New York Archers take aim at early kickoff

Albany — For Southern Zone bowhunters, the wait is nearly over.

Their steady push for an earlier opener to the deer season resulted in an Oct. 1 kickoff as part of a regulatory change within the DEC’s five-year deer management plan, and those efforts will come to fruition in just a few weeks.

While DEC wildlife biologists don’t expect the move to impact deer harvest numbers despite the lengthened season, indications are bowhunters will take advantage of the Oct. 1 opener, even if the weather is warm and foliage creates some additional challenges.

“My customers are super excited for the season,” said Joe Guernsey, owner of Klein’s Archery and Outdoor Store in Dryden (Tompkins County). “And they’re super excited for the Oct. 1 opener. They’ve been out scouting and plan on patterning bucks going to the alfalfa fields. They’ll still be on the food sources, in batchelor groups, and (hunters) plan on taking advantage of that.”

DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst says even with that early effort, they’re not expecting “any substantial management” by the additional 12 days of hunting instead of the traditional mid-October opener in the Southern Zone.

“We didn’t change any DMP (Deer Management Permit) allocations because of it,” he said. “We’ll evaluate it and get a better picture after this season, but we expect just a redistribution of the harvest throughout the season – a similar harvest distributed over a longer period.”

Hurst says the Oct. 1 Southern Zone opener will offer bowhunters the chance for more weekend hunting opportunities, and it’s possible some archers will hit the woods on Oct. 1, then limit their effort to those weekends.

In the Northern Zone, a slight tweak in the season length structure will give bowhunters there, on average, an additional two days of hunting. But not this year, Hurst said, because of the way the calendar falls.

Northern Zone bowhunters are affected by a change in the regular season dates, where that season now begins on the second Saturday after Columbus Day.

The bigger impact for Northern Zone bowhunters, however, is that DMPs are allowed to be used during the archery season in wildlife management units where they are allocated.

Bowhunting continues to grow in popularity in New York, as evidenced by the estimated 215,000 licensed bowhunters in the state. That number could be a bit misleading, however, since super sportsman license buyers automatically receive “bow-muzz” tags but may choose to use them during the muzzleloader deer season.

“From my perspective, I’m not so concerned about license sales,” Hurst said. “I’m concerned about hunters in the woods, and hunter effort (hours afield).”

But archery shops are reporting generally strong business heading into the season.

“It’s been incredible,” said John Laubscher of AJ’s Archery in Cazenovia (Madison County). “Our business is up 36 percent over last year – and last year was good.”

Hurst says whitetail numbers should be solid again this year, notably on the heels of an unusually mild winter across the state – especially in the Northern Zone where Mother Nature drives deer numbers.

“I think we’re expecting (the total kill) to be similar to last year, maybe up a bit because we issued more DMPs,” he said. “But hunters might notice a difference this fall in the woods because we had such a mild winter. There should be a lot of fawns and a lot of small bucks and young does.”

The archery season has been the centerpiece of some of the hottest sportsmen’s debates in the state – crossbows and a proposed youth hunt over the Columbus Day weekend. Legislation currently awaits Gov. Andrew

Cuomo’s signature on a bill that would extend crossbow use but keep those implements out of the archery season. A clause within that bill would quash a proposed youth hunt over the Columbus Day weekend.

Guernsey, who favors the youth hunt himself, said most of his customers also supported the concept, “but there was a little concern over the timing of it.” On crossbows, he said “most guys don’t really care. But we’ve still got that 20 percent who think it will be the worst thing in the world if they allow crossbows in archery season.”

While the Southern Zone archery deer season opens Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 16, there’s also a late archery-muzzleloader deer season Dec. 10-18. The archery bear season in the Central-Western and Southeastern areas within the Southern Zone parallels the archery deer offerings.

In the Northern Zone, bowhunters can get out Sept. 15 for the early Adirondacks bear season, which runs through Oct. 12. The regular archery deer season opens Sept. 27 for hunters with unused tags from the 2011-12 season.

The season closes Oct.19. There’s also a late archery-muzzleloader deer season Dec. 3-9 in selected WMUs.

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