Most big-game gun season openers are mainly about deer, but black bear harvests peaked on opening morning.
Deer check station numbers approximated last year’s count, the result of weather too nice the first day and progressively nasty on Sunday. Deer checked at the Department of Environmental Conservation Region 9 Check Station looked in good shape and size for mid November.
Few bucks sported an antler count into double figures, but the does and even fawns taken the first day showed good body mass developed during an ideal spring and summer season for deer forage.
But it was the numbers and sizes of black bears that made the big-game opening weekend so remarkable.
As an outdoor writer covering DEC check stations each opening-day afternoon for more than two decades, each year has provided new, interesting and unusual accounts of big-game harvests that DEC professionals check for age, appearance and general health.
In all those years, biologists and technicians have told me of an occasional bear that had been checked through before or after I had visited the site. This year, the very first vehicle I walked up to when I arrived at about 3 p.m. was that of Frank Marks of Orchard Park with a bear tagged in the back of his pickup.
“I’ve been hunting for more than 30 years and this is the first time I ever saw a bear, let alone got a shot,” Marks said of his 172-pound female he saw approaching from behind him at 11 a.m. while on a stand in Franklinville.
Marks’ sizeable bruin was aged at 1¾ years old. While most guessed it to be older, DEC senior wildlife biologist Emilio Rende noted, “You’d be surprised how much bears in this area eat and grow in their early years.”
Tonawanda hunter Gregg Parucki scored sizably opening morning on a bruin he took while hunting in Cuba. That bear tipped the scales at 300 pounds.
Mark Whitmore of North Tonawanda probably tagged the first bear on opening day this big-game season.
Whitmore took his 150-pound female bear at 7:15 a.m. while on a deer hunt in Hartsville near the Pennsylvania border in Steuben County.
“I’ve been on bear hunts in Maine, Pennsylvania and Canada for at least 22 years and it ends up I get one in New York while hunting deer,” he said of his success. Southern Steuben County has a good population of bruins.
Double double-headers topped opening weekend deer hunt stories.
Father Frank Badaszewski and son Jim Badaszewski, 25, of South Buffalo have hunted together for five years. “Jim had gotten a couple deer with friends, but this was our first double header,” dad said of their early Sunday morning success while hunting in Ischua.
Frank tagged an 8-pointer at 7:20 a.m. and heard a shot up the hill 10 minutes later. He thought it was from adjacent property, but a text send confirmed Jim had taken that shot. “When I walked up to him I thought I could do cartwheels in the woods; Jim also had an 8-pointer down just minutes after mine,” dad said.
Both deer were aged at about 2.5-years-old, but they were on a route home that did not pass the Holland check station.
A father-son team of Mike Moore of Buffalo and Scott Moore of Amherst tagged deer within 35 minutes of each other while hunting Saturday morning at Ashford. Mike got an 8-pointer at 9:50 a.m. and son Scott filled out a tag for a spike buck at 10:25 a.m.
Town of Lockport hunter Joseph DeSantis had heard of a nice 12-point buck seen around his home during the archery season.
Niagara County hunters have scored on impressive deer with antler mass during the past bow season, including a big 13-pointer.
Thinking this big deer approaching just after the legal sunrise start on Saturday morning was that 12-pointer, DeSantis took the buck and discovered its point count was 15.
His daughter Amy said that he is in his late 60s and has been hunting deer for more than 20 years but when he told family about his big buck he was like a kid.
The taxidermist wasn’t kidding about the size of this prize deer; the estimated dressed weight was about 225 pounds.
Earliest honors among check station hunters probably go to Scott Dunbar of Lockport. Dunbar tagged a massive 8-pointer in Lyndon at 7:20 a.m. Wildlife technician Mike Cook aged the buck at 3.5 years old.
The opening weekend check station was on par with recent previous openers.
Saturday’s count went to 80 deer and one bear; Sunday logged 120 deer.
“We had expected to see better numbers for the opener, but the meat cutters took in good numbers for processing by Sunday evening,” wildlife biologist Tim Spirito said later last week.
The regular firearms season continues to Dec. 8.
The late bow and muzzleloader season goes from Dec. 9 to 17 for all open hunting areas in Western New York.