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Hooks& Antlers column: December offers wide range of outdoor activities

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Ice fishing season is just around the corner, but before taking up their jigging rods and tip-ups, sportsmen and women might want to take advantage of December’s various hunting opportunities that include deer, waterfowl, small game and predators.

White-tail Deer

Even though the Northern Zone Regular Deer season closes today, hunters have another week to pursue white-tails as the late muzzleloader season runs through Sunday, Dec. 9.

Wildlife Management Units 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6H, and 6J 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.

Options for Southern Zone hunters include the regular season that runs until Dec. 9; the late bow-hunting season that goes from Dec. 10-18; and the late muzzleloader season that runs concurrently with the late bow-hunting season.

Waterfowl

As the area’s small ponds freeze over, ducks move to the open water of large rivers and lakes. Cold weather snaps 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 Sunday, Dec. 16 in the Northeast Zone, and the daily limit is six ducks.

Resident Canada geese 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 Saturday, 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 was 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 rarely does a hunter even approach that number. The gray squirrel daily limit is six.

December might be the best month for rabbit hunting as cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare populations are higher now than they will be as winter progresses.

The season for both species extends through March 17, and the daily limit is six for both rabbits and hares.

Predators

Among the more challenging species to hunt are red foxes and coyotes.

Many hunters contend that coyotes significantly impact the deer herd in the big woods by preying on winter-weakened white-tails and spring-born fawns. Thus, while foxes and coyotes are hunted for their fur, reducing the coyote population is an additional motive for some hunters.

The statewide fox season runs through Feb. 15 while coyote season extends to March 31. Regulations allow hunters to pursue foxes and coyotes during day and night. There is no bag limit on either species though taking a single fox or coyote is a challenge.

Outdoors Calendar

Today: Regular Deer Season closes in Northern Zone.

Monday-Sunday: Late Muzzleloader Season open in WMUs 6A, 6C, 6G, 6H, 5A, 5G, and 5J.

Sunday: Regular Deer Season closes in Southern Zone.

Dec. 10: Late Bowhunting and Muzzleloader Seasons open in Southern Zone.

Dec. 15: Canada Goose Season closes in Northeast Goose Hunting area.

Dec. 15: Musky Season closes on the St. Lawrence River.

Dec. 16: Duck Season closes in Northeast Zone.

Dec. 21: First day of winter.

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