Saturday in South a solid start: DEC

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — Deer hunters in the Southern Zone may have enjoyed
their first-ever Saturday opener, but they may have enjoyed the
weather even more.

A crisp morning and relatively mild afternoon made for
comfortable hunting conditions, and DEC officials reported a fairly
successful opening three days of the season, although data at this
point is limited.

“We’re in about a statistical dead heat for the first three days
of the regular season compared to last year,” said Big Game Section
Leader John O’Pezio. “We had some really nice weather on opening
day, and our reports suggest a harvest substantially ahead of last
year for the first two days. But the third day brought it back
down.”

DEC officials had anticipated a spike in Opening Day
participation with the establishment of the Saturday opening day.
Although early estimates indicated about a 2 percent jump, later
projections called for as much as a 5 percent boost.

Chief Wildlife Biologist John Major said about 380,000 hunters —
80 percent of the state’s big game license holders — take to the
woods on Opening Day in the Southern Zone. The season kickoff
accounts for about 16 percent of the total deer harvest, and about
27 percent of the buck take.

DEC officials haven’t placed a number on the projected 2005
harvest, but it will undoubtedly be below last season in light of a
dramatic reduction in Deer Management Permits in most areas.

At least one hunter — 54-year-old Floyd Franklin of Mastic
Beach, Long Island — died on Opening Day. State police at Kirkwood
said Mastic accidentally shot himself in the leg while hunting in
the Town of Triangle, Broome County, at about 3:30 p.m.

Three men working on a barn nearby heard the man’s calls for
help but were unable to control the bleeding from the wound. Mastic
was pronounced dead at Wilson Regional Medical Center in Johnson
City at 5:30 p.m.

Several other accidents were reported across the state, none of
them fatal.

In Cayuga County, 29-year-old Tim Spingler of Weedsport was hit
in the thigh by a shotgun slug fired by 49-year-old Robert Hart,
also of Weedsport. He was listed in fair condition at University
Hospital in Syracuse.

DEC officials said a hunter was shot in the knee by a member of
his hunting party in Avon, Livingston County. Two other men were
wounded on the Town of Conesus, also in Livingston County, when a
shotgun discharged as a father and son loaded a deer into a pickup
truck. One person was struck in the back, the other in the arm.

None of the accidents appeared to be related to rifle use, which
was approved in several Southern Tier counties for the first time
this season.

DEC’s early reports are based largely on calls to its DECALS
automated phone reporting system — a process that’s been widely
criticized as cumbersome and frustrating for hunters.

O’Pezio said about 16,000 reports came in during the first three
days of the Southern Zone season.

“We had one minor problem with the system on Saturday, but
there’s been a slight improvement with the system this year,” he
said. “What was encouraging was that our system is showing that 75
percent of those who called completed their report.”

Hunters statewide — including the Northern Zone — took about
208,000 whitetails last year, including over 88,000 bucks.

DEC has faced sharp criticism at times for reduced deer numbers
— the 2004 totals were down 18 percent from the previous season and
well below the record 2002 take of about 308,000 whitetails,
including more than 128,000 bucks.

O’Pezio, however, says hunters sometimes have short
memories.

“It wasn’t too long ago that we were taking 60,000 deer a year
in the state,” he said. “Hunters don’t seem to have a distant
recollection of what happened just a few years ago, when you had
four guys on a party permit (for a DMP).”

Hunting license sales will take a double-digit dip this season,
in part a product of the substantial reduction in DMPs. But the
average age of the deer hunter in New York is 49, and fewer younger
hunters are entering the sport to replace those who are retiring
from it.

O’Pezio said DEC saw a “very big spike in license sales on
Friday, the day before the season. It was a pleasant surprise; we
sold about 30,000 licenses. Possibly, with the reduced DMP
allocation, many hunters thought it made no sense to rush to buy
their license early before the DMP application deadline. The fairly
nice weather and the Saturday opener may also have been
factors.”

The Southern Zone regular season closes Dec. 11, and is followed
by a combination late archery and muzzleloading season Dec.
12-20.

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