Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Solid start in South: Weather, rut factors

Albany – New York’s Southern Zone firearms deer season couldn’t
have come at a better time for hunters this year.

Indications are that, in addition to good weather conditions on
the opening weekend of the season, whitetail rutting activity was
at or near its peak, keeping bucks in motion in pursuit of
does.

Those factors likely contributed to what DEC officials are
calling a solid opening weekend harvest.

“At this early stage, we don’t have a lot of solid information
or data,” DEC wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller said. “It’s
somewhat anecdotal, but what we’re hearing from the field is that
it was a good opening weekend for deer hunting.”

The solid data DEC did have pointed to a good start in the
Southern Zone; harvest reports were up by 29 percent on the
weekend, at 13,567 whitetails harvested, compared to 10,553
reported harvests during last year’s opening weekend.

“That doesn’t, however, equate to a 29 percent higher harvest,”
Batcheller cautioned. “It just means that reported harvests are up
by 29 percent. But it points to a slightly higher deer take, which
is what we projected heading into the season.”

The downside to the opening weekend was a pair of hunting
fatalities, bringing to four the number of hunting accident deaths
thus far this season. Last year only one hunter died in a shooting
accident.

“These numbers are going to do up and down every year,” said DEC
Sportsman Education Administrator Wayne Jones said.

“But on average, the number of hunting accidents statewide has
been very low now for a number of years. It wasn’t long ago we were
seeing 70 to 90 shooting accidents each year; now we’re down in the
30s.”

Two hunters died in separate Northern Zone accidents – both in
St. Lawrence County – before the start of the Southern Zone
season.

The two Southern Zone fatalities included one on the day before
the season opener when 33-year-old Ricky Huffman of Cortland was
shot by his uncle as they hunted illegally on private property in
Cayuga County, about 30 miles south of Syracuse.

Cayuga County sheriff’s deputies said Michael Hall, Sr., shot
Huffman shortly after 7 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 16. Huffman, who was
dead at the scene, was wearing camouflage clothing and an orange
knit hat when the accident occurred.

Hall was charged with criminally negligent homicide.

The other fatal accident occurred in Montgomery County when
76-year-old Donald W. Frye of Caroga Lake was apparently shot by a
member of his family’s hunting party. Frye died a short time later
at Cooperstown’s Imogene Bassett Hospital.

DEC officers and state police are continuing their investigation
into the incident.

Jones said a couple of other non-fatal accidents occurred on
opening weekend. In Ulster County, a hunter slipped and fell and
was struck by rock and bullet fragments when his gun accidentally
discharged. He received minor injuries.

A Monroe County hunter was struck by a stray shotgun slug which
didn’t penetrate the skin because it apparently came from a long
distance.

Batcheller said about 317,000 hunters headed afield on Opening
Day, which for the third straight year was held on a Saturday.

“It’s a big event for rural New York and for hunters,” he said.
“It’s a big weekend from an economic standpoint as well. Hunters
play a major role in driving the economy each year.”

Batcheller said about 75 percent of the total Southern Zone buck
harvest occurs during the first week of the season – about 33
percent on Opening Day.

“There was strong evidence the rut was well in hand,” he said of
the whitetail movement on Opening Day. “The bucks were behaving as
they will, and that helps hunters.”

Several areas of the Southern Zone had at least a dusting of
snow on Opening Day, which further helped hunters from a tracking
and visibility standpoint.

In the Catskills, bear season this year corresponded with the
opening of the deer season. In an effort to boost the bruin harvest
in that region, DEC opened the season earlier at a time when the
greatest number of hunters were in the field.

The move paid off: 105 bear kills were reported during the first
two days, compared to 68 last year when the bear season opened
midweek.

The bear season in the Allegany Range didn’t open until Nov.
24.

Heading into the Southern Zone firearms deer season, DEC was
projecting a slightly higher take. Last year, New York’s Southern
Zone hunters downed 78,356 bucks during the archery, muzzleloader
and regular seasons, part of a total harvest of 158,324
whitetails

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