Season conflict upsets SE NY waterfowlers

Albany — It’s only a week later than in the past, but some waterfowlers in southeastern New York are upset that the second half of the split duck hunting season will open Nov. 17 this year.

The reason for the concern? That’s the same weekend the state’s popular Southern Zone firearms deer and bear seasons open, and hunters who like both pursuits will now have to choose.

DEC announced final waterfowl season dates based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines and recommendations of waterfowl task forces in all five duck hunting zones.

In the Southeastern Zone, the season will run from Oct. 12 to Oct. 20, and reopen from Nov. 17 to Jan. 6.

The regular season for deer opens Nov. 16 in that zone, and while there was never any conflict between the two openers in the past, a lot of duck hunters are likely to abandon their blinds in favor of deer camps and treestands, said Orange County waterfowler David Corrado.

“Typically, the second opening was the weekend prior to big-game opening. This year, the task force got input from a limited number of people and decided to push the season back one week,” Corrado said. “Now it opens the Sunday of the big-game season opener. The real issue is opening day for deer is the greatest hunter participation weekend of the year. So to open waterfowl in conjunction with deer is a little unreasonable.

“One of my things is getting kids into the woods, but people can only be in so many places,” he said. “You are guaranteeing the only people who will hunt waterfowl on opening day of the split are people who only hunt waterfowl. I do both, and I’ll be deer hunting. I made reservations to go many months ago. The change forces hunters to choose waterfowl or deer hunting, with the promise of maybe being able to hunt in January, when most inland waters are frozen.”

The Southeastern Zone covers nearly a third of upstate New York, from the Capital District down to Westchester County, with Interstate 81 between Syracuse and Binghamton forming the western boundary and the Vermont and Massachusetts borders marking the eastern boundary.

The Southeastern Zone waterfowl task force, comprising a group of selected hunters who DEC says represent all waterfowlers in the zone, cited several reasons for the change of dates.

“The second split also maximizes weekend hunting opportunity (seven full weekends) and holiday time (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day), and opens when many additional ducks are migrating into the zone,” according to a rationale spelled out on DEC's website. “The Sunday opener was chosen to avoid conflict with the opening day of Southern Zone regular deer season. Late December and early January hunting days are set to coincide with a later wave of duck migration and concentration of wintering birds that occurs at that time.”

But the change does create conflict, said Eric Stuart, a Long Island native who now lives in northern New Jersey.

Stuart is a lifetime New York hunting license holder who has been hunting ducks since he was a teenager in the 1970s, and he still hunts the Hudson Valley area when he can.

The later opening of the second half of the split season makes no sense for several reasons, Stuart said.

“Opening day of duck, deer, upland birds, trout in April – to say these are significant events for sportsmen is an understatement,” he said. “If people feel about hunting like I do, this is a huge deal, with tradition and everything. I was upset. I plan stuff well in advance. I will be at deer camp and will miss opening day of the second split, and that’s devastating.

“There are so few areas open to duck hunting,” Stuart said. “If you limit times and push out the season to where most water is frozen – with the exception of the Hudson River – most (waterfowlers) are frozen out by that time.”

Stuart believes a handful of Hudson River hunters with big-water boats convinced the task force to push the second season out another week.

Corrado also believes the changes were made based on limited public input, and he said that should be a clarion call to waterfowlers to get more involved in the planning process next year.

“It’s not about me. What if I want to get kids out? Do we go out at the end of November when it’s freezing cold?” Corrado said. “Hopefully, next year we’ll have more people involved so this can get more in line with what benefits the majority of people.”

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