Adirondack Hunting Lessons by Max Crotser
Success comes in many forms and on a hunt does not always end with a harvest. I remember my earliest adventures out in the woods trailing behind my father in his footsteps and even quite literally in the snowy New York winters tracking a harvest, beginning to learn and respect what success in the woods meant. Thinking back on one of my first deer hunts, success that day meant just keeping warm in our blind. Having my father, an experienced hunter and his close friend taking me under their wing for those first fall whitetail and spring turkey hunts, I picked up and learned as much as I could and even began finding some early success of my own. I’ll never forget the first youth turkey hunt, making it out to our blind before the crack of dawn under cover of darkness. Fighting back weary eyelids and straining my eyes through the dark till the spring woods came alive with that beautiful chorus, followed soon after by thunderous gobbles in the trees directly above. With the groundwork and scouting put in, that morning was picture perfect. Two older toms landed within forty yards. A few calls by my dad had my heart pounding as the birds went full strut on a beeline to our decoys. My spring turkey hunt ended within minutes with my first hunting success and an unstoppable smile.
Not long after I began to take up archery and finding a new passion with a bow in my hands, I set out to try for my first whitetail in the fall. In a very similar fashion to our previous hunts, everything had been laid out. Before the days of powerful apps like onX and BaseMap, my dad and his hunting partner like many others had a wall of Google Earth type satellite views of our properties including various stand and blind locations, prevailing winds, etc. Following the guide of the two, I spent as many evenings as possible after school or waking early on the weekends to get into the woods and before long I had harvested my first two deer. About a year following on a new property to us, it happened. I felt the overwhelming, core shaking experience of having my first giant make an appearance. I recall being extended at full draw for what felt like an eternity, realistically a minute at most, I was able to place the perfect shot and after a unique tracking experience through a swamp I had harvested my first mature whitetail – a gorgeous elven point proudly on the wall above my desk. I was beginning to think I knew what success in the woods meant.
Over the years I sharpened these skills finding success here and there and continuing to learn alongside my mentors. Time went on and life changes in both school and work, I found myself in the woods less and new hobbies had taken priority. It wouldn’t be a long hiatus till a friend had rekindled a flame and brought me out on a few fall hunts. Again, the plan and strategy formed from experience, sitting in a blind tucked perfectly out of sight in a spot led to finding a new form of that sought after success. Sharing previous as well as new outdoor experiences alongside new friends, being part of another hunter’s success brings a new meaning to it. Being adrift from the woods for so long and being there witnessing their hard-earned victory brought back a passion that I will not let go of again. Several hunting adventures were had and then a plan had been developed to head cross country to meet a new friend and mentor in the outdoor world to guide on my first Nebraska turkey hunt. This was a feat and great adventure at the time to drive sixteen hours and chase thunder-chickens, while having my own tag purchased my biggest concern for the week was helping make sure preparations were met and we were at our guides door promptly. An unforeseen cold front led to a slow start in the week and concerns for the time spent began to creep up. That minor stress vanished a few days into the trip. Weather began to warm, birds became responsive, the fire was lit. Our guide had us well hidden at the bottom of a knoll where just the evening prior birds roosted in the nearby hardwoods. A day of calling and patience led to that moment. A phrase my dad said to me when I was just twelve popped into my head, “get your sh*t together” was all I could think in the frantic yet quiet scramble to get us positioned. Following her well-placed shot on a tom that like normal, refused the decoy laid path we had set for him. The dust settled and with fist bumps and cheers shared out of blind I saw it, my hunting partners smile, like the one I couldn’t fight back on my very first successful turkey hunt. A long week, ending successfully with much more than just a harvest.
From that point on success had taken form in many ways and thoughts on it shifted significantly. I found myself enjoying the shared passion and success of others around me even more than my own. Often running a camera over their shoulder or running a climber up a nearby tree. Success now meant sharing these feelings I had on my first trips out as a young hunter till now, someone who has renewed a passion for the outdoors and has a lot to learn yet. The game has changed significantly over the years with the advantage of apps again like onX and BaseMap. Weather tracking and moon phase monitoring apps have put so much more power and access to knowledge in the fingertips of the hunter. These would soon come in handy on a challenge presented to me.
A few changes in access to hunting properties over the last two years compared to my younger years recalling the wall of maps. The loss of one well scouted property put a hurt on this falls season. Through a conversation with my friend and mentor a challenge was extended to me. A challenge to get away from my norm and plan focused hunts that I have experienced and do it solo. The theme of always following the guise of more experienced hunters is common for many but it was the crux for a lot of my early success. In a conversation regarding finding land to hunt, the idea of venturing up to the Adirondack State Park came up. A new excitement emerged. I set out to research, scout, and hunt in a new location without the “handholding” of having more experience around to influence me directly.
Having been camping a few years back I had some familiarity with an area of the park and chose to head to Wanakena, NY for two weekends this fall. I knew a trailhead that would be perfect base to begin my preparations.
Of course, some influence was desired as I did my research to check legality and began to utilize onX mapping for the first time. For an outdoorsman hunting property they are very familiar with this software has everything you need to plan and execute a hunt. I had some forethought about cell service inside the parks based on experience from years past. Downloading the area maps directly to the app frees up any concern with loss of data or service as satellite maps will continue to work. Using the maps and my vague memory of the area hiking into our old campground I began to formulate my own plan. Taking off up the road on that weekend to scout the area the excitement mounted. Similar sights began to be more frequent and before long I was in town and found the familiar trail head. My first trip served as a great chance to walk the area on foot and begin to scout. That Sunday was more of a hike and observe than a hunt yet with my bow and equipment close at hand, I was prepared for anything. Taking in the area and using tips from a few met in town and from others on my past adventures I looked for a spot or two that I would return to on the following weekend with my climber for easy transport deeper into the Adirondack woods. With a few locations picked out, strategically pinpointed on onX, that would be relatively easy to get to quickly and quietly following a short hike. I was ready for my first solo, a “roughly planned” hunting adventure.
