My fall hunting season had started in mid-October with a muzzleloader hunt on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with temperatures approaching 80 degrees. Now in mid-December, I would be concluding the season with another muzzleloader hunt for whitetails, only this time I was driving up to Canisteo, New York to hunt with Grand Island Sportsman’s Guide Service and warm temps weren’t in the forecast.
I arrived up at the camp late on the afternoon of Wednesday, 12/12, prior to my 2 ½ day
hunt and was greeted by Mark Hassan, owner of Grand Island Sportsman’s Guide Service. After getting my gear situated in the cabin, Mark took me for a quick tour of the area to show me the properties he owns and leases. Mark has a total of 575 acres available to hunt, 225 of which are adjacent to the cabin and the other 350 acres are a short drive away. The land consists primarily of woods with a few cornfields and food plots along the edges. There are 30 different ladder stands in place, ¾ of which are spacious 2-man buddy stands and the remaining are single stands. The buddy stands are great due to the extra space they supply and Mark has most of the stands wrapped in camo sheathing to minimize the chances of your movements being seen by the deer. Mark also uses portable ground blinds which we put to good use during my hunt to get out of the wind. After the tour, we returned to the cabin where we enjoyed a ham dinner and got ready for the next day’s hunt. Mark’s friend Don had come down from Grand Island and would also be hunting with us for the next day and a half.
The mornings consisted of getting up at 5am, having coffee and a continental breakfast of cereal, Danish and muffins and heading out the door by 6am. The first morning, the temps were in the upper 20’s with significant snowfall in the forecast for the day. We drove to the Call Road property and headed for the treestands we would be hunting that morning. Mark walked me into a single treestand about halfway down a hillside in woods bordering a cut cornfield. The location looked full of potential as it was out of the wind and the older snow was riddled with deer tracks. Around sunrise it began to snow heavily and when Mark returned a little after 10am, there was 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. None of us had seen any deer during the morning hunt as sightings were limited to squirrels and a flock of turkey.
We returned to the cabin to warm up and dry out any wet clothes by the woodstove. Mark prepared some hot soup and sandwiches for lunch. Only Don and I were going to hunt that afternoon. Don hunted in a treestand on the land across the road from the cabin and bumped 2 does by the base of his stand on his way in. I asked Mark if I could stillhunt the 115 acres up the mountain behind the cabin, since with the heavy snow, the deer were bedded down for the day. Next to spot and stalk hunting out west, stillhunting is one of my favorite methods to hunt and with the snow coming down it would be perfect conditions to quietly traverse the mountain glassing for bedded deer. Although I didn’t see any deer, it was one of the highlights of my season to spend the afternoon having the mountainside to myself with the snow continuing to fall. Around mid-afternoon, I cut a single set of tracks coming out of one of the numerous ravines. The tracks appeared to be a couple hours old and once the deer climbed to a small field of goldenrod, the tracks were completely covered over by fresh snow. As I got back to the cabin after sundown, the snow started to dissipate having dropped 8+ inches during the day.
Day 2 started out with temps in the high 20’s and 15-25 mph winds with gusts to 40 mph. Mark decided to set me up in a portable groundblind at the base of a pine thicket up on the mountainside across the road from camp. We crossed quite a few fresh tracks lower on the mountain as we went up a logging trail in Mark’s 4-wheel drive Rhino. With the pines uphill to my back, I would be watching a trail to my left and right and broken woods in front of me. Around 7:30am at sunrise, I caught movement as 2 does came across in front of the blind a mere 25 yards away. The lead doe was a good sized, mature deer and she stopped and bobbed her head a few times as she checked out the blind. I sat still in the back of the blind and the doe continued forward a few yards before stopping again. By then, I had shouldered my 50 cal. Thompson Omega and seeing that I had a clear shooting lane to the doe, I squeezed the trigger as the crosshairs were steady behind her shoulder. At the shot, the 2 deer ran off to my left into a stand of saplings and I thought I heard her go down. After reloading my muzzleloader, I left the blind to look for sign where she had been standing. I found hair and blood that indicated a good hit, so I returned to the blind to continue hunting. I had a doe tag and now could take another doe or buck with my muzzleloader tag, plus I had bear tag as well in case a black bear came by.
