Youth hunt year’s top story

For New York sportsmen and women, 2012 was a roller-coaster of a year.

There was, at various times, good news, bad news, uncertainty, confusion, triumph, trouble, frustration and fun.

Often all in the span of just a few days.

And chances are we’ll see more of the same in 2013, with so many chapters yet to be written for some of the top news stories of the year.

That’s perhaps the case with the top news story of 2012, New York’s landmark youth deer hunt for 14- and 15-year-olds, held over the Columbus Day weekend after legislation that could have halted it remained unsigned on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Designed to boost interest in hunting among youth, the hunt was met with vocal opposition from bowhunters who cited safety concerns as well as fears that the shooting would send deer out of their normal patterns of movement.

There were no accidents afield, however, and DEC officials called the hunt – which may have resulted in the harvest of about 1,000 whitetails – a rousing success.

Its future, however, remains cloudy. That same legislation that would effectively quash the youth firearms deer hunt is back on Cuomo’s desk, and similar bills could surface next year in Albany.

The No. 2 story on the NYON list for 2012 is, perhaps not surprisingly, also relates to deer hunting.

DEC’s five-year deer management plan including a pair of major regulatory changes: an Oct. 1 archery opener for Southern Zone deer hunters (as well as bear hunters in the areas of the Southern Zone open to bear hunting), and the addition of seven more wildlife management units into the state’s antler restriction area. There, bucks must have at least three antler points on one side.

Bowhunters lauded the Oct. 1 kickoff, which had long been lobbied for by archers. One offshoot of that change, however, was that it placed the youth deer hunt over the Columbus Day weekend squarely within the Southern Zone archery deer season. That led to complaints from many of the same bowhunters who had lobbied for the Oct. 1 opener.

Antler restriction regulations were added in WMUs 3A, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S and 4W in southeastern New York. It’s a portion of the state where ARs have seen solid backing in recent years.

The No. 3 story of 2012 is – and perhaps remains – the most divisive and contentious issue on the hunting scene.

Crossbows.

It’s an unfinished story, as many on our Top 10 list are. New York’s crossbow regulations are set to expire on Dec. 31, unless a controversial bill extending the provisions – and allowing their use only during the regular firearms big game and late muzzleloader seasons – is signed into law by Cuomo.

That, however, would essentially spell the end of the youth firearms deer hunt, a result of a clause that would prohibit firearms use during the archery season.

So sportsmen wait. Crossbow users want to use the implements during the regular archery season. Many bowhunters – notably members of New York Bowhunters, Inc. – have consistently lobbied against crossbows in archery season. The debate rages, complete with a fair amount of name calling, using words like “selfish,” “greedy,” “lazy” and a few others. It’s not pretty, and it probably won’t be in 2013.

Our No. 4 story, too, is one we’ll be following in the new year: the huge land deal in the Adirondacks in which the state is poised to purchase 69,000 additional acres.

That, however, is only a sliver of the story. The real battle is yet to come, and that will take place when the Adirondack Park Agency unveils the plan that will ultimately determine how much and what kind of access hunters, anglers, trappers and other outdoor enthusiasts will get. Early indications are that many sportsmen won’t be happy and will weigh in – loudly – during regulatory proceedings.

Our No. 5 story is one in which we didn’t have to do a lot of digging – the feral hogs beginning to take firm hold in some pockets of the state did that for us.

The increasing numbers of feral hogs in areas of Cortland, Onondaga, Tioga and Clinton counties have concerned DEC wildlife biologists who are well aware of the widespread damage they’re capable of reeking on the landscape. While the state has indicated a resolve to eradicating the swine, early efforts haven’t risen to the level needed to wipe the state clean, given the pigs’ propensity to reproduce. DEC officials have advised sportsmen to shoot them, but don’t specifically hunt them, fearing that will simply spread the feral pigs out into new areas.

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the Long Island, New York City and southeastern New York areas went well beyond hunting and fishing. But it’s our No. 6 story of 2012, given the millions of dollars in boats that were destroyed, the beach erosion in many areas, and the timing of the storm, which closed state-owned lands to hunting during a portion of the archery deer season. Its impact is likely to be felt in the spring when fishing seasons swing into high gear.

Our No. 7 story came out of Sullivan County but has statewide ramifications. A judge in that county essentially struck down a ban on feeding deer, which has long been a topic of debate in the Catskills and Adirondacks, where winter whitetail mortality is common. The ruling left DEC officers hesitant to cite anyone, anywhere for feeding deer, and indications are the state will re-write its regulations banning deer feeding to tighten them up from a legal standpoint.

The state stalemate on hydrofracking is our No. 8 story of the year, and given that regulations governing the natural gas drilling process will likely be finalized next year, it will probably remain in the top 10 in 2013, as well. Long debated, opponents maintain concerns over environmental impacts, while advocates say New York has been missing the economic benefits being reaped by neighboring Pennsylvania.

Our No. 9 story is actually two stories lumped into one: new state records. One came from an angler (Bill Altman), who caught a new state record brook trout that weighed in at 5 pounds, 14 ounces. The other was Mike Giarraputo’s new state record archery nontypical buck, a 23-point behemoth taken in Suffolk County.

Slipping into the top 10 list was a “mortality event” at the state’s Rome fish hatchery, one that resulted in the loss of 131,000 brook and brown trout and will almost assuredly impact stocking numbers somewhere in 2013, including in some backcountry brook trout waters in the Adirondacks.

Other major news events fell just outside our top 10 list:

  • the long-awaited contract settlement between the state and its ECOs and forest rangers, a pact that covers 2005-2014 and resulted in hefty retroactive payments to the officers.
  • New York’s response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in southern Pennsylvania. The transport of Pa.-killed deer and elk back into New York was prohibited, causing headaches to some successful hunters and also creating enforcement challenges for New York officials.
  • the federal funding flap that threatened the loss of over $20 million in federal dollars, a situation ultimately resolved to the satisfaction of federal officials.
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