Hunting Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

Learn about hunting deer in the Adirondack Mountains, a unique New York wilderness that doubles as rich habitat for eastern mountain bucks.

Hunting Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

The pre-dawn hours of early November found Pat and Tony Salerno — guided by their flashlights — headed deep into a wilderness area in the Adirondack Mountains. Their destination was rich whitetail habitat Pat had scouted earlier. Images from trail cameras had shown big rubs, scrapes and tracks, all indicating large Adirondack bucks were using the area.

At daybreak, they parted ways. After still-hunting for about 1,200 yards, Pat decided to stay awhile in an area with thick heavy cover hoping to see a big buck headed for its bedding area. Around 9:20 a.m., he heard deer movement and two loud grunts.

From the cover of thick timber, Pat waited. Minutes later, a deer walked by at about 100 yards away, heading for the mountain above. Pat waited 15 or 20 seconds, pulled out his bleat can, sounded it once loudly, and then put it away. Soon, he heard the sound of deer bounding towards him. He turned his rifle camera on and got ready.

Moments later, he glimpsed a set of large antlers through his scope. The buck was bounding toward him. He fought the adrenaline rush as the deer came within 30 feet of his position. His gun was ready, and one shot put him down.

It was a stunning sequence of a big buck coming in close, followed by a clean shot, all of it captured on camera. The buck weighed 185 pounds and the 9-point rack had one of the heaviest beams of all the bucks he had shot in the Adirondacks. 

Behaviors of Mature Adirondack Bucks

Welcome to deer hunting in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Salerno style. Most hunters are not willing to spend the time and effort and, even those that do put in long hours or many miles, usually do not experience the success of the Salerno brothers. 

The brothers' dedication, aggressive approach and attention to detail are what sets them apart from the majority of hunters.

Pat, Tony and their brothers learned deer hunting skills from their father, Pat Salerno, Sr., who was a former minor league baseball player in the Brooklyn Dodger organization, as well as an accomplished deer hunter. In those days, deer hunting was important to put meat on the table, so the family learned how to hunt for the largest bodied deer. 

They use traditional methods of scouting, innovative use of trail-cameras, topo maps and hunt deep in wilderness areas, miles from the nearest trailhead. Their go-to method is still-hunting, utilizing tips acquired through years of experience. These skills, attention to small details and long hours spent in the field have paid off. Together, they have bagged over 40 mature, big-bodied, heavy-antlered bucks in an area known for its rugged country and low deer densities.

Tony Salerno notes that mature bucks are reclusive and prefer remote areas, especially higher elevations where they face fewer disturbances or predators. They often spend much of the daylight hours on a high ledge or in thick cover where they can detect potential danger below or adjacent. 

Adirondack bucks rarely sport the massive antlers of Midwestern bucks because they lack the rich food supply of agricultural areas. The rugged terrain, harsh winters and limited food supply in the Adirondacks means that deer must live to an old age to achieve the weight and antler growth that makes them a trophy. While living long enough to reach that size, they also gain knowledge and wariness that makes them more difficult to hunt.

The rugged terrain, harsh winters and limited food supply in the Adirondacks means that deer must live to an old age to achieve the weight and antler growth that makes them a trophy.
The rugged terrain, harsh winters and limited food supply in the Adirondacks means that deer must live to an old age to achieve the weight and antler growth that makes them a trophy.

Scouting Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

Pat Salerno starts early in the spring by looking for sheds. One year he collected 25 sheds along the south facing slopes or deer runways. Traditional methods of scouting include finding big tracks, signs of feeding, big rubs and scrape lines. Not only does this tell of deer activity but it may indicate the size of the deer and helps determine where to place trail cameras.

They mount their eight Bushnell trail cameras, including those with remote capabilities, at various locations, taking care to put branches in front and behind cameras to keep deer from spotting them and leaving the area. Pat emphasizes setting the cameras to record a 20-second video with a 3-second delay. This shows the body language and time and direction the deer traveled.

This scouting and camera placement is typically three to five miles deep in the woods, targeting the range where most mature bucks congregate. All of this scouting and camera information gives them the confidence and incentive to hunt as hard as they do. Topo maps are used to check state trails for access and learn the land thoroughly. Pat and Tony Salerno use the app TopoMaps+. In addition to being a map, you can use it to mark spots, find distances and gain other valuable information. 

Hunting Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

A typical day for the Salerno brothers starts well before dawn. They usually hike in to a distant location with flashlights to begin hunting at the legal shooting hour. Near the legal shooting hour, they will make occasional use of their grunt calls. The sound tends to travel further in the still morning air, possibly attracting a nearby buck. Immediately before daylight, Pat often continues calling, but changes position so approaching bucks will not pinpoint the calls and become suspicious.

After sitting an hour or two, the brothers start still-hunting in opposite directions at elevations of 2,000 to 3,000 feet depending on terrain and scouting intel. Their experience shows that big bucks often bed down at these elevations on ledges or in thick cover. Thus, they move down or across the mountainside, not upwards. Their objective is to spot and shoot a big buck in its bed before it bounds away.

They will slowly move along the sides of fingers of land, ledges, near brooks, or the edge of thick green cover. Both brothers emphasize that it is important to zig-zag using cover features to break up the human outline, rather than walk in a straight line. Tony Salerno reminds other hunters that they need to look for horizontal shapes in a vertical world and — since they are unlikely to see an entire deer — practice looking for parts of deer such as ears.

