Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Shotgun deer hunting season opens Monday

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Well, here we go again. For some of us the opening day of shotgun deer hunting (Monday) is still a big event and its anticipation results in a sleepless night. Before we go to bed tonight, we will have had all of our hunting equipment ready: gun, bullets, drag rope, knife, hunting license, sandwiches, thermos bottle, hand warmers, cell phone and/or compass, warm hunting clothes, etc. We'll be all set to go roaring out of our driveways early tomorrow morning headed to our hunting spots. The weather forecast predicts snow, so that is good for tracking, as long as there isn't a severe storm which would prevent us from getting up into the mountains. I don't know about you, but chances are pretty good that I will be tossing and turning all night until its almost time to get up around 4 a.m. Chances are that during the night we'll be reliving some past opening days, people we hunted with, the deer that we shot — or missed — the weather, or any number of things.

If you are a baby boomer or older, you remember when deer season ran only one week, the first full week in December. We planned our vacations to coincide with deer season. You'll note that I use the term deer season, not seasons — years ago, there was no separate archery season and there was definitely no such thing as a primitive firearms deer hunting season.

So, the deer hunter had one week, six days, to hunt in Massachusetts. I could go on and on relating what it was like deer hunting in those days. That may be a good column, possibly for opening day next year Good Lord willing. What I decided to write about today is how The Berkshire Eagle covered deer seasons back then.

Ask any boomer about the old days of deer hunting and one recurring subject keeps cropping up: The popularity of deer hunting back then and the superb coverage in The Berkshire Eagle. The boomers undoubtedly remember that in The Eagle, there was always a listing of all of the successful hunters. Usually, on opening day there was a headline and/or picture of a very large deer along with the hunter.

Just out of curiosity, I accessed the archives of some old copies of The Eagle, specifically the hunting season of 1959, some 60 years ago. Sure enough, there were articles about deer hunting every day from Saturday, Dec. 5 through Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1959.

On opening day the headline was: "Deer kill total down but quality is high." It had a picture of a 200-pound, 10-point buck hanging from a tree or garage and standing next to it was the successful hunter, Frederick W. Woodin of Stockbridge. The accompanying article also listed the names of 40 successful hunters. It not only listed their names, but in what town they lived, the town where they shot the deer, whether it was a buck or doe, the number of points, if applicable, and its weight.

For the next eight days, there were articles about the deer hunting season along with the above information on the deer kills. During that deer season, the names and information on over 200 successful local deer hunters were listed. There was usually special attention given to successful women hunters and teenagers who bagged their first deer.

Can you imagine the amount of work that went into gathering and listing all that information? The articles were greatly appreciated by the sportsmen and were required reading. It was a big disappointment if you shot a deer and didn't get your name listed in the newspaper. Such coverage was common in the Berkshire Eagle for 25 years or so, definitely from 1950 through 1975.

In the Dec. 14, 1959 Berkshire Eagle article (the Monday after the hunting season closed), Bryant R. Chaplin, of the Information & Education Section of the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, reported that some 2,290 deer were checked in state-wide. Contrast that with the 2018 statewide kill from all deer hunting seasons of 14,513. The "Big Deer" contest was won that year by Frank Guida of Pittsfield with a 200-pound, 7-point buck. Some 500 hunters were registered in the contest that year.

There was no name of the reporter who obtained the information for the daily articles, but there was little doubt in anyone's mind, it was Ted Giddings who, I believe, was the City Editor in those days. What a difficult job that must have been gathering and typing all of those names and details.

I scanned the listings of the successful hunters to see if there was anyone that I knew. There were many. Most of them have passed away over the ensuing 60 years. But today there are some who are still trudging up our Berkshire mountains, albeit a tad slower.

So, you may ask, what with all of the modern-day technology, why is it that we can't have these listings anymore? Computers should be able to easily compile this information more rapidly, right? Well, please consider this. These days there are some forms of deer hunting on-going from October 21 through December 31, and that doesn't include the paraplegic and youth deer hunting days. The deer taken during the archery and primitive firearms as well as the second week of shotgun season can be checked in online or at the various deer checking stations. Some of these stations don't report the kills on a timely basis, so DFW personnel can't really get accurate harvest numbers on a daily basis and usually have to wait until the seasons are over and the reports are in. They do provide me with some information on the larger local deer kills so I can mention them in this column.

You will note that online reporting of deer taken during the first week of shotgun season was not mentioned above. That's because during the first week of shotgun season, the deer must be physically checked in at an official check station. That allows DFW personnel to inspect and gather important data on the animal such as condition, age, weight and antler beam diameter.

According to the MassWildlife web site, the following are authorized Berkshire County deer checking stations which you may use during the first week of the shotgun deer hunting season:

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Ernie's Auto Sales: 400 Curran Hwy., North Adams, No phone, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday.

DFW Western District Headquarters: 88 Old Windsor Rd., Dalton, 413-684-1646, Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday.

Lee Sportsmen's Association: 546 Fairview St., Lee, No phone, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday

Becket General Store: 3235 Main St., Becket, 413-623-6026, Monday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Papa's Healthy Food & Fuel: 2000 East Otis Road, Otis, 413-269-7779, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Sunday

The Mill River General Store: 10 Great Barrington Mill River Rd., New Marlborough, 413-229-2663, Mon-Fri 6 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun 8 a.m.-12 p.m.

Here's wishing you all a safe, enjoyable and successful hunting season.

Don't deck the halls with invasive species

MassWildlife cautions us to avoid using exotic, invasive plants such as Oriental Bittersweet and Multiflora rose in holiday decorations. Using them in decorations can impact native species and habitat. Birds eat and carry away the fruits from wreaths and garlands and the digested, but still-viable seeds sprout where deposited.

Exotic, invasive plants create severe environmental damage, invading open fields, forests, wetlands, meadows, and backyards, and crowding out native plants. Bittersweet can even kill mature trees through strangling. It is illegal to import or sell bittersweet and Multiflora rose in any form in Massachusetts.

You can learn more about invasive plants from their publication: "A Guide To Invasive Plants." It can be purchased from MassWildlife for $5.

TU Holiday Party

The Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be having its Holiday Party on Thursday at Mazzeo's Ristorante on Rte. 7/20, Pittsfield. Open to the public, the social hour and auction will begin at 5:30 p.m. This is a great opportunity to pick up some neat used fly fishing stuff at bargain basement prices. At 6:45 dinner will be served.

The cost is $35 per person. Online tickets must be purchased by this Tuesday. For more information, contact Henry Sweren at 413-822-5216 or hsweren8@aol.com.

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


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