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Hunting / By Will Elliott: Snowstorm reduced bear, deer counts

Santa is waxing runners on his sleigh filled with toys for kids of all ages, but area hunters have already received some bountiful presents in both trophy and table-worthy harvests.

Official end-of-season deer harvest reports will not be available until sometime in January or February, and word-of-mouth sightings and filled big-game tags vary from county to county and hunter to hunter.

Hunter reports often followed the feast-or-famine foray. Skilled and savvy bow and gun hunters often sat for days without seeing deer movement, let alone shot opportunities. Trophy-sized bucks with hefty head gear and bears with sizeable skull measurements were few at the Department of Environmental Conservation Deer Check Station at Holland for opening weekend and throughout the big-game hunting season.

Earlier, bow hunters had tagged a good number of bruins along with whitetail deer before the gun-season opener.

“The November snowstorm really slowed the bear numbers,” said Jeff Rishel at Woods, Water and Wing Taxidermy in Orchard Park. Rishel averages four to five bear mounts each hunting season; so far this year just one bear has arrived for mounting at his shop. His deer count is about half that of the 2013 season.

Nonetheless, Rishel took in two remarkable deer racks this year, a trophy-sized 11-pointer and a buck with a most unusual antler configuration.

Orchard Park hunter Anthony DeGiore has hunted deer all around Western New York, but his best deer ever came while hunting in his own backyard this season.

“I had just put up a new tree stand out there this year and a big buck came through at 3:45 p.m. on Nov. 11 at 85 yards,” DeGiore said of his deer that sported 11 points.

Rishel measured the buck and the inside span between antler base beams is over 23 inches. “The neck was at 22 inches, so this buck was in full rut,” Rishel remarked. He green-scored the rack at 170 points and aged the teeth as a five-year-old deer, a possible high score in Boone and Crockett rankings. DeGiore will have this trophy on the wall as a shoulder mount.

Joe Mangione, 15, of Hamburg is also having Rishel do a shoulder mount of his first buck deer, but not because of its antler count or score. Joe, hunting with dad Mike on family property in the Town of Chautauqua opening morning, saw a buck at some 90 yards and dad had Joe take the shot.

“I thought it only had horns on the one side,” dad said when Joe fired his Remington 870 12-gauge for a quick, killing shot. Dad later wrote, “The one antler grew under the roof of its mouth and its teeth on that side were all worn down.” The antler was intact and pointed, one of five points, and the animal seemed healthy, with good body mass.

“We’re going to have the shoulder mount done turned so the antler position can be seen, as is,” dad said of the deer they had not seen earlier while bow hunting or on trail cameras set up around their 100 acres of mostly wooded property with food-plot plantings in place around their acreage.

In general, hunters have taken some impressive trophy-sized bucks and the head count for freezer filling varies with deer population presence, shifts in weather conditions and hunter pressure. Genesee County and areas of inland counties located away from the November storm’s wrath, saw nicer numbers of both trophy and dinner-worthy deer harvesting. For official trophy tallying, successful hunters must wait until late February.

Jeff Pippard at Niagara Outdoors in North Tonawanda provides an annual Scoring Day for most big game animal species. The day, set for 60 days after the last big-game hunting season in the state, will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 21. Details on the Scoring Day are logged at