Statewide deer kill down just slightly

Albany — New York’s statewide deer harvest declined by less than 1 percent during the 2011-12 seasons, but that total take – 228,359 – tells just a sliver of the state’s deer-hunting story.

The 2011-12 deer kill dipped by 1,741 whitetails from 2010-11 – about the total decline (1,808) in the Northern Zone deer take, which fell from 28,622 in 2010-11 to 26,814 last season.

Too, the slight decline in the overall deer kill came despite a 7.2 percent increase in deer management permits in 2011-12, when nearly 500,000 tags allocated for the harvest of antlerless deer.

And, with crossbows allowed for the first time this past season – limited to the regular firearms and late muzzleloader seasons – those implements were responsible for the harvest of fewer than 500 (491) deer, according to DEC’s calculated harvest figures.

“I don’t think anything really stood out as far as the harvest numbers,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “It was pretty much a very similar year to the 2010 season.”

While the overall harvest number was relatively stable, Hurst said deer numbers continued to remain above DEC goals in some areas of western and central New York. That could prompt DEC to re-evaluate its deer density targets for those units, but also could lead to the issuance of more deer management permits this fall in another effort to control deer numbers.

“We’re not seeing the population drop or even stabilize in many of those areas,” he said.

In the Southern Zone (excluding Long Island), the overall kill of 198,559 was virtually identical to the 2010 tally of 198,487. But the manner in which that total was reached wasn’t: the archery harvest climbed from 31,768 in 2010 to 33,911 last season, while the muzzleloader kill fell from 10,449 in 2010 to 8,833 in 2011 and the harvest on DMPs dipped from 83,559 to 81,990.

DEC statistics showed 8,855 deer were killed on Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits in the Southern Zone. Those tags are given to landowners and farmers to address crop loss and habitat damage. That total was down from 10,046 in 2010.

Northern Zone hunters killed 15,899 bucks, down slightly from 16,121 in 2010. Bowhunters in the Northern Zone harvested 1,394 deer (down from 1,795), and the muzzleloader take also declined, from 7,938 in 2010 to 7,621 last season.

Many Northern Zone hunters reported seeing fewer deer this past season and theorized that the 2010-11 winter was tougher on the deer herd than DEC had estimated.

“We heard a lot of grumbling from hunters about not seeing deer,” DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist Ed Reed said. “And I didn’t see many myself. We’ve had four or five bad winters over the past six or seven years, and I think there’s been a cumulative effect on the herd.”

On Long Island, hunters killed 2,986 whitetails – virtually identical to the 2,991 tally of 2010. The archery harvest was up slightly at 1,018, compared to 967 a year earlier,  as was the take on DMPs, which stood at 1,752, compared to 1,709 in 2010.

DEC officials said only 18 deer were taken on DMAP permits, down from 89 a year earlier.

Overall, DEC officials said hunters took slightly more than 118,357 antlerless deer – including 19,793 button bucks – and 110,002 bucks.

Statewide, hunters harvested 87,439 via DMP tags (down 2.7 percent from 89,855); 36,323 by bowhunters (up 5.2 percent from 34,530); 16,454 by muzzleloader (down 10.5 percent from 18,387) and 10,767 on DMAP permits (down 13.1 percent from 12,384).

The decline in DMP harvest came despite an increase in allocated permits. Hurst said the success rate on DMPs dipped from 18 to 16 percent.

Harvest statistics also showed that hunters took a slightly higher proportion of 2.5-year-old and older bucks than in previous years, continuing a trend that has developed over the past two decades. “An increasing number of hunters are voluntarily choosing to take older bucks with larger antlers,” DEC officials said in a news release. “In 2011, 46 percent of harvested bucks were 2.5-years-old or older, compared to only 33 percent in 2000 and 28 percent in the early 1990s.”

Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region annually lead the state in total deer harvest densities, and that trend remained in place in 2011. The top five counties for 2011 were Yates (16.4 deer killed per square mile), Wyoming (13.8), Genesee (10.8), Ontario (10.5), and Livingston (10.0).

Officials cautioned, however, that total deer harvest numbers are greatly impacted by the number of DMPs available in a given area. “A more accurate picture of relative deer abundance is revealed by the number of bucks harvested per square mile,” officials said.

The five counties for bucks harvested per square mile were: Yates (5.6), Wyoming (5.4), Orange (4.1), Ontario (4.1), and Allegany (4.0). Deer numbers in four of those counties (all except Allegany County) are higher than DEC’s deer population objectives. “DEC will continue its efforts to reduce the deer population to achieve the desired density levels wherever necessary,” officials said in the news release.

The top five counties in overall deer harvest were Steuben (11,030); Cattaraugus (8,642); Chautauqua (8,270); Wyoming (8,156) and Allegany (8,061).

New York’s deer kill peaked in  2002 when 308,216 whitetails were taken. The statewide kill plummeted below 190,000 in 2005 and 2006 following some severe winters, but has climbed since then. The 2011 tally of 228,359 stands as the ninth highest on record.

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