DEC: Southern Zone harvest should rise

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany – An increase in Deer Management Permits this year
virtually assures a higher deer harvest in the Southern Zone for
the 2007-08 season.

But DEC wildlife biologists say they’re expecting a slight
increase in the buck kill as well as the statewide herd continues
its slow rebuild following an overharvest of does and back-to-back
tough winters earlier this decade.

‘The deer population is growing across the state, with a couple
exceptions,’ DEC deer biologist Jeremy Hurst said. ‘With the
increase in DMPs we’re expecting a slightly higher harvest this
year, but we’re also expecting a higher buck take as well, although
we’re not making any predictions as to how high.’

The Southern Zone buck take rose by about 8 percent last year,
as hunters bagged 78,356 bucks during the course of the archery,
muzzleloader and regular seasons. Overall, 158,324 whitetails were
taken last year, the largest part of a statewide total of 189,108
deer.

The boost in DMPs was made, Hurst said, to allow for continued
slow growth in most Wildlife Management Units without a huge rise
in deer numbers. That 40 percent jump in tags, however, won’t
equate to a 40 percent increase in the antlerless take.

‘Success rates on DMPs vary from unit to unit – it’s about 18
percent overall,’ he said.

The statewide DMP allocation of 466,000, despite that 40 percent
jump, remains well below tag numbers of 2002 (696,460), 2003
(627,100) and 2004 (520,890).

Still, DMPs always stir plenty of debate among hunters, many who
feel deer populations have drifted to low levels.

‘A lot of guys are complaining (about too many DMPs),’ says Doug
Grove, owner of Bristol Outdoors in Bloomfield (Ontario County).
‘They feel there’s just not the deer population that once
existed.’

But, Grove adds, anticipation was high heading into the Oct. 13
Southern Zone archery opener and the Nov. 17 firearms kickoff.

‘The trail cameras are producing some interesting results; guys
are bringing in pictures of some nice bucks. It looks like it will
be a good season. The deer had an easy winter and summer was OK,
too. But the mast crop is sporadic at best from what I’ve seen in
the woods,’ Grove said.

Hurst, however, says a so-so mast crop can actually improve
hunting, since deer are easier to pattern than in years where food
is everywhere.

‘Hard mast (acorns, beech nuts) seems to be pretty spotty, but
there’s lots of apples this year,’ Hurst said.

While the DMP increase grabbed the attention of deer hunters
this season, perhaps the biggest news heading into the fall is that
rifles will be allowed this season in three more counties –
Steuben, Yates and Chemung.

State lawmakers approved those additions on a one-year trial
basis.

‘A lot of our customers hunt in Pennsylvania so they already own
rifles,’ said Tim Liberti of Hesselson’s, a popular outdoor shop in
Elmira Heights (Chemung County). ‘So we’re not seeing a drastic
increase in rifle sales. And it’s a one-year trial. It will
probably become permanent, but I think a lot of guys are waiting to
see for sure.’

The growing number of Southern Zone counties where rifles are
now allowed hasn’t impacted either harvest rates or, more
importantly, safety statistics since those additions, DEC officials
said.

The DMP increase and the three new rifle counties are the
biggest changes heading into the Southern Zone rifle season. That’s
relatively quiet compared to the 2005 season, which marked a move
to a Saturday opening day in the Southern Zone. This year will be
the third straight season for the Saturday opening, which still has
some detractors, including business owners who contend they lose a
weekend of business heading into the season.

The Southern Zone regular season runs from Nov. 17-Dec. 9,
followed by a nine-date, late muzzleloader and archery season from
Dec. 10-18.

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