Just before 10am, another mature doe came running by the blind from the pines above me. A few minutes later Mark came down through the pines as he had made his way to my blind from the treestand he had been sitting in. He had seen a couple does on his way to my stand; but didn’t have any opportunities for a shot. Mark and I went to where I had hit the doe and we followed the tracks some 100 yards in the snow to find her lying on the far side of a strip of pines. Mark estimated her as at least a 2 ½ year old with a live weight of 150 lbs (see attached photo). While I field dressed her and drug her 70 yards downhill to a logging road, Mark went back to pickup the groundblind and bring the Rhino around to where I had her waiting. The snow and trails made it easy getting her out of the woods and back to the cabin. The cabin has a lower level around back that Mark can back the Rhino into to hang, skin and quarter the deer.
After another hot lunch of soup and sandwiches, we went about ½ mile up the road to hunt a treestand on the east end of Mark’s property behind the camp. The stand is about 50 yards uphill, in a slash cutout in a cluster of pines. There are trails above the stand and a creek bottom below. On the other side of the creek bottom was a cut cornfield where Mark had been seeing deer recently. On the way into the stand we bumped 2 doe from the creek bottom. I could see the head of one of the doe above some goldenrod they were standing in; but by the time I could see that she was a mature deer, they had run uphill into the pines. I had hoped I would see them again after I was settled into the stand; however the afternoon passed without seeing anymore deer. In walking along the creek back to camp, I noticed multiple sets of tracks in the snow that were concentrated in the area of the stand and the pines.
The skies cleared and the temperatures dropped overnight with the thermometer at camp reading 12 degrees the next morning. The night before, over dinner, Mark and I discussed where I would hunt on my last morning. We decided to setup the portable groundblind just off the edge of the cut cornfield on a point across the creek from the treestand I had hunted from the prior afternoon. I could cover 100 yards of creek bottom to either side of the blind and watch up the mountainside into the mix of pines and hardwoods. No deer showed up that morning and with a forecast of a major storm front coming in that evening, I headed back home.
The properties that Mark has are beautiful deer hunting settings with well placed stands. Mark is safety conscious and keeps all the stands in good order. He also supplies safety harnesses that he requires his hunters to wear. Grand Island Sportsman’s Guide Service caters to small hunting parties of 1 to 3 hunters and Mark limits the number of hunters he takes on each fall to prevent the deer being overhunted and to maintain a good deer population. This past year, 11 deer were harvested by 14 hunters with all but 2 hunters having shot opportunities. Of the 11 deer taken, 5 were bucks ranging in size from forkhorns to 6 pointers with a couple nice 8 pointers and a 10 pointer having been seen during the season. Mark books hunters for the archery season which starts in mid-October, the gun season for which New York is now allowing the use of centerfire rifles; rather than shotguns and muzzleloader season.
This was Mark’s 7th year guiding and one of the things that attracted me to Grand Island Sportsman’s Guide Service was Mark’s honesty about what to expect. I knew coming up for a late season hunt, the weather could be brutal and I probably wouldn’t be seeing a lot of deer. Mark had explained that the deer are hunted hard on the adjoining lands and the deer sightings drop as the season’s progress from October through December, so your best bet to see a lot of deer is during the archery season in October and November.
The hunts are moderately priced, all inclusive consisting of 3 meals a day, supplied stands, transportation where needed to and from the stands, field dressing, skinning and quartering of the deer. In addition to deer, Mark also guides for turkey and charters fishing trips on Lake Erie and the Upper Niagara River. I’m hoping to return to Marks’ in the future for an archery hunt as I was very impressed with the habitat, the size of the deer and the potential to tag a nice rack buck.
For more detailed information on Grand Island Sportsman’s Guide Service please click here to visit their website.