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December offers plenty of hunting options

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Ice fishing is the area’s number one winter activity, but safe ice conditions likely won’t arrive on most waters for a few more weeks, which makes December an excellent time to do a little hunting. Among the current hunting options are last-chance deer and waterfowl, as well as various small game and predators.

WHITETAIL DEER

Even though the Northern Zone Regular Deer Season closes today, hunters have another week to pursue whitetails as the Late Muzzleloader Season runs through Dec. 15. Wildlife Management Units 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H are open for the late season, and muzzleloader hunting privileges are required. One advantage of hunting late in the season is that hunting pressure eases up so deer begin to move more freely during daylight hours.

Deer options for Southern Zone hunters include the Late Bowhunting and the Late Muzzleloader seasons that run through Dec. 17.

WATERFOWL

Many of the area’s small waters have frozen over so ducks favor the open water of large rivers and lakes. Too, any cold-weather snaps will bring diver ducks from the North. In essence, cold weather translates to good hunting for big-water duck hunters. The second portion of Waterfowl Season is open until Dec. 15 in the Northeast Zone, and the daily limit is six ducks.

Resident Canada geese, as well as migratory birds, are abundant on area waters and in area fields. The challenge for hunters, though, is that the birds are pretty well educated at this point in the season. On a positive note, some goose hunters believe that geese are easier to decoy once snow appears on the ground. The Goose Season in the Northeast Goose Hunting Area runs through Dec. 15, and the daily bag limit is three birds.

SMALL GAME

Small game options include pheasants, ruffed grouse, gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares.

The best bets for pheasants are those locations stocked by DEC this past fall. Jefferson County stockings occurred at Perch River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Brownville, Ashland WMA in Cape Vincent, and French Creek WMA in Clayton.

The lone stocking site in Lewis County is off the East Martinsburg Road in Martinsburg while Upper and Lower Lakes WMA in Canton, Wilson Hill WMA in Louisville, and Fish Creek WMA in Macomb comprise the stocking locations in St. Lawrence County. The Northern Zone pheasant season runs through Feb. 28, and regulations allow for a daily limit of two birds of either sex.

Ruffed grouse and gray squirrel seasons also extend through Feb. 28 in the Northern Zone. The daily limit for grouse is four birds, but bagging half that number is a significant accomplishment. With the quality mast crop this year, the gray squirrel population is thriving. The daily bag limit is six grays.

December might be the best winter month for rabbit hunting as cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare populations are higher now than they will be in the coming months. The season for both species extends through March 16, and the daily limit is six for both rabbits and hares.

PREDATORS

Among the more challenging species to hunt are red fox and coyotes. Many hunters contend that coyotes significantly impact the deer herd in the big woods by preying on winter-weakened whitetails and spring-born fawns.

Thus, while fox and coyotes are hunted for their fur, reducing the coyote population is an additional motive for some hunters. The statewide fox season runs through February 15 while coyote season extends to March 30.

Regulations allow hunters to pursue fox and coyotes during the day and at night, and there is no bag limit on either species, although taking a single fox or coyote is a challenge.

Outdoors Calendar

Tuesday: Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of SLC meet at Canton Boces at 7 p.m.

Sunday: Late Muzzleloader Season is open in WMU’s 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H.

Sunday: Waterfowl Season closes in Northeast Zone.

Sunday: Canada Goose Season closes in Northeast Hunting Area.

Sunday: Muskellunge Season closes on the St. Lawrence River.

Dec. 17: Late Bowhunting and Muzzleloader seasons close in Southern Zone.

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