The late summer and early fall weather has been ideal for exploring the Adirondack backcountry. The mostly sunny days and clear cool nights are near-perfect conditions for bushwhacking through remote and wild areas, regardless of the season. With the weather and my hording of vacation time this year, the stars seemed aligned for an interesting late season adventure.
Except for one tiny detail, it is hunting season. That time of the year when bullets and arrows fly, causing wildlife, in addition to a few hikers and bushwhackers, to flee for their lives. In my opinion, a hail of bullets and/or arrows whizzing by one’s head is uniquely qualified as the easiest way to ruin a backcountry trip.
For some reason, I thought I was safe until the end of September, with the advent of early bear season. This turned out to not to be the case. Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search yielded the much earlier date of mid-month instead. Adding insult to injury, bow season for both black bear and white-tailed deer start on the last Friday of September too.
Instead of exploring the Adirondack backcountry during the last week of September, enjoying the fall colors and the nearly bug-free days, I stayed home anticipating the Breaking Bad series finale and planning for the inevitable federal government shutdown. Fun, yes, but just not the same as getting out and enjoying what the Adirondacks has to offer during early autumn.
Now one might say, “What’s the big deal?” Why cannot hunters and hikers share the backcountry for just a few months of the year? Are these two activities mutually exclusive?
Obviously, hunting and hiking can co-exist in the remote backcountry of the Adirondacks. In fact, hunting in the Adirondacks on state land almost certainly requires hiking to access those areas where wildlife hang out, whether it be on a trail or not.
Nothing gets my hackles up more than gunfire in the backcountry, though human voices, the crash of a falling tree and the sharp crack of nearby lightening come in as close seconds. Although somewhat expected during hunting season, the sound of gunfire never fails to illicit a cold sweat and a shiver down my spine. The increased risk of being shot in the head, or having a couple razor-sharp arrows embedded in my buttocks are probably the cause of this anxiety. Talk about a bad bushwhacking trip, and I thought the 1995 microburst trapping me in the backcountry was a harrowing experience.
Am I just being paranoid? Probably. How many hikers, bushwhackers or backpackers have ever been accidentally shot anyways? Probably not many, especially in the Adirondacks. I just do not want to be one of them.
Personally, I have few problems with hunting as an activity. This article is not a PETA-loving harangue against hunting as an endeavor. Hunting is an appropriate outdoor sport and many people still enjoy it (although perhaps less than in years past). In addition, hunting is a viable way to manage wildlife species.
Despite the legitimate reasons for hunting, I have absolutely no interest in it. Never have and probably never will. My hunting involves eyes, binoculars and camera, which minimize the harsh noises, bitter smell of gunpowder and the spillage of blood usually accompanied with hunting.
There is one aspect about hunting I hate with a passion though, and it is a purely selfish reason. Hunting keeps me out of the backcountry for several months of the year. This is especially painful during those autumns with warmer temperatures and plenty of sun, like this year.
My deep-seated skepticism of hunters, which accounts for my avoiding the woods during hunting season, may not be fair, as the majority of hunters are likely safe and responsible outdoorsmen (or outdoorspeople for those few female hunters). My aversion to the backcountry during hunting season probably started at a young age with my parents (then again, does not most of our biases and insecurities start with them?), who put the kibosh on my forested adventures in central New York while growing up.
My parents’ fear of their precious little wildlife being shot was not entirely unfounded given the plentiful stories of people or domesticated animals being fatally shot or nearly so during past hunting season. Given the larger forested areas in the Adirondacks, this risk may not be as great, although a solo bushwhacker may be at greater risk unless they actively talk to themselves as they travel. They had just better have a lot to say to themselves.
In the past, I have witnessed much evidence of hunters gone wild. This irresponsible behavior from the hunting crowd included bullet riddled road signs, shot up trees, rubber gloves and paper towels discarded on carcass remains, cutting trees for large shelters and storing personal equipment (how the heck they got cast iron stoves out there I will never know). I could do without much of this behavior, and seeing it does not make me any more confident of my safety in the backcountry during hunting season.
Hunting activity in the Adirondacks does not appear to be evenly distributed however. Remote areas, such as around Crooked Lake or Oven Lake, probably go largely unhunted, as the distance and aggressive terrain makes hauling a large animal carcass short of a Herculean task, reserved for only the most resourceful big game hunters. In addition, hiking trails are probably used simply as a means of getting from point A to B, as hikers most likely scare most game away.
In the northwestern Adirondacks, where I spend most of my time while within the Blue Line, the Pepperbox Wilderness and the adjacent southwestern Five Pond Wilderness appear popular with hunters. The Threemile Beaver Meadow area and around Deer Pond (both within the Pepperbox) are frequently used for hunting based on the presence of actively used campsites. The ubiquitous old logging roads and proximity to Stillwater Reservoir most likely account for the southwestern Five Ponds popularity with some hunters.
Instead of exploring the remote Adirondack backcountry during this fall season, I will stay home and dream of safer trips in the spring and summer. Crisp early mornings and nearly bug-free days will probably remain a dream until next spring. The beautiful blazing reds, blinding yellows and amazing oranges will come and go, while I hide from any possible hail of bullets.
But, at least my buttocks will remain bullet and arrow free, which makes for much more comfortable sitting while writing these articles. There is something to be said for that.
Photos: A hunter’s campsite near the Threemile Beaver Meadow, some poles cut for a large tent and campsite near Deer Pond by Dan Crane.