Utilizing onX, positions were marked and labeled in proximity to the trees that would work well for a climber and provide decent cover over some well-marked and sign covered trails. I conveniently placed some temporary reflective tags at the marked trees to help locate in the dark morning. Maintaining my gear, making certain I had anything I would need from spare equipment, gloves, knives, game bag, extra layers, food, and correct storage containers gathered in case of any event, I was prepared with my plan.
My expectations were not set too high on this trip as in my short research and basic knowledge of the area, I understood the deer population to not be as high as here locally at home. These expectations quickly changed upon seeing the sign, scrapes and rubs along the various deer highways crossing the main trails. Acorns a plenty and food available I knew I would see movement.
The weekend quickly approached, and I raced off to the parks for my first evening sit. The drive seemed so much shorter knowing exactly where I was headed, I made it to the trailhead with plenty of afternoon left. The truck locked, pack loaded with climber quietly and securely mounted, I set off bow in hand down the trail. This walk taught a valuable lesson, pack a little lighter tomorrow! My earlier stress of limited service didn’t affect me on this hunt and even with the installed maps everything worked without flaw. I found myself at my chosen tree at the perfect time. Catching my breath and that familiar calmness up in the tree I relaxed and enjoyed the comfortable fall afternoon overlooking a mix of hardwoods, openings and a view of cranberry lake. Before long the usual obnoxious noises of squirrels running and playing about resumed and I sat keeping an eye on the few spots I thought may become active as the night crept in. A quiet afternoon watching a fox and the squirrels led into that golden hour of whitetail hunting, woods bursting to life just before the sun sets. Before long, crashing heard close by a few does, likely in a heated pursuit, made their appearance in a blink just as it was getting to be too dark. The Adirondack canopy while providing plenty of concealment left little time for an ethical shot as the sun set past legal shooting hours. I resolved to patiently sitting out the sunset a while longer before making my climb down and walk out, minimizing any pressure where I could.
Having learned a lot that first day and making notes of some of my experiences along the way, I was excited to venture back out that following morning. Thinking the excitement and night’s sleep in the truck may prove difficult, the long quiet walk back to the trailhead had me ready to crash after a quick dinner. Waking before my alarm, I prepared my gear and adjusted my strategy. Handling my hike in was easier than anticipated. I opted to leave a few things and extra food behind to lighten the load and it proved valuable. In a similar manor with a more comfortable load, I hurried off into the morning at a much brisker pace to make it up my tree with plenty of time before first light. Choosing to hunt that same location proved wise as it made for a less stressful walk out and some early success sighting a few deer feeding peacefully and not showing signs of pressure at first light. Watching patiently as the two does and a later spike milled about before walking down an adjacent trail away from me, I held firm and content for the first few hours in the morning. Enjoying the peaceful fall weather and quiet escape was proving to be a success on its own. Not seeing too much activity after the early morning. I decided to spook the ever-playful squirrels beneath me, climbing down quietly to take a slow hike to another location.
Making use of a recent tip. I made my journey to the side of the nearby ridge this final evening. Unsure of its effectiveness, I wanted to put myself on the days sun-bathed side of the ridge to help cover scent utilizing thermal rise. A new concept to me, yet one I had been pondering since its mention. On this sunny fall afternoon, I thought I could explore this theory as my second location was just over the ridge. I made the choice to venture out a bit and try to explore before returning to my adapted plan. Reaching the spot previously marked on onX so easily again felt like cheating! After a quick climb and safety check on my harness I began my afternoon sit. A rather eerie calm set in as the afternoon became evening on my final day. The absence of squirrels and various noises is always surprising. I thought maybe I had made too much noise and left too much scent in my transition. Taking note of these thoughts I remained patient into that final stretch. As usual just as the sun began its retreat beneath the far hill and horizon, the woods came alive. Two small basket bucks, one a decent typical 6 and the other, what looked like a spike noticing his broken and uneven antlers, chasing does made for some excitement in that final hour. First making their appearance like bulls in a China shop crashing about the underbrush and leaves, they never seemed to come to rest for a good look. No shooters presented themselves to me that final evening, but it proved to be a great solo adventure with a few lessons learned and great takeaways for the rest of the season and next. Success on this trip was found in many facets.
Patience was going to be needed on this trip having never hunted it nor being too familiar with the area. However, my patience was never tested as this solo adventure enabled many opportunities to learn and reflect on my past and current experiences. That alone led to great success this fall. It’s important for every hunter to understand and it may even sound cliché but not every successful hunt ends in a harvest. While this trip didn’t end with a stop to support a local butcher, many smiles were felt, and valuable lessons committed to memory to reach that victory in the near future. Success finds its way to you in many ways, from those early “beginners’ luck” hunting adventures to the shared smiles seeing the triumphs of a hunting partner or straight up earning it the hard way doing it yourself and learning what it takes to be an outdoorsman without being handed a plan or told exactly where to sit. Even if the latter doesn’t end in a harvest, it’s the journey along the way that proved invaluable and the ultimate success this fall.