Newburgh, N.Y. — Olivia Yeaple hunted for a while on the first morning of New York’s first ever youth deer hunt, then had to exit the woods for dance class.
That evening, she returned to the ground blind shared with her dad, Rich. And a little while later they were both dancing.
Olivia, age 15, killed a fine 8-point buck – her first deer ever – on the first evening of the state’s Columbus Day weekend deer hunt for 14- and 15-year-olds.
“I was nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time,” she said of the buck’s sudden appearance at about 25-30 yards shortly before dark on Saturday, Oct. 6. “But it was kind of a surprise. He just appeared all of a sudden and I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.”
One shot from her Remington Model 1100 20 gauge – her dad loaded it with only one slug – was enough.
Olivia says she saw eight does in the morning session, but none presented a shot opportunity and she was holding out for a buck on the first day at least.
“She made a perfect shot,” said her dad. “We had several bucks on our trail cams, and this was the biggest one, but we never expected to see him. After it was down, it was chaos.”
Olivia’s grandfather, Richard Yeaple Sr., was sitting about 100 yards or so away, waiting for the shot.
Her story was one of the many across the state as youngsters headed afield over the three-day holiday weekend in a hunt designed by DEC to attract more youngsters into the sport.
“She’s hooked,” Olivia’s father said.
DEC officials were still compiling harvest statistics at press time. Successful hunters had seven days to report their kills.
“Through Oct. 9, we had 380 reported harvests,” DEC chief wildlife biologist Gordon Batcheller said. “I think the total harvest will be in the range of 500 to 1,000; that’s just a prediction.”
There was no breakdown on buck and antlerless kills, DEC officials said. That will come later when the department uses its reported harvest figures to determine a “calculated” take.
Regardless, DEC wildlife officials, who proposed the youth deer hunt as part of its five-year deer management plan, are calling the effort a success.
“What’s important to me, beyond the (harvest) numbers, are the anecdotes from kids, dads, grandfathers and whoever took them out,” Batcheller said.
Early indications are that hunting pressure was light over the three days. Weather, with the exception of some rain that spread across central New York much of Saturday, was excellent. DEC was hampered, however, by the late confirmation that the youth hunt was given a green light.
Legislation that would have prohibited the use of firearms during archery season would have quashed the youth deer hunt. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated he would not act on the bill until after the youth hunt, and that prompted DEC to get the word out to eligible hunters and mentors.
“The overall impression I have is that there was light hunting pressure for all types of hunting – archery, turkey and youth,” Batcheller said. “That was despite the gorgeous weather. We need more hunters – period – of all types.”
DEC estimated about 12,750 youths were eligible for the hunt, but early reports show only a fraction took part.
Many bowhunters voiced opposition to the youth hunt, citing the use of firearms during archery season, fearing the hunt would knock deer out of their travel patterns and also lead to safety issues afield.
DEC Director of Law Enforcement Peter Fanelli reported no incidents of any kind during the youth hunt.
“It was a perfect safety record, and that’s a credit to our hunter education instructors and the work they do, and the mentors being very conscientious,” Batcheller said.
Fanelli said DEC dispatchers did receive calls from hunters with questions on the rules for the youth hunt, as well as from some “angry bowhunters complaining.”
Chance Youngs of Greenlawn said in a letter to New York Outdoor News he was bowhunting in Delaware County during the youth hunt and called the weekend “extremely disruptive to the deer and to the bowhunters alike.”
Youngs said he was watching a 6-point buck approach his stand when a youth fired at a doe about 80 yards from his stand.
“That was the last deer I saw all weekend,” Youngs said.
DEC officials had urged bowhunters to take the time off to mentor a young hunter during the weekend. The youth hunt overlapped into the archery season in the Southern Zone due to a regulations change that gave bowhunters an early (Oct. 1) start to the archery season for the first time.
Batcheller said that given the numbers of youths afield “the chances of a conflict, I think, are very small.”
New York Bowhunters, Inc., the statewide archery organization, had lobbied hard to halt the youth hunt through the legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly that prohibits firearms use during the archery season.
Indications are the legislative battle will continue next year and there’s no guarantee the youth hunt will be back in 2013.
“It’s something the policymakers will look at,” Batcheller said. “So far, the predictions of conflict did not come true. The safety record was perfect. And we spoke with quite a number of bowhunters who not only strongly supported the youth hunt, but took kids out.”
Bill Conners, a member of the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board, said at that group’s meeting last week the showdown over the youth hunt is essentially “a turf war. It’s about the big bucks.”
CFAB member Howie Cushing, who represents the New York State Conservation Council on the board, called New York Bowhunters “an anti-hunting group.”
But DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang said opposition to the youth hunt also came from many bowhunters outside of that organization.