Whitetail kill highest since 2003

Albany — New York hunters killed nearly 243,000 deer last season, and the buck harvest of 118,993 was the highest in 10 years, according to statistics released last month by the DEC.

The total take of 242,957 whitetails was the highest since 2003 (253,088), and the buck kill was the best since 2002, when 128,292 were harvested.

Some of the overall kill was a product of a 13.3 percent increase in Deer Management Permits for the 2012-13 season. As a result, the harvest by DMPs was 94,367, up 7.9 percent from the previous season.

“But the buck take rose by 8.2 percent as well, and the increases were most pronounced in the Northern Zone,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said, noting that a mild winter may have contributed to that solid season.

The statewide kill was up by 6.4 percent from 2011-12, when 228,359 whitetails were taken.

DEC figures showed New York’s first ever youth deer hunt, held over the three-day Columbus Day weekend for 14- and 15-year-olds, resulted in a total kill of 1,411 deer, including 744 bucks.

About 7,800 youths – 61 percent of eligible junior hunters – took part in the hunt, which DEC Commissioner Joe Martens labeled a success. Hurst said some hunters and their mentors were unaware of the youth hunt opportunity, which was in jeopardy due to proposed legislation that would have cancelled it.

“With greater awareness of this special opportunity in coming years, we expect the program to grow in participation and value for our hunting heritage,” Martens said in a news release.

Last season was also the second year crossbows were legal hunting implements during the regular firearms and late muzzleloader seasons. DEC statistics showed 438 deer were taken by crossbow statewide, down from 491 in 2011-11. That decline, Hurst said, may have in part been attributed to the Dec. 31, 2012 expiration of crossbow provisions, which made the implements illegal for use during the January special firearms season in Suffolk County.

The statewide archery deer kill of 36,208 was down slightly from the 2011-12 tally of 36,323, despite an extended season in the Southern Zone, which saw an Oct. 1 opener as opposed to the previous mid-October kickoff.

“We really didn’t see any major impact on the total harvest with the Oct. 1 opener in the Southern Zone, and we didn’t anticipate much of an impact,” Hurst said. “It sort of redistributed the hunting effort, with peaks on weekends and valleys during the weekdays. And there were no indications the youth hunt had any negative impact on the archery harvest.”

The Northern Zone kill (30,843) soared 15 percent on the heels of a mild winter that left more yearling bucks and antlerless deer available to hunters. The buck take of 19,437 was up from about 15,900 last season.

Hurst said nearly 10 percent of the total Northern Zone harvest occurred on the opening day of that region’s popular weeklong muzzleloader season, which accounted for 8,190 deer in all.

The 2012 statewide deer take included about 124,000 antlerless deer (adult females and fawns) and an estimated 119,000 adult bucks. 

In the Southern Zone, excluding Long Island, the estimated buck take of 98,570 was up 6 percent and antlerless take of 110,900 jumped 5 percent from 2011.

The statewide muzzleloader harvest of 16,104 was down by about 2 percent. Still, Hurst said the muzzleloader take is significant in some Northern Zone units, particularly where Deer Management Permits are not available.

The deer harvest figures don’t include deer taken within the Deer Management Focus Area of Tompkins County, where deer numbers are skyrocketing and the program was created to help reduce whitetail numbers.

“But we don’t expect that it will be a whole lot, since it’s the first year of the program and we still have some kinks to work out,” Hurst said.

Antler restrictions were expanded into seven additional WMUs – 3A, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S, and 4W – last season, and as a result the number of yearling bucks taken declined sharply since they did not meet the three-points-on-one-side criteria for harvest. That lowered the total buck kill in those units by 26 percent.

The statewide harvest figures, however, indicate more hunters are voluntarily passing on young bucks in hopes of taking a bigger buck later in the season. In 2012-13, 44 percent of the bucks killed were 2.5 years or older, compared to 33. percent in 2000 and 28 percent in the early 1990s.

Western New York and the Finger Lakes Region again led the state in total deer take. The top five counties for 2012 were Yates (16.0 deer taken per square mile), Wyoming (14.6), Genesee (11.9), Cayuga (11.3), and Ontario (11.2).

The top counties for buck harvest were Yates (5.9 per square mile), Wyoming (5.8), Cayuga (4.6), Livingston (4.5), and Genesee (4.4). 

Hurst said DEC biologists are already looking at boosting DMP number in many areas next year in an effort to trim the herd.

“We’re seeing in a good portion of cental and western New York where deer populations by all indicators are above objective, and in some cases have been for a number of years,” he said.

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