Bonus Tip: Most still-hunters move too fast. If snowshoe hares sit tight and grouse sneak away instead of flying, then you are moving at the right speed. The brothers like to change speeds slightly and stop every 30 to 40 feet. But in wet conditions, you may stop closer to 50 to 60 feet. It is also important to have your gun in a ready position. And keep nearby trees nearby in mind that can be used to steady your aim. This cuts down on motion and saves seconds in a situation where you may only have seconds to shoot.

Using the app TopoMaps+​, Pat and Tony Salerno check the Adirondack's state trails for access and learn the land thoroughly.
Using the app TopoMaps+​, Pat and Tony Salerno check the Adirondack's state trails for access and learn the land thoroughly.

Calling Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

One day when Tony was hunting deep in the mountains, it was exceptionally dry and the ground was covered with crunchy leaves. It was definitely a day when deer would hear every step and getting close to one would be a challenge. Tony spent most of the day still-hunting, stopping frequently, hiding in blowdowns and using his grunt tube that he always carries around his neck.

Late in the day, he caught the attention of a buck that was bedded down for the day. Tony could hear the sound of the deer walking through the leaves and pausing frequently. Tony knew the deer was interested, but still cautious by the way it stopped. After 10 minutes of silence, Tony decided he had to make another call to make sure the deer did not lose interest and, equally important, make sure it knew where the grunt sounds were coming from.

His next call put the deer into a frenzy and it came at a fast trot, loudly crunching leaves and breaking branches as it moved. Tony mentally calmed himself down and prepared for a shot. He first saw the antlers and then got the golden opportunity when the deer stopped broadside. One squeeze of the trigger put the bullet behind the front shoulder, and in four or five jumps the buck was down for good.

Both Tony and Pat hunt with their Primos grunt tubes handy. They feel that these calls are especially effective in the back woods where deer rarely see a person. Considering the speed you are moving and how the sounds carry in the deep woods, Tony suggests using the grunt call every half hour. Sometimes when a deer is moving, a grunt call may cause them to stop. This pause can give you a shot at a standing buck or a few seconds pause to aim your gun at a clearing ahead of a buck and be ready to fire.

Tracking Deer in the Adirondack Mountains

Snow changes the strategy. When Tony or Pat come across tracks indicating a big buck, they slow down and follow the track. If the track goes in a relatively straight line, that deer is probably moving on through the territory, so they move faster in order to catch up. Meandering tracks or signs of browsing mean the buck is getting ready to bed down and it may not be far ahead. This is when a hunter should slow down and be ready. Scan the area from side-to-side, as well as watch your back trail. Try to circle around to the side of likely bedding areas while paying attention to wind direction.

If you move a buck out of its bed, look for tracks or other signs to see if you spooked it or if it just walked out. After jumping a deer, Pat suggests waiting 15 minutes to let the deer calm down, then start hunting again. 

A few years ago, Pat Salerno shot a 12-point buck at 4:15 p.m. by hiding by a tree and using the grunt tube with calls spaced 25 seconds apart. Usually they head out of the woods in the dark guided by flashlight and compass, but occasionally they will carry small tents to stay overnight.
A few years ago, Pat Salerno shot a 12-point buck at 4:15 p.m. by hiding by a tree and using the grunt tube with calls spaced 25 seconds apart. Usually they head out of the woods in the dark guided by flashlight and compass, but occasionally they will carry small tents to stay overnight.

Putting it All Together

Although most hunters are concerned with getting out of the deep woods by dark, the Salernos continue to hunt until the end of legal light. It is often in that last hour or final minutes of light that a big buck appears. A few years ago, Pat shot a 12-point buck at 4:15 p.m. by hiding by a tree and using the grunt tube with calls spaced 25 seconds apart. Usually the brothers head out of the woods in the dark, guided by flashlight and compass. But occasionally they will carry small tents to stay overnight.

In addition to the thorough preparation, honing skills and maintaining good fitness there are smaller details that lead to successful hunts in this landscape. Those include scent use, calling techniques and use of quiet camo clothing. As with all hunting, success is also about mindset. In the most unlikely of moments, an unexpected challenge is bound to arise. You may hunt all season and it all comes down to a three-second opportunity to shoot a mature buck of a lifetime. Be prepared for that three-second encounter.

Salerno Gear Spotlight 

Primos grunt calls.Tony and Pat Salerno always hunt with a Primos grunt call around their neck. Early in the morning while heading to their spots or waiting for an hour after dawn they will use a grunt call to entice deer into the area. When they begin still-hunting, moving through terrain at a slow speed, Tony will make a short call about every half hour.

If deer are roused from a bed or spotted while hunting heavy cover, Tony will make a call while he conceals himself in cover or stands next to a tree to break up his outline. Sometimes his call will cause a deer to pause long enough for a shot. Even if the buck only pauses for a few seconds, it often allows the hunter an opportunity for a lethal shot. 

Bushnell trail cameras. Pat Salerno feels that trail-cameras are one of the most valuable tools that a hunter can utilize, especially for those who hunt the deep woods. The Salerno’s rely on trail-cameras for scouting purposes. They normally check cameras every two or three weeks, and if sites show little activity, cameras are moved to different locations.

Pat takes a different route to and from those locations each time he checks a camera to avoid leaving too much scent and having the deer pattern him. Also, by using different routes, he often finds new sign in different areas.


All hunting photos: The Salerno Family 
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