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Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Hunting, fishing had slumps and cheer

In an outdoors year that began with prolonged cold and snow and ended with an extended, often record, warmth, outdoors folk saw some spectacular highs and unusual weather along with resource shiftings in 2015.

Anglers ice fished in the spring in areas where boaters should ply. Boaters in late December ran courses over waters that should be hard enough for early ice outings.

Hunters saw regulations changes that shortened the fall turkey hunt and limited the buck deer take in areas of Western New York. They also experienced one of the warmest and least productive harvesting season in 2015. Despite the decline, some trophy-sized bucks and big black bears were taken to processors and taxidermists this past big-game hunting season.

Deer data

Many criticize the warmth for the lack of deer movement. When deer moved, especially after the opening day of firearms season, one might coin the word “Diurniphobia” for their appearance on scouting/trail cameras. That is, deer seem to be exhibiting an intense fear of being seen during daylight hours or diurniphobia.

Backyard cameras and rigs set up on vast acreages rarely showed deer of either sex on the move during daylight hours. Since regulations only allow for deer harvesting during daylight hours, the average hunter saw and took fewer trophies or freezer fillers during the entire bow and firearms seasons. And young hunters filled out many of those tags.

But trackers are seeing deer prints, cameras pick up nice numbers of deer after dark at many sites and prospects for good deer hunting look possible for the 2016 season.

Turkey talk

Turkey hunters saw fewer birds, but, like the deer hunters, some trophy-sized gobblers came into range for young hunters, usually with mentoring from experienced parents and other elders.

DEC studies are being completed and experts are considering options to improve gobbler numbers. Michael Schiavone, DEC wildlife biologist and turkey specialist, reported, “Overall, the reported take from fall 2014 to fall 2015 was down by about 50 percent.”

Part of that decline is attributed to seasons dropped for 7 to 4 weeks in some eastern areas of the state and from 4 to 2 weeks in the Western New York area. For now, diseases, predators, the weather and other factors are being considered as possible causes for the continuing decline in numbers.  

Small game

Media sources focus mainly on big-game and turkey, but a devoted core of squirrel and cottontail rabbit hunters sees nice numbers of both species.

With the extended warmth, many a squirrel hunter can enjoy a happy harvest. Some may be practicing up for the 10th annual Holley Squirrel Slam set for mid to late February.

Hunters are seeing many a cottontail along the bunny trail this warm December and look forward to a good season in January and February. Rick Giermata, coordinator of the ninth annual Frank Privitere Memorial International Rabbit Derby on January 30, has logged good rabbit numbers so far this season.

For details on the 2016 derby, its rules and new location, check with Giermata at 602-5017.

Fishing forays

Lake Ontario’s salmon run continued through most of the summer months, with a slow show during the fall spawning run. Hit hardest was the lower Niagara River, which saw an abundant lake trout run but poor numbers for king/Chinook salmon.

On the plus side, boaters out of Wilson, Olcott and Oak Orchard saw good king runs and a respectable number of steelhead trout. But when the fall feeder-stream run began, brown trout often outnumbered steelies until Thanksgiving turkey time.

Lake Erie’s walleye run, spectacular in 2014 started slowly but picked up as the season progressed. Some experts believe a suspended-rig setup right now could pull limit catches of ‘eyes between Buffalo and Barcelona Harbor.

As for perch, that species could be in the lurch or somewhat stable.

DEC Unit Leader Don Einhouse said of the perch take in 2015, “It’s off the peak but not in the basement.” His remarks are based on boat surveys of outings and catches.

Einhouse noted the catch rates for perch hit a record high in 2014 and he expected 2015 to be down slightly. “But it was surprising to see the extent of the drop this year,” he said. He added that the walleye and perch harvests lakewide were strong, despite the weak numbers of perch in Western New York waters. The 2014 perch hatch looks good and unconfirmed reports have a good hatch of both walleye and perch in 2015.

Expert, veteran anglers who enjoyed the bountiful 1970s and 1980s also experienced a severe decline through the 1990s. The difference between the early 1990s crash and current conditions is that today’s perch schools are scattered in deep waters at the east end of Lake Erie. Boaters now have to take long reconnaissance runs to find pockets of big perch.

One plus is that Einhouse and many other anglers observing previous and present perch populations do not recall the abundance of ringbacks measuring well over 11 inches back in the 70s and 80s. Today, many a 50-fish limit contains dozens of foot-long jumbos.


Many area folk said goodbye to local outdoors legends in 2015, including  Raymond “Ray Mark” Markiewicz, Corey Wells, Jeremiah Heffernan and many others.

Look for a detailed account of those passing on next week’s Outdoors Page.

Happy New Year.