery from a form of leukemia diagnosed two years earlier.

Giermata dedicated this year’s derby to Stranz; Giermata and Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski presented young Mike with a plaque as a get-well (and a full recovery) wish. His dad, Paul Stranz, and several officials from his school in Orchard Park were in attendance when Mike received his honors and well-wishes presentations.

After all receipts and costs were totaled, Giermata presented the Stranz family with $3,383 from the derby proceeds. “It’s not a ton, but I’m sure it will help give them a break of sorts,” Giermata said of the club’s donation.

Hunters who could not attend or participate in this derby have another opportunity for competition in the Fourth Annual Rabbit Hunting Derby at Eden-North Collins Gun Club on Feb. 16.

Prizes go to the top three rabbits weighed in by either teams or an individual hunter.

For pre-registration discounts and contest details, check with Sam Mardino at 597-8184.

Reduced hunting pressure has put more cottontail rabbits in the field in recent years. Good rabbit reports come from areas in the Finger Lakes and along the Southern Tier.

Prospects look good for hounds and huntsmen to enjoy some healthy harvests until the Feb. 28 finale for the Southern Zone season.

email: odrswill@gmail.com