Paraplegic Baumli 2021 deer.jpg

Greg Baumli, of New Lebanon, NY,  with an 8-point buck he harvested during the state's three-day paraplegic hunt. Baumli was part of the southern Berkshire County cohort.

To hear DFW Biologist Susan McCarthy tell it, paraplegic hunters across Massachusetts had an excellent outing.

 “We had a total of 12 hunters participate statewide and seven deer taken (which is a pretty incredible success rate). Additionally, nearly every participating hunter saw deer — some of which were presented with shooting opportunities and others were not," said McCarthy, who heads up the statewide paraplegic hunt program. "One hunter (Don Rogers, Quabbin site) who did not see deer, was excited to have seen lots of deer and bear sign as well as tons of moose sign — including an area where two bulls had sparred along a power line right of way. He looks forward to returning next year.”

Here in the Berkshires, there were five participating hunters, two in the Northern Berkshires, including Shawn Mei of Baldwinville and Dale Bailey of Clarksburg. Shawn got an adult doe and Dale saw some.

There were three participating hunters in the Southern Berkshires, including Daniel Massaconi of Cheshire, Vyto Sablevicius of Norwood and Gregory Baumli of New Lebanon, NY. Vyto got a 6-point buck and Greg got an 8-pointer.

A statewide hunt this complex doesn’t just happen. There are many behind-the-scene volunteers and I am glad that McCarthy provided the names of most of them, what they did and how many years they have helped in this program. Volunteers did everything from transporting the hunters to their hunting locations, moving the deer, dragging the deer out of the woods, field dressing them, getting the deer kills checked in, providing food, making hunting land available to them, and the list goes on. I have only included those involved in the Berkshires. Susan’s name is not on the list, but she did an awful lot of work coordinating the whole thing. A tip of our hunter orange cap to you all.

McCarthy noted that Gary Dupuis, the only hunter at Fort Devens this year, was the first to harvest two deer during the paraplegic hunt.

“Until last year, there was a long-standing policy that participating hunters were restricted to harvesting only one deer (of either sex — using either their antlerless permit for this hunt or one of their two buck tags). My understanding is that this policy (there’s nothing in regulation regarding the restriction) was put in place essentially at the inception of the paraplegic hunt when there were many more participating hunters, fewer hunt locations, and a perceived issue of fairness," said McCarthy. "Given that we have far fewer participating hunters today, five sites statewide, and always plenty of deer seen during the hunt, we made the decision to lift the one-deer-per-hunter policy.

"After all, this hunt is all about providing opportunity to the mobility impaired, so we found no reason to limit their chances of success. Given that there was no language in the regulations regarding the para hunt it was an easy change to make. Since last year, hunters have been permitted to harvest as many deer as they have valid permits. This year was the first year that a hunter had the opportunity and permission to harvest more than one deer.”

Dan Massaconi told me that he used to hunt with his brothers and father for years. He loved the outdoors. But in 2003 a form of Muscular Dystrophy hit him and after walking with a cane, and then a walker it finally put him in a wheelchair. He became depressed — who wouldn’t? It was his wife, Crystal, who urged him to think about the paraplegic hunt. But he really wasn’t in shape. With her urging, his determination and the wonderful work of physical therapists at Craneville Rehab, he got stronger.

When he appeared strong enough to do one of these hunts, Crystal signed him up — he had no choice but to go. He hunted 10 hours a day for two days (five hours in the morning and five hours in the afternoon). He skipped Saturday due to the rain. No, Dan didn’t get a deer, but he’s not complaining for he saw several. His wheelchair was facing the wrong direction from where three deer came and, by the time he put his gun down, unlocked and pivoted the wheel chair and picked up the gun again, the deer had vanished.

Dan feels that these were two of the best days in his whole life. He felt safe, comfortable and well fed. These hunts “brought me back to life,” he said, and could not speak more highly about the volunteers. He is so happy that fellow hunters Vyto and Craig were successful in getting deer.

Guess what… he plans to be back next year and Crystal will be back too, as a volunteer.

“The only thing that was lacking this year” said McCarthy, “was the ability to congregate for pot luck lunches/dinners as some of us do at our hunt sites. To remain consistent with other MassWildlife programs, a COVID-19 safety protocol was put in place and shared with all program participants and suggested that everyone provide their own food. It’s always nice to sit around a pot of venison chili and side of cornbread with your group of volunteers and hunters — I’ve missed that terribly the past two years. Here’s to hoping next year’s hunt is as successful as this year’s but that it might also allow us to break bread together once again.”

Well, in the South Berkshire hunt, some of the volunteers and their wives made sure that warm, tasty food reached the hunters. Thanks to Don Chaffee Construction of Otis for providing much, if not all of the food.

And many thanks to DFW’s Susan McCarthy and DFW Western District Andrew Madden for their assistance in providing information and picture for this article.

Northern Pike stocked in Cheshire

Recently, MassWildlife stocked 2,000 northern pike into Quaboag Pond and Cheshire Reservoir. The yearlings averaged 12" long and will take 2–3 years to reach the 28" minimum harvest size. They obtained the pike from New Jersey Fish & Wildlife as part of a cooperative exchange program. MassWildlife appears to be working hard to get a northern pike fishery established in Cheshire Lake with stockings in 2006, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and this year. That’s good as they should help control the yellow perch population there which have become stunted due their high numbers.

New Wildlife Technician: Heather Sandler

Heather Sadler recently began work in the Western District as a Wildlife Technician. She comes to the District with extensive experience in fish propagation and stocking, having worked for 13 years in MassWildlife’s Sunderland Fish Hatchery. She will be working with the rest of the outstanding Western District technicians stocking trout and pheasants, working check stations, managing habitat on Wildlife Management Areas, and carrying out all of MassWildlife District Conservation programs. Outside of work, Heather enjoys many aspects of the outdoors, including hunting and fishing.

“Walkin’ the Watershed with Burnsie”

The Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee is working to preserve and protect headwater streams in the wild & scenic designated stretches of the Westfield River.

In his most recent video, John (Burnsie) Burns, of Burns Environmental, who is a biologist specializing in rare plants and animals, describes how headwaters act as refuges and sanctuaries for our native brook trout. Burnsie does a great job with this video and probably everyone can learn something from it. I know I did. For one thing, I learned what an “otter latrine” looks like.

Meredyth Babcock, Committee Volunteer Coordinator, invites volunteers and land owners to help preserve and protect the headwaters. If you missed the last R&R (Remove and Restore) work party where they removed invasive plants from Center Pond Brook, contact Meredyth at Westfieldriver@gmail.com and she can give you the dates for upcoming work party activities.

There are lots of interesting videos by Burnsie, Russ Cohen and others in the Wild & Scenic Library located at: www.westfieldriverwildscenic.org/news.html.

Veterans Day

Veterans Day is once again upon us. Hopefully sometime during our busy schedules this week we have a chance to remember and thank them for our freedom. For some veterans, the time spent in the service of our nation was no big deal. But for others, the experience was life-altering, and everything else that followed for the rest of their lives was anti-climatic.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@gmail.com or 413-637-1818.

Gene Chague is a longtime sportsman and editor of The Eagle's Berkshire Woods and Waters outdoors column.