On The Ridge: Happy Opening Day!

  • Selectman Joseph Judd isn't seeking re-election after serving 21 years on the Board of Selectmen.

  • Shelburne’s Bruce Biagi sends this photo of a whitetail buck he saw recently. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BRUCE BIAGI

Published: 11/24/2021 1:03:42 PM

Suddenly, it’s here again, with the stories that follow remaining much the same every single year: Ten minutes into Opening Day, and my first buck tag is filled!

I saw flags everywhere racing away from me down the ridge. You got a doe permit. Haven’t seen a deer all morning but there are tracks everywhere, you can’t eat track soup, and on and on it goes.

The 2021 opening day of shotgun season for whitetail deer begins on Nov. 29, one half hour before sunrise, and runs through Nov. 11. The shotgun deer season in Massachusetts is traditionally what the majority of hunters look forward to the most, reserving their vacation days and clearing their calendars of everything else that might interfere with those precious few days in the deer woods. MassWildlife estimates the population of whitetail deer across the state to be more than 100,000, and with a liberal season that now spans the better part of three months, including bow, shotgun and black powder seasons, deer hunters have a lot of time to chase white-tailed deer in Massachusetts. That’s a far cry from just 45 short years ago when the shotgun season was only six days, only one antlered deer was allowed, and bow hunting was nothing more than a dream. In other words, we’ve come a long way baby.

Shotgun season for deer is now underway across the entirety of New England. To many non-hunters, this usually means the only safe place to be is at home in their living rooms, but I’m here to tell you that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than to be involved as both hunter and non-hunter, in a deer hunting accident. Now, that doesn’t mean accidents never happen, because we all know they do. But during deer season, especially the first two weeks of December when you know you’re sharing the woods with hunters, a little extra precaution, and some common sense, can go a long way. And there is absolutely no reason not to walk the dog, go hiking, snowshoeing, or take a walk down an old country road during deer hunting season.

Most hunters are very knowledgeable about safety and many are very interested in conservation. They will tell you, if you take the time to strike up a conversation, that safety is paramount in keeping the sport of hunting viable and well. They might also tell you that houses everywhere means no land left open for hunting, just as much as it means no land left open for walking. And they get the importance of both those things, just as you do.

In Massachusetts, during deer season, non-hunters are not required to wear fluorescent orange, but please be aware that it’s highly recommended to do so. To take that a step further, I would encourage you to put the common sense we were talking about earlier to good use and wear some fluorescent orange if you’re out and about during deer season. Even when it is not hunting season, a fluorescent orange vest keeps you visible and quickly recognized in all terrain, which is a great asset in keeping you safe.

And remember, hunting is not allowed in Massachusetts on Sundays. While this may not always be the case in the future, as of now, if you’d rather be in the woods when hunters are not around, then Sunday is still a great alternative for that. However, even on Sundays it doesn’t hurt to be seen, so wearing a fluorescent orange hat or vest is still a great idea. Now, I realize that a fluorescent orange vest and hat aren’t key to winning any awards on a fashion runway. However, it does serve a purpose for keeping you safe and out of harm’s way. Many outdoor stores, especially stores that cater to hunters, have orange vests and hats readily available. And for a few pennies more, you can get better-made, more comfortable, and yes, even more fashionable gear rather than something that’s cheap or annoying like those poorly made plastic vests.

So you don’t need to stay inside during deer season if you don’t want to, just be cautious, use your god-given common sense, and get out and enjoy this beautiful time of year. The leaves have fallen, revealing the shapes of the trees and their branches reaching toward the sunlight, each one a little different from the other. And when snow comes, with everything left fresh and white, your florescent orange clothing will show up especially well. Snow on the ground also means it’s a good time to look for animal tracks, just to get an idea of what’s going on around you. It’s a glorious time of year, to be shared together by both hunter and non-hunter alike.

And finally, HUNTERS: remember that all deer taken during the first week of shotgun season must be brought to a physical check station so that MassWildlife staff can collect biological data. You can use MassWildlife’s “check station map” to find locations that are open during deer season. Once reported, the harvest tag with the confirmation number, or the metal seal from the official game check station, must remain attached to the carcass until prepared for food, taxidermy or other uses.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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