Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Season of change in Southern Zone

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — If there’s any question that this Southern Zone deer
season will be different than years past, all you have to do is
look at a calendar.

Opening Day this year falls on a Saturday (Nov. 19), as the
Monday opener has been shelved in favor of what DEC officials are
confident will become a traditional third-Saturday-in-November
kickoff.

“It will be interesting to see whether hunters will hunt the two
weekend days back-to-back, Saturday and Sunday, and see if that has
any impact on harvest numbers,” said DEC Chief Wildlife Biologist
John Major.

Statewide, DEC officials are projecting a deer take that will be
down from last year’s tally of 208,406, which included 88,733
bucks.

The biggest factor behind that projected decline will be the
40-percent cut in Deer Management Permits, as well as a 10-percent
decline in hunting license sales this season.

“The harvest overall should be down — the buck harvest down a
little, but not greatly,” Major said. “It will be a product of
fewer DMPs and hunter participation — fewer hunters.”

While the Saturday opener represents a monumental change for
deer hunters, DEC officials are anticipating only a two percent
increase in hunters afield. Many of those, however, will likely be
school-age hunters who will have the day off to experience perhaps
their first ever Opening Day.

Even veteran hunters, in some counties, will be toting rifles on
Opening Day for the first time ever, thanks to legislation passed
late this summer that allows the use of rifles for deer hunting
and, if there’s a bear season in the counties involved, for bruins
as well.

Counties affected by the rifle bill are Allegany, Cattaraugus,
Chenango, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Oswego, Otsego, Schoharie
and Tioga. Although the bill also mentions Broome County east of
the Susquehanna River, DEC officials say that area has long been a
rifle zone.

Saturday opener? Rifles in parts of the Southern Zone?

Wait, there’s more.

In Wildlife Management Units 3C and 3J, primarily Ulster County,
a three-year pilot antler restriction program has been put in
place. Bucks in those WMUs must have at least three antler points
on one side to be legally harvested. The move will allow a higher
number of bucks to live beyond 18 months.

Hunters in portions of Oneida and Madison counties will face
several regulations after they harvest a deer in what’s known as
the Chronic Wasting Disease containment area, which includes 14
towns and three cities in Oneida County and two towns and the city
of Oneida in Madison County.

The containment area was established earlier this year after CWD
was discovered in a pair of wild whitetails. Successful hunters
there will have to bring their deer to a DEC check station or one
of several cooperating deer processors in the area.

Hunters taking a deer in the containment area will be able to
keep the venison and will be informed of the test results.

Deer Management Permits have been slashed by about 40 percent on
the heels of an 18-percent drop in the deer take between 2003 and
2004. DEC officials attributed that to back-to-back harsh winters
in much of the state as well as a planned move to reduce deer
numbers in some areas.

Statewide, the deer herd is generally thought to be at about
850,000.

“I don’t believe we’ve revised it from last year, but it’s
probably not going to do a lot,” said DEC Big Game Section Leader
John O’Pezio.

While DMPs were dramatically reduced, O’Pezio said DMP
applications remain strong — about 230,000 at last look, compared
to 260,000 in 2004.

“Considering the (cutback in DMP numbers), that’s a very
insignificant decline,” he said.

Still, DEC officials are looking closely at hunting license
sales to see whether the CWD discovery, DMP cuts, $3-a-gallon
gasoline and the general decline in hunter numbers will combine to
take a toll on the number of hunters afield this fall.

“Generally, deer hunters are quite committed,” O’Pezio said.
“While DMPs were kind of a bonus in past years, hunters are now
very dependent on them. What we’ve been seeing is a decline in
hunter intensity — the number of hours they’re spending in the
woods. And as far as gas prices, I’m sure everybody’s feeling the
pinch.”

Just short of 600,000 whitetail hunters will go afield this
fall, with a success rate of about 14 percent during the regular
season, which comes to a close Dec. 11 in the Southern Zone.

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