New York state’s Southern Zone kicks off its short annual muzzleloader season Monday (Dec. 9 to Dec. 17), signaling the beginning of the end to a long, marathon of a deer season for some of us.

New York state’s Southern Zone kicks off its short annual muzzleloader season Monday (Dec. 9 to Dec. 17), signaling the beginning of the end to a long, marathon of a deer season for some of us.

We start with long sunny days, balmy temps, green leaves, t-shirts, and biting bugs on Oct. 1. Our typical black powder … or muzzleloader deer season finishes with arctic fronts, whiteouts, snow-covered forest floors, insulated boots, short daylight, and numb fingers.

The whitetail season here in New York state's Southern Zone, spans the time when the air is filled with mosquitoes and biting gnats and switches over to snowflakes. The long deer season is wonderful because it allows the workingman and woman, along with those pressed-for-time students (not to mention retirees) time and a chance to get afield after whitetails.

If one considers the necessary pre-season scouting, which most of us enjoy too, then the whitetail season actually spans almost four months, from September through much of December.

We hunt deer for nearly a quarter of the entire year.

Deer season was not always this way.

Back in the old days, when deer hunting first started here in Western NY (1939 was the first deer season in Allegany County) it only lasted one week and it was shotguns only (no centerfire rifles allowed).

The first deer harvest in Allegany County in modern times was a total of 50 deer. Other counties in New York soon followed and implemented their own seasons as the deer herd rapidly expanded.

Now the average Southern Zone kill each year is around 100,000 bucks and 100,000 does. And in many parts of New York state, the whitetail herd is expanding to the point where the DEC is challenged to control it. We are certainly living in the good old days of whitetail hunting.

Not only is the success rate for deer hunters going up, but the quality and size of the animals is growing too. Last year (2018) New York’s voluntary antler restriction program showed that almost 60% (58.8%) of the bucks tagged were 2.5 years of age or older.

Slowly, as the whitetail herd expanded and the population increased to the near record populations of today (back in 2000 and 2001 New York had its largest deer kills), the three seasons (archery, gun and muzzleloader) increased in time and allowed the average working guy or gal a chance to get out in the woods after deer and have a reasonable chance of scoring.

We start deer hunting with our archery equipment.

The NY bow season runs from mid-September until mid-November for all practical purposes, because we must practice shooting and scout, tune our stands and blinds, at the bare minimum for two weeks before the actual Oct. 1 opener when we can legally release an arrow at a deer.

Then, six weeks later as the regular season ... what we call "the gun season" dawns, now always on the third Saturday of November. The bows and arrows are stowed, and out come the center-fire rifles and shotguns. The various camouflage patterns that we utilize with our bows and arrows are for the most part exchanged for blaze orange when we pick up the rifles in mid-November.

When the major rifle second season ends in early December, the centerfire rifles are cleaned and packed away and we exchange them for our black powder guns, in this, the third and final part to the whitetail season. Here we fill our muzzleloader/ bow tags and unfilled DMU, commonly called antlerless or doe tags.

Deer hunters are weekend warriors, having regular lives i.e. employment and deadlines, relationships with our family members, and chores and maintenance of our homes ... upkeep like mowing lawns to shoveling snow. The long deer season allows us the time to choose not only when we can hunt, but the type of weapon and season we prefer.

Some deer hunters only enjoy archery season. They like hunting with a bow and arrow and the mild, beautiful time to be in the woods. Others of us hunt only during the most popular regular gun season. That is when deer hunting is at its most efficient and the best chance for a hunter to fill a tag and stack that corner of the freezer with delicious venison. And finally, a short muzzleloader/archery season at the end allows those of us who enjoy our “soot belchers” a chance at taking a more primitive weapon afield in the final days of the three-part season.

Black powder guns, or muzzleloaders, have come a long way in the last 50 years or so. I built my first one back in the mid-1970s. Back then, hunters had a choice between either flintlock or percussion guns. I still have the .54 caliber flintlock that I put together and carried in the woods for many seasons.

But mostly now, like the majority of black powder hunters, I tote my modern.50 caliber, scoped in-line when it's snowing. The old flintlock was much more problematical when snowing or raining. We had to literally keep our powder dry.

And any flintlocker that has hunted deer has stories of misfires and hang-fires and/or pulling the trigger and the gun didn’t fire. Snow would often melt and the moisture would get in the pan or on the frizzen (metal part on the flintlock which the flint strikes to create a spark that falls in the pan and ignites the charge).

The modern inline muzzleloaders for the most part don’t have that problem as the ignition powder system is protected. But they have their issues too. It would not be black powder season if there were not challenges in keeping the powder dry - and remembering to put the charge in first before putting in the sabot or patched lead ball. (ahem ... Not that I have done that. But I have heard tell of it being done by other black powder shooters.)

But you never know, the black powder season, the end of the three-phase NY deer season gives us all ample opportunities to screw up out there in this, the final traditional quest to pack some venison in the freezer.

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.