Albany — Deer management – and deer hunting – in New York state has changed a great deal over the years as urban sprawl has created a patchwork landscape where hunting access continues to shrink.
It has made for huge challenges for DEC’s whitetail biologists as they attempt to maintain a balance between deer numbers and available habitat.
And, those wildlife biologists say, existing regulations haven’t helped either their management efforts or hunters seeking to harvest whitetails.
Specifically, the regulation prohibiting the discharge of a firearm, bow or crossbow within 500 feet of a dwelling without the consent of the owner has kept acres of land in urban areas off limits to hunters.
DEC officials would like to see that law loosened for bowhunters, calling the regulation “ a prudent and appropriate safety measure for firearms but not for longbows and crossbows.”
DEC officials, in the department’s five-year deer management plan approved earlier this year, recommended loosening that 500-foot restriction for longbows and crossbows, instead establishing a 150-foot setback requirement.
But it’s not DEC’s decision; it would take legislation to alter the setback regulation.
“In many of these suburban environments you’re looking at housing densities which are prohibitive for discharge within 500 feet with bowhunting equipment, although that’s more than safe and there’s ample open space interspersed among those communities that could be very effectively and safely hunted,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “(A 150-foot setback regulation) would open up a lot more habitat (to hunting) that deer are using.”
That’s what DEC’s wish list included in its recommendations within the deer management plan.
“Arrows have a much shorter range than projectiles shot from a firearm. The maximum range of an arrow occurs when it is released at a 45-degree angle of elevation, from which it could theoretically travel a couple hundred yards. However, this trajectory is extremely unlikely in any bowhunting situation,” DEC wrote in its deer management plan. “Archery shots taken at deer are typically discharged either on a horizontal plane or on a downward trajectory. In these situations, an arrow travels only a short distance before either hitting the target or dropping to the ground. Moreover, most bowhunters prefer to shoot from an elevated position (in treestands) and arrows are discharged directly toward the ground. Bowhunting also typically occurs at much shorter ranges than firearms hunting (25 yards or less), meaning that the existence of unwanted objects in the field of fire is extremely rare.”
DEC’s deer plan notes that the 500-foot setback requirement “greatly reduces the ability of bowhunters to harvest deer” by creating a land area of about 18 acres that’s off limits to hunters.
“… and in many parts of the state, significant bowhunting opportunities exist on parcels of land this size and smaller,” the plan read.
Notable examples of those suburban areas include portions of Erie, Albany, Monroe, Westchester, and Suffolk counties, as well as individual communities “which have expressed increased interest in the use of archery hunting as a tool for controlling deer numbers,” DEC’s plan noted.
Hurst says reducing the setback requirement for bowhunters would be a huge step in boosting the success of the department’s newly created “Deer Management Focus Area” approach to dealing with municipalities where whitetail numbers are well above the carrying capacity of the available habitat.
The program is being launched this season in areas of Tompkins County.
“In any of these suburban environments, bowhunters can play a critical role for us in managing deer populations, and we’re hoping they can,” Hurst said. “One of the primary hurdles has been the discharge setback requirement of 500 feet, which includes bowhunters.”
DEC statistics also show that over the past decade, the only reported bowhunting-related injuries involved a pair of self-inflicted cuts from careless handling of arrows tipped with broadheads.
“Yet human injuries from deer-motor vehicle collisions in New York are estimated to be over 1,000 annually,” DEC wrote in its deer plan. “A preponderance of these deer-motor vehicle collisions occur in areas where deer management is compromised by restricted hunting opportunities associated with the 500-foot discharge restriction.”
There have been no bills introduced in the state Senate or Assembly that would lower the setback requirement for bowhunters. In fact, during the last legislative session, a bill was introduced that would extend the discharge requirement from the current 500 feet to 1,000 feet. That proposal failed to advance beyond the committee stage.