Archery anticipation soars

Elizabethtown, N.Y. — Through all the debate over crossbows, the youth hunt and the Oct. 1 opener for the Southern Zone, one thing never wavered.

Bowhunting hasn’t lost its popularity and, in fact, the sport continues to grow.

“Archery is growing nationwide,” said Mick McGuinness, owner of Brown’s Archery in Schenectady. “It’s one of the few businesses that saw growth through the recession.”

A survey commissioned by the Archery Trade Association and conducted by Responsive Management, a Virginia-based outdoor survey firm, backs up that statement. It showed 18.9 million

Americans age 18 and older participated in archery and/or bowhunting in 2012. Of that number, over 10 percent (1.9 million) bowhunted exclusively.

That same survey showed nearly one-third of that 18.9 million number were women, a growing segment within archery and bowhunting.

In New York, there’s about 260,000 licensed bowhunters in the state, although some of that number includes sportsman license holders who may use their “bow-muzz” tag during the muzzleloader season.

Still, it’s a strong legion of archers who pursue whitetails and black bears with stick and string each fall.

And this is the time of year when business is usually brisk and bowhunters are thinking of the approaching season.

“They’re thinking about it now,” said John Laubscher, owner of AJ’s Archery in Cazenovia (Madison County). “We’re seeing more and more people in the shop buying accessories. Customers are still buying bows but they seem to be spending less. They’re buying a lot of middle-end bows, or high-end bows with few accessories.”

Laubscher said the cooler weather always seems to trigger thoughts of the upcoming season.

“Customers are out scouting. Some of our guys who work in the shop have already seen some incredible bucks,” he said.

DEC biologists are forecasting another solid season, based on growing deer numbers in some areas of the state and mild winters that have led to low mortality.

“With recent population growth, we’re expecting the 2013 buck harvest to be up slightly from last year’s take,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “And with great fawn survival during the mild winter of 2011-12 and modest yearling buck harvests last year, we expect there will be a few more 2.5-year-old bucks running around this fall. That’s good news for hunters who may have held off taking a small buck last year.”

In Tioga County, Steve Wright of Wright’s Sporting Goods in Waverly says his customers are looking forward to the season.

“They’re getting a lot of pictures of good bucks on their trail cameras,” Wright said. “They’re seeing a lot of deer – and bears, too. I think it’s going to be a good season.”

Hurst said in his season forecast that more and more hunters across the state are choosing to pass on yearling bucks in hopes of encountering a larger buck at some point in the season.

“We’ve seen a shift in our annual buck harvest to include an increasing number and percentage of older bucks,” he said.

New York’s archery deer harvest was at 36,208 last season, down just slightly from the 36,323 tally in 2011-12. Bowhunters killed 34,546 whitetails in 2009-10 and 34,530 in 2010-11.

Last year’s harvest included 24,687 bucks – more than 20 percent of the total statewide buck kill of 118,993.

This season marks the second for a couple major alterations in the Southern Zone archery season – an Oct. 1 season opener and a three-day youth firearms deer hunt over the Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 12-14 this year).

“I’m not hearing any complaints about the youth hunt,” McGuinness said. “But with the Oct. 1 opener, if the guys have the ability and facilities to process their own deer, they take advantage of it. But a lot don’t hunt early when it’s 75 or 80 degrees down here because they don’t want to deal with a deer in those temperatures. A lot of deer processors down here don’t open until the firearms season.”

Wright said hunting pressure in the early days of the Southern Zone archery season will depend largely on the weather. “If it cools down, they’ll get out there and hunt,” he said. “As far as the youth hunt, most bowhunters didn’t mind it at all; a few didn’t like the timing of it.”

Laubscher, too, said that while most bowhunters “like the concept” of the youth deer hunt, some questioned its timing within the regular archery season.

While the Oct. 1 Southern Zone kickoff and the Youth Deer Hunt have been woven into the season regulations fairly seamlessly, debate continues to rage about crossbows – even though those implements have never been allowed within the regular archery season.

Legislation this year that would have put the crossbow decision in the hands of the DEC – which has previously stated it favors expanded use of crossbows – passed the state Senate but died in the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee.

“They (customers) don’t understand why a handful of people and one or two politicians can really dictate what a couple hundred thousand bowhunters can do and want to do,” Laubscher said.

The failed crossbow bill was compounded by the fact that regulations allowing crossbows within the regular firearms and late muzzleloading big game seasons has now expired, leaving crossbows totally out of the New York hunting picture.

“They (lawmakers) dangled the carrot and allowed crossbows on a limited basis then pulled the rug out from under  the hunters after they purchased a crossbow,” Laubscher said.

“Everybody’s mad about the crossbow situation,” Wright said. “Including me, since I’ll probably need one before too long.”

DEC officials are also making a push for legislation that would reduce the setback requirement for shooting a bow from the current 500 feet down to 150 feet. That move would assist the state in managing suburban deer populations without compromising safety, officials have stated.

The Northern Zone archery season opens Sept. 27 for hunters with leftover 2012-13 tags. In the Southern Zone, the archery deer – and bear in much of the state – runs from Oct. 1-Nov. 15.

There’s also late archery offerings in some Northern Zone units (Dec. 9-15) and Dec. 9-17 in the Southern Zone.

Westchester and Suffolk counties have lengthy bowhunting-only seasons running from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

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