A Colorado cougar mounted on the wall at Clingerman Taxidermy in North Rose.

I walked in the door at Clingerman Taxidermy, prepared to talk deer during my annual visit. Opening day is this coming Saturday, making the time for a whitetail discussion perfect.

On the wall to my left was a beautiful mount of a cougar. As I greeted business owner Randy Stewart, I told him I was going to put that masterpiece at the top of my column.

“We can talk deer. However, that animal needs to be shown,” I announced.

Stewart, who has been doing taxidermy work for 35 years, has owned Clingerman Taxidermy in North Rose for 25 years. He knows what I’m talking about when I say, “Taxidermy is much more than just stuffing animals.”

We went to the back room, sat in some easy chairs, and drank some coffee. After discussing everything from why mosquitoes don’t get hit and killed by raindrops, to the latest caliber rifles for hunting deer, we focused on the bow season.

“We had 70- to 80-degree days the beginning of October,” Stewart recalled. “Then it went right to the rain. I didn’t take in any deer from the youth hunt and didn’t have my first customer until Oct. 15.”

The rut started last week. While Stewart thought it was a little late, the bucks are beginning to trickle in to his business.

“My numbers are averaging last year,” he said. “However, there are much bigger racks. Three quarters of the deer coming in are making the New York Big Buck Book and Pope and Young. They are in the 120-130 class deer.”

My taxidermy friend said the average he is seeing are 3½-year-old animals.

“I think hunters are now letting the smaller bucks go and waiting for the bigger racks,” Stewart surmised.

I looked in the room where the racks are organized on the floor and noticed some very large massed antlers.

“I guess hunters are passing on younger deer, because these are impressive antlers,” I said. “Where’s mine?

There is no mine, of course, because you need to be in the woods. You cannot hang a deer in your garage by looking out the window and deciding the weather is bad and waiting until tomorrow.

“The everyday rain has put a damper on this bow season,” Stewart said. “Most guys know they can’t track deer in the rain, so they aren’t going out.”

Stewart and I talked about Chronic Wasting Disease and the importance of knowing the legal procedure if you hunt out of our state. The fatal disease for deer is under control in New York, but that can change quickly if hunters bring infected whitetails back from a trip.

“Before you hunt in Ohio or Pennsylvania, go to your taxidermist and let them teach you how to remove the skin from the skull on your deer,” Stewart advised. “Then you can cut the horns off the skull and keep yourself legal bringing your deer back to New York state.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation website outlines the legal ramifications for not following important procedures.

For example, “Debone or quarter your deer before you bring it back to New York. This practice removes ‘high-risk’ parts such as the brain and spinal cord that could potentially spread CWD. If a whole intact carcass is imported from a prohibited state, province, or any high-fence shooting facility, the person will be ticketed and the entire animal, including trophy heads, will be confiscated and destroyed. Meat, hide and cape, antlers, cleaned skull cap with antlers attached, finished taxidermy mounts, tanned hides, and clean upper canine teeth are permitted.”

Stewart has taken bucks from all over the region thus far.

“I have racks from Morrisville, Cayuta and North Rose,” he reported.

As I left, I took a photo of the cougar, a Colorado mount. I told Stewart I was going to suit up and hit the woods.

“I’ll bring my North Wolcott 120-130 class whitetail for you to mount,” I predicted.

Outside, there was a slight drizzle. The weather was bad. I’ll go tomorrow.

Hunting forecast

Great habitat, large and plentiful deer and lots of public land combine to make Region 8 home to some of the best deer hunting in New York. This region includes 11 counties in the eastern half of Western New York, extending from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania line, and consists of two broad ecological areas.

The northern half of the region, the Lake Plains ecozone, is characterized by productive flat to rolling agricultural land interspersed with small woodlots, and higher residential and road development. The Appalachian Plateau ecozone to the south has higher, hillier terrain, larger woods, farmland restricted to the valleys and hilltops and less development.

With the better soils and correspondingly higher percentage of agriculture in the north, food supplies are generally more plentiful there and winters usually milder. The southern half of the region, with its higher elevations, generally endures harsher winters, and its poorer soils and lower percentage of agriculture make for less abundant deer food and slightly poorer deer habitat.

The total 2017 deer harvest in Region 8 was 53,729, a 5.3 percent decrease from the previous year. While adult buck take rose 1.8 percent, the antlerless harvest was down 15.6 percent as compared to 2016. Deer harvest was down in all but the four southernmost units in the region and two northern units.

Buck harvest last fall was up in nine of 15 units, down in five, and essentially unchanged in one. Declining buck harvest in a unit indicates a declining total deer population. The past three relatively mild winters should mean good numbers of does and yearlings for the meat hunters out there.

It should be noted that the late-winter snows in some of Region 8’s higher elevations this year did lead to some localized winter loss of fawns, but overall, most deer came through winter in good shape. The decline in antlerless take in the region last fall was partly intentional, as lower populations require less doe removal, but the large drop in antlerless harvest in the Lake Plains units was unexpected given the higher numbers of DMPs issued there.

Region 8 continues to be a tale of two ecozones: deer populations over objectives in the north and below objectives in the south. The irony is that actual deer densities are quite similar in both areas. It’s just that, in general, population objectives are lower in the north and higher in the south. Higher human density and associated activities in the north compared to the south result in different social tolerances for deer, which in turn necessitate different population objectives.

Take, tag, report

With archery and crossbow season underway and the regular season set to kick off this Saturday, DEC is reminding hunters that it’s mandatory to report your harvest within seven days of taking an animal.

“Take it, Tag it, Report it” is the catchphrase that is being used by the agency to emphasize the importance of following through on your harvest.

To report your deer or bear harvest, visit, call 1-866-426-3778, or sign up for DEC’s new mobile app, the NY Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife App, on your smart phone.

It’s estimated that 50 percent of all deer taken in the state are not reported.

Chris Kenyon’s “Outdoors” appears every other Sunday. Contact him at (315) 879-1341 or

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