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Just 10 days until big-game season opens by Ron Kolodziej

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - Updated: 7:07 AM

I doubt its gotten past you but if it has, the 2012 Northern Zone muzzleloader big game season opens Saturday, just three days from today, and the Northern zone regular big game season opens Saturday, Oct. 22.

Most of Hamilton County falls within Wildlife Management Unit 5H so let’s review what happened here last season. Past results aren’t always a good indicator for the future, because of all the variables involved, but for comparative purposes here’s how Hamilton County hunters fared last season.

The county gave up 698 deer, with the Town of Long Lake leading with 160, followed by Indian Lake with 129, Wells with 110, Lake Pleasant with 70, Benson with 54, Arietta with 53, Hope with 45, Morehouse with 42 and Inlet with 35.

The buck take is expected to be about the same this upcoming season, despite some severe winter weather and an above-average winter kill experienced in some areas. Deer populations are still recovering from two consecutive severe winters but the overall population is expected to remain about the same.


Now let’s turn our attention to bear hunting. Hamilton County gave up 46 bruins, including 24 during the 2010 early season, four by bowhunting, five by muzzleloaders and 13 during the regular big game season.

The Town of Wells led the county with a take of nine, followed by Indian Lake with seven. Benson and Long Lake reported six each and Hope and Inlet produced five each, followed by Lake Pleasant and Arietta with three each and Morehouse with two. St. Lawrence County led the Northern zone with 97 bruins, followed by Lewis County with 87 and Herkimer County with 70.

Predicting the bear take is difficult because so much depends upon the weather and mast and berry supplies. As long as the weather remains mild, snow doesn’t fall and the bruins don’t decide to den up, the critters will continue to feed actively and fatten up before their winter nap.

The more they wander, the more they’re apt to meet up with hunters. However, there appears to be a plentiful supply of bears this year so that may help boost production as well.


Loads of deer and bear photos will very soon begin arriving in my email or snail-mail. Obviously, there isn’t room to print all of them so it becomes a case of “survival of the fittest.” In other words, only the better photos will have any chance of appearing in this newspaper, and they may not necessarily be of the biggest buck or bear.

To increase your chances of getting your photo published in any paper I’ll repeat some hints and tips I’ve offered in the past. Abide by these simple but effective suggestions for taking good game photos.

1. Choose your background carefully. Photos taken in trucks or on game poles rarely turn out well. Take some time to “set up” your shot and look for a background that’s appropriate for that type of photo, preferably with no buildings, vehicles or other distractions in view. Red sumacs, yellow cornfields or spruce trees covered with snow are usually good backdrops for buck or bear photos.

2. Make sure the animal is clean. Remove any sign of blood and, if you can, take the photo before you field dress the critter. If you can’t do that, at least face the body cavity away from the camera. Also, don’t have the critter’s tongue hanging out; that makes a very unappealing photo.

3. Take several photos at different angles, preferably at eye level of the person in the photograph. Try to be a tad creative and keep the sun over your shoulder or back when you’re taking the photo, but avoid shadows. If the sun is high or directly overhead, ask the hunter in the photo to move his or her hat brim back so it doesn’t cast a shadow on their face.

4. Try to include items that tell the story of the hunt. The hunter should be dressed in camo or blaze orange hunting clothes and don’t hesitate to include the weapon used, provided it’s properly positioned, unloaded and pointed in a safe direction.

A professional wildlife photographer once told me every photo should include some red in it somewhere - autumn leaves; a red hat, vest or shirt etc. The red may not appear in the newspaper photo since they’re printed in black and white but you may also want that photo for your own album, and it’ll look much better with some red in it for contrast. Try it; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the difference it makes.

5. Never trash up your photo; no beer or soda cans, lunch bags, gut piles, cigarettes or cigars, etc. Never pose for the photo with a cigar or cigarette hanging off your lip.

6. Getting a good photo of a black bear presents a series of unique problems; they’re hard to photograph because of their uniformly black color. I’ve taken, and photographed, eight black bears so far and I doubt I’ve taken more than four or five photos that I really liked. In most of them, the bruin looks like a black 50-gallon drum with legs.

A bruin just doesn’t photograph well. Try putting them on a slight downhill angle and have the hunter kneel behind the critter, helping show the animal’s size. If the bear has a white “blaze” or throat / chest patch, try propping up the head so the patch shows. At least that will provide a bit of contrast.

Just do the best you can with a bruin and take loads of photographs, preferably both with and without flash, and at different angles. At least several will be good enough for your album and a few might even be good enough for publication.

7. In digital photography you can take a photo or two, review them immediately and then take a half-dozen more if necessary until you get at least one you’re happy with, all while the hunter and the critter are still posed. Don’t settle for one photo. Take several, or a bunch, both vertical and horizontal and with and without a flash. The more you take, the more apt you are to have at least one that has all the elements you want.

Remember, once the critter is delivered to the processor, the only things you’ll have left to remember the hunt by are memories and any photographs you’ve taken.


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