Story by Tom Pagliaroli

The long-anticipated statewide archery deer season opens a half-hour before sunrise Saturday and extends through Saturday, October 26.

No doubt the most popular of the various whitetail hunting seasons, the “fall bow” 2017 harvest was 13,993 and predicated on the Deer Management Zone (DMZ) you are hunting, the season limit could be one deer of either sex, two deer with only one being antlered, nine antlerless deer and one antlered deer, or unlimited antlerless deer and one antlered deer. Check pages 38-40 in the 2018 NJ Hunting and Trapping Digest for the limits and pages 42-43 for the statewide map detailing the DMZs.

With approximately 750,000 acres of public land open to deer hunting, finding a spot is not a problem. Sure, some tracts such as county parks and select national wildlife refuges require additional permits, but there’s a lot of acreage chock full of venison-on-the-hoof, and if one did one’s scouting homework and, where legal, had the bait and mineral spots working, well, getting a whitetail in arrow range should not pose too much of a problem.

There are always exceptions, and a cagey 2-1/2-year-old and older buck can prove frustratingly elusive, especially those residing on public grounds that receive moderate to heavy hunting pressure. Hey, they don’t grow decent-to-wall hanger racks by being careless, the only exception being during the sex-addled two-week rut that, depending on geographic location, usually kicks off the last week in October or the first week in November. Bucks in lust are known to abandon any semblance of smarts in favor of the urge to merge, but for now, they have all survival radars fully operational.

Squirrel and Rabbit Seasons Open: Certainly not to be overlooked are the gray squirrel and cottontail rabbit seasons that also commence this Saturday. Of these two luscious small game critters, it’s the squirrel that is most abundant and provides incredible hunting opportunities. Cottontail numbers, while abundant in some areas, decent in others and downright scarce elsewhere, still offer good times in the fields and along the edges and, like the bushytail, provide smack-your-lips dinners.

While both are hunted primarily with shotguns, it’s a supreme challenge trying it with a bow shooting a blunt-armed arrow or a .177 or .22 caliber pellet rifle. These all require up close shots, with the more traditional squirrel aficionados opting for the .36 caliber muzzleloader rifle.

And yes, black squirrels are legal quarry. The melanin color phase is just that: a phase, much like an albino or pie bald. While not common, they are indeed increasing in certain areas, but no worries, as they are just as delectable as their ashen-colored kin.

Both afford excellent table fare, with squirrel or cottontail cacciatore a family fave.

The daily limit for squirrels is 5, with 4 the max bag for cottontails.

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