Antler restrictions? Let’s be honest
Given my fairly well-documented stance on mandatory antler
restrictions, it’s not surprising I’ve been taking some
good-natured jabs since downing a trophy buck this past season in
Pennsylvania, which has had “three points on one side” regulations
for several seasons now where I hunt just across the New York
border in Bradford County.
So, after tagging a 130-class 10-pointer that will grace my wall
in a few months, the first true trophy buck I’ve killed in more
than three decades, I must be in favor of ARs, right?
Well, yes and no.
There’s no question that if you want to grow big bucks, antler
restrictions certainly can do that. All it takes is some simple
math to see that if you’re letting bucks grow, in most – but not
all – cases they’ll do just that.
But that word “mandatory” is where I hit the brakes on antler
restrictions, for a lot of reasons.
Again, my opposition to mandatory ARs has been stated before,
and most of it stems from what would be a system in which one group
of hunters imposes its standards on another. That’s a dangerous
move when you’re talking about a group of hunters that is used by
the state as the chief management tool in keeping deer numbers in
Antler restriction proponents can certainly hunt under their own
set of standards even without such a state regulation. And, in
fact, most of them are doing that now. While several wildlife
management units in southeastern New York have mandatory ARs, the
movement is gathering momentum on its own as more and more hunters
hold out for a better buck and pass on yearlings. In many cases, AR
advocates are hunting on private parcels managed for whitetails;
it’s unlikely any other hunter is going to shoot “their” bucks.
But when you’re asking a hunter to shell out what has become
serious bucks to pursue bucks, wildlife management officials have
to be cautious in making sure those license sales continue. Deer
managers not only want us out there; they need us. Without our
participation, the deer harvest falls woefully short.
And as license fees increase to the point where hunters may
think twice before breaking out their wallet, state wildlife
managers – not just in New York, but everywhere – have to make sure
hunters are getting a return on their investment. For some hunters,
it’s enough to just be “out there” and enjoying the deer woods, the
camaraderie of deer camp, and maybe an encounter with a whitetail.
For others, “return on investment” means venison in the freezer
again this fall. I’m very hesitant to define any deer hunter’s
“return on investment.” It’s a personal thing. In WMUs where
antlerless permits are few and far between (and in some cases not
available at all), how can we ask a hunter to purchase a license
knowing he or she can’t shoot a doe and, chances are, a buck that
comes into range might not be of legal harvest size?
What I’d really like to see in this AR debate is some honesty. I
wish supporters of antler restrictions would just come out and say,
“yeah, we wanna shoot bigger bucks,” instead of getting into all
this whitetail biology, health-of-the-herd stuff. DEC wildlife
biologists say there’s no “biological need” for ARs in New York,
and while some of their colleagues in other states may disagree,
check out any deer hunting magazine and Quality Deer Management
Association literature. Chances are there’s a photo of a trophy
buck on the cover.
Likewise, I’d like to hear the AR opponents admit that, if given
the choice, they’d like to shoot a big buck. Save this “you can’t
eat the horns” talk and fess up that, if a yearling forkhorn steps
out in front of you and is closely followed by a 4.5-year-old
10-point, you’re gonna drop the big buck in its tracks.
Yes, I would have taken a 5-pointer on that opening day in
Pennsylvania last fall. But the big buck strolled in around 9 a.m.
and I was thrilled with the opportunity.
But I wouldn’t want to see some hunter have to pass on that
forkhorn because the law says that buck is off limits.