DEC: Youth hunt a huge success

Albany — New York’s first-ever youth deer hunt has been labeled a rousing success by DEC officials, based on results of a survey of youth hunters and their mentors.

And participation – estimated at 61 percent, or 7,779 eligible, license-holding 14- and 15-year-olds, could have been even better.

“Non-participation among eligible junior hunters was primarily influenced by a lack of awareness of the youth deer hunt and, to a lesser degree, by time conflicts during Columbus Day weekend,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said in a report on the 2012 youth offering.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens added that he expects the program to grow in the future “with greater awareness of this special opportunity in the coming years.”

DEC has recommended that the hunt continue to be held over the Columbus Day weekend.

DEC’s 2012 deer harvest report showed an estimated 1,411 deer were taken by the youth hunters, including 744 bucks.

But the on-again, off-again nature of the youth hunt led to at least some confusion as to whether it was being offered.

“Many (youths and mentors) didn’t know about it,” Hurst said. “By and large the major reason some youths didn’t participate was because they weren’t aware of it. Certainly there was a lot of confusion among hunters.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo paved the way for the first-ever youth hunt by delaying action on legislation relating to crossbow use. That bill carried with it a clause that would have prohibited the use of firearms during the regular archery season.

Cuomo’s intentional inaction on the bill cleared the way fo the youth hunt, and DEC officials worked feverishly just weeks before the hunt to get the word out to youths and their hunting mentors, calling it “a hallmark moment for New York hunters.”

Hurst said participation in the youth hunt was higher on Saturday (Oct. 6) than on Sunday or Monday, but about half the eligible youths hunted on Monday and “a good portion hunted all three days.”

“Overall, our experience was that it was successful,” he said. “A bunch of kids got out there with their mentors and had a good time, and were overwhelmingly very satisfied and want it to continue.”

DEC officials do as well, noting that fears among some sportsmen – notably bowhunters sharing the woods with youth deer hunters – that safety issues would arise were unfounded.

“DEC law enforcement and wildlife staff were afield monitoring hunter activity and compliance,” officials said in their report. “No junior hunters were cited for hunting violations and no hunting-related shooting incidents were reported.”

Some bowhunters also feared their deer hunting would be affected by the three-day youth firearms season. But DEC’s report showed the overall success rate among bowhunters was similar (13.8 percent last season, compared to 14.1 percent in 2011) and “hunters largely indicated their hunting was unaffected by the ongoing youth activity.”

DEC officials called the impact of the youth hunt on archery hunting “negligible.”

Last season also marked a change in the Southern Zone archery deer season, from the traditional mid-October opening date to Oct. 1. That move placed the youth hunt squarely within the archery season.

DEC’s report on the youth hunt showed Wildlife Management Unit 9H had the highest youth hunt harvest, at 75. Other units showing high youth harvests were WMU 7M (69); WMU 3M (51); WMU 4F (48); WMU 7J (47); WMU 9J (44); WMU 8G (44) and WMU 8R (42).

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