NY: Timing concerns create wrinkle for youth deer hunt

Deer disruption, safety concerns

Albany – DEC's proposal for a three-day youth deer hunt over the Columbus Day weekend generated both support and opposition among hunters and nonhunters.

And while the department is still committed to providing a special youth deer hunting opportunity in 2012, it has backed off locking in those three days.

"Many hunters enthusiastically supported the proposal, citing the recruitment benefits that a special youth season might provide," DEC said in a summary of public comments on its five-year deer management plan, which was finalized last month. "Other hunters objected to the proposal and stated that young hunters should not be provided any special opportunity but should learn the challenges of deer hunting along with the adults."

Some hunters, as well as nonhunters, also voiced safety concerns in establishing the youth deer hunt at a time when small-game, turkey and archery deer seasons were open, and when nonhunting activity such as hiking might be taking place.

The bowhunting community, according to DEC's summary of public comments on the proposal, voiced fears that the youth hunt "would disrupt deer movement patterns and decrease bowhunters' success."

Many hunters also noted that the change several years ago from a Monday opener to a Saturday kickoff to the Southern Zone firearms deer season was a move made to accommodate young hunters, who in the past had been in school on opening day.

"Frequently, these bowhunters suggested that the DEC consider reverting back to a Monday opener for the regular firearms season and using that preceding weekend as the special youth hunt," DEC's summary read.

DEC officials introduced the special youth hunting opportunity as part of its deer plan in an effort to boost recruitment of young hunters.

"The number of hunters in New York has been declining by 2 percent per year since the 1980s, and our hunter recruitment rate is among the lowest in the nation – 55 new hunters for every 100 who stop," DEC's report indicated.

The move to a Saturday opener for the Southern Zone firearms deer season – the state's single biggest hunting day – "did not provide the focus on youth participation that we feel is needed," DEC's summary read.

DEC had projected that a maximum of about 16,000 young hunters would participate in a youth hunt, which officials said "would not have any notable impact on deer behavior or bowhunter success, particularly in light of the more than 100,000 small-game hunters also afield during the fall."

Studies in Pennsylvania, which has a weeklong early muzzleloader season in October as well as a three-day, antlerless-only deer hunting opportunity for both junior and senior hunters, have shown that deer travel patterns weren't altered during or after those seasons.

And, DEC officials say, supervised youth hunters "have an exceptional safety record," pointing to youth deer hunts held concurrently with bowhunting seasons in many other states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Connecticut, as well as several Midwest states.

DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said the department's decision to move away from setting the Columbus Day weekend youth deer hunt will allow "continued discussion within DEC and among stakeholders for the most appropriate option."

Whatever decision is made, it's likely to come early in 2012 to allow DEC to undertake the regulatory process – including another round of public comments – necessary to alter its deer hunting regulations.

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