Friday, January 29, 2016

Late Season Hunting in Oswego County

By Spider Rybaak

Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area provides habitat for a number of species, including snowshoe hares. (photos by Janet Clerkin)
Oswego County crosses the line. It’s one of only six counties in New York that boasts territory—in almost equal measure—in the state’s northern and southern zones. While that may seem inconsequential, it plays a big role in game populations.

For instance, we’re one of the few counties in the state that boast cottontail rabbits and varying hares, commonly called snowshoes. While both belong to the family Lagomorph and look the same, the resemblance stops there. Hares are almost twice as big as cottontails, don’t burrow, bear young dressed in full coats of fur, and hit the ground running almost as soon as they’re born. What’s more, cottontails stay brown year-round and cotton to fields; whereas snowshoes turn white in winter and thrive in woods.

Cottontails are the state’s most common rabbit. One of the main reasons is because they’re burrowing critters, and run for the safety of their holes at the first sign of danger. Their favored habitat is fields, particularly in farm country.

Snowshoes, on the other hand, are forest creatures. Their preferred range is early successional habitat, particularly stands of young pines offering low branches for cover.

Their preference for hiding under bushy trees rather than jump into a hole makes them extremely vulnerable to predation, especially by coyotes. So a small wood patch won’t do. They need large forests--like the ones found in northern Oswego County--to keep a safe distance from predators.
Snowshoes had their heyday in the middle of the last century, after massive numbers of hardscrabble farmers gave up trying to eke a living out of the poor soil in the county’s northeastern corner and abandoned their homesteads. Nature took over, spreading new growth over the barren fields.

Snowshoes from “Up North” came down, found the browse to their liking-- and settled in. The rich food supply and ample cover lead to an explosion in their numbers.

The forests are older now, their branches too high to offer snowshoes much food or cover. Still, there’s enough low browse around to support hares. Indeed, Oswego County is famed for being one of the varying hares’ southernmost ranges in the state.

There ain’t many of ‘em--compared to cottontails--so you’ll have to work to get them. Bear in mind, however, they’re twice as big as bushytails so you don’t need as many.

The best spot to hunt them around here is 8,645-acre Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area. Roughly three miles of NY 104 runs along the north end, about four miles east of I-81.

A few other good spots to try include the 538-acre Salmon River Reforestation Area (split in half by CR 2, about 10 miles east of Pulaski) and 8,020-acre Little John Wildlife Management Area (off CR 17, in the northeastern corner of the county).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Oswego’s Happy Hunting Grounds

By Spider Rybaak

Observation deck provides a nice view of the marsh.
Oswego County boasts a reputation as one of the world’s premier fishing destinations. Its claims to fame include Oneida Lake, the walleye capital of the Northeast, and the Salmon River, the best salmonid stream in the Northeast, and source of the world record coho salmon; a species native to the Pacific Ocean, no less.

However, the county’s wealth of fish-rich waters isn't the only thing that spurs outdoor enthusiasts to salivate when hearing our name. Indeed, Oswego is rich in forests and fields, too, places that draw legions of hunters, photographers, snowshoers, you name it.

One of the most popular outdoor destinations is Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Located off NY Rte. 3, a couple miles north of Port Ontario, this 1,195-acre public area offers a couple miles of scenic, easy paddling from the canoe launch off the highway to the mouth on Lake Ontario, hiking trails through lowland forest, and one of the finest examples of a wetland in the 17-mile long Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Barrier System.

Formed over the millennium by sand piled up along the shore by the lake’s incessant wave action, our sand dunes tower above Lake Ontario like the sides of a bowl, offering the finest example of Great Lakes dunes this side of Lake Michigan.

Although most popular with warm weather travelers, the dunes near the mouth of Deer Creek have their winter fans, too: hunters, snowshoers, and photographers.

Hunters are drawn by the plentiful game: deer and turkey in autum; squirrels, partridge, pheasants and cottontails right now. Snowshoers and photographers are lured here by lake-washed fresh air and striking winter scenery.

Then there’s snowmobiling, Oswego County’s greatest winter activity. Rest assured, whatever part of the county you may find yourself in, there’s a snowmobile trail nearby.

Oswego County has more than its fair share of magical natural wonders to explore year-round. Still, winter is the most magical season around these parts. Our snow is plentiful, our winter fisheries are legendary, and our hospitality is something to write home about.

Paddlers enjoy a leisurely trip. 
The beach is part of a 17-mile freshwater dune system.