Rifle bills targeting four more counties

Staff report

Albany – A state senator who pushed for a bill to allow rifles
for deer and bear hunting in several Southern Zone counties is now
looking at add four more counties to that list.

Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, has introduced legislation in the
state Senate that would add Chemung, Steuben, Yates and Chautauqua
counties to the list of those allowing high-powered rifle for big
game.

The bills – S6757-B targets Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties
while Chautauqua County is addressed in S6513 – are currently in
the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee for review.

“It makes sense,” said Craig Miller, a spokesman for Volker.
“We’ve spoken with Chautauqua County as well as Steuben County and
the conservation groups support this.”

Volker contends in his support of the bills – as he did with the
initial proposal last year – that rifle use would help boost deer
harvests in those counties, which he says have too many deer.

“As with the original legislation, there are more deer in
(Chautauqua, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties) than in years
past, and fewer hunters than in previous years,” says a memo in
support of the legislation. “Expanding the law to include hunting
with rifles may help control the deer population in those counties
as well.”

Whether sportsmen agree with Volker’s perception of deer numbers
in those counties, most – including some who were skeptical heading
into last season – are of the opinion that rifle use is a welcome
option in most of the Southern Tier.

Steuben’s inclusion in the bill is significant: the county
traditionally ranks as the tops in the state in deer harvest.

Miller said last season saw the economic benefits of allowing
rifles in those counties.

“What we’ve seen is that many Chautauqua County hunters have
been going over to Cattaraugus County to hunt (with rifles) and
taking their money with them,” he said. “All the good benefits that
go with that, such as spending on supplies, food, fuel, etc., was
going to Cattaraugus County.”

Safety concerns may have been put to rest last season, which
went on record as the safest in DEC-recorded history. There were no
hunting accidents that could specifically be tied to rifle use, DEC
officials said.

When the rifle bill was passed last year, supporters felt
confident that the rifle zone could be expanded to other counties
that want to opt-in to the law. That, apparently, will happen if
Volker’s bills move through the legislative process and are signed
by Gov. George Pataki.

Pataki last year called rifles “as safe and more accurate than
shotguns and muzzleloading firearms” and predicted the passage of
the bill could lead to increased safety.

Backers of the bill also contended that the topography of the
counties targeted for rifle use were similar to that of northern
Pennsylvania, where rifles have been in use for years with a good
safety record.

The original bill last year affected Allegany, Cattaraugus,
Chenango, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Oswego, Otsego, Schoharie
and Tioga counties. A portion of Broome County east of the
Susquehanna River was also included in the bill, but mistakenly so,
according to DEC officials, since rifles were already allowed
there.

Prior to the bill’s passage, hunters were limited to shotguns,
pistols, muzzleloaders and bow and arrow in those counties.

Volker and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte (D-Lewiston) were
sponsors of last year’s bill.

“We’re working with Assemblyman (William) Parment in Chautauqua
County and with Francine DelMonte, who carried the bill in the
Assembly for us last year,” Miller said.

Following the bill’s approval last year, sportsmen in some
counties voiced safety concerns and some landowners indicated they
would continue to restrict deer hunting with shotguns only. Tioga
County lawmakers briefly considered adopting a resolution to opt
out of the rifle bill.

Safety figures from last year, as well as the apparent movement
to expand rifle use, may quell much of that concern.

“It worked well in those counties last season, and we’re sure it
will in these as well,” Miller said.

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