Albany — DEC has launched a statewide survey of deer hunters that will likely lead to some regulations changes for the 2015 season, with a potential focus on protecting yearling bucks.
The survey is being conducted by Cornell University’s Human Dimension Research Unit, which has handled several hunter surveys in the past. The survey went out last month to 7,000 randomly selected big game license holders.
DEC officials urged hunters who receive the survey to complete it and return it as soon as possible.
“A high response rate to the survey will help ensure that the study findings are representative of all deer hunters across New York state,” the department said in a news release. “The agency wants to hear from every hunter in the sample, regardless of whether they went afield or took a deer last year.”
The 11-page survey will guide DEC wildlife managers into the future of the state’s deer management policy and will be used as a yardstick in developing regulations that address hunter desires while still maintaining the state’s ability to control deer numbers.
It’s also a product of indications from hunters that they may be willing to see modified hunting regulations that would result in seeing more big bucks in the field.
“During the public involvement processs associated with development of the 2012-2016 deer management plan for New York, some hunters expressed strong interest in modifying hunting rules/regulations to allow more bucks to live to older ages and develop heavier bodies with larger antlers,” the survey preface reads. “As a result of that input, one of the objectives in DEC’s current deer management plan is to ‘encourage various strategies to reduce harvest of young (1.5-year-old) bucks in accordance with hunter desires.’”
What steps may be taken from a regulatory standpoint will depend largely on the results of the survey, which officials are hoping will give a clear indication of what “tradeoffs” hunters are willing to accept to protect yearling bucks. Those could range from mandatory antler restrictions to simple education of hunters in encouraging them to pass on yearling bucks.
“Depending on the action taken to protect young bucks, hunters may have to give up some freedom to shoot a buck of any size, or give up some opportunity to hunt bucks,” the survey said.
Other potential options outlined by DEC wildlife biologists at a September meeting in Cortland include mandatory antler restrictions for all of the archery season and part – the first week – of the firearms season; a one-buck bag limit for hunters; a shortening of the Southern Zone firearms season by one week and the Northern Zone season by two weeks; promoting voluntary antler restrictions; or maintaining the status quo – which officials have indicated isn’t likely to happen.
And the regulations may not be uniform across the state or the Northern or Southern zones. DEC is in the process of developing several large groupings of wildlife management units as “decision zones,” and could implement different regulations in some of those zones. DEC game management section head Bryan Swift said varying regulations would likely be limited to two or perhaps three differing regulations in the decision zones to avoid confusion among hunters.
The survey questions hunters on their importance of seeing and/or having the opportunity of harvesting a big-racked buck, as well as the importance of being allowed to continue to harvest any buck and two bucks during the seasons (archery, firearms and muzzleloader). It also delves into areas such as ease of deciding whether a buck is legal to harvest; what type of implement they most use and what season they hunt the most; and their satisfaction with existing deer hunting regulations.
“DEC needs current information on hunters’ views to understand how different buck harvest strategies may affect hunter satisfactions,” the department said in a news release. “Specifically, DEC needs to understand hunters’ views on the importance of reducing harvest of young bucks relative to the associated loss of choice or loss of opportunity.”
The survey results will “help wildlife managers identify which buck management strategy best balances hunter opinions in various regions of the state,” the news release read.
DEC will use a “Structured Decision-Making” process similar to that used in developing management options for the state’s wild turkey in an effort to gauge hunter sentiment and balance their wishes with the state’s whitetail management needs.
New York hunters more and more are passing on yearling bucks in hopes of harvesting a mature buck at some point in the season, as evidenced by DEC harvest figures. Those numbers show the percentage of yearling bucks taken by hunters now stands at about 57 percent, compared to 70 percent years ago.
Those figures don’t include wildlife management units in southeastern New York where three-points-on-one-side antler restrictions are currently in place. That regulatory change came as a result of hunter support for antler restrictions in those units.
When the survey is completed, DEC will analyze the results and use it as a basis for any regulatory changes. A regulatory rule-making process will likely begin in early 2015 and will include the chance for additional public comment from hunters and other stakeholders, with any regulations changes implemented for the fall 2015 hunting seasons.
For more information on the survey and decision-making process, contact DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife by sending an e-mail to email@example.com and typing “Deer Hunter Survey” in the subject line.
DEC officials said requests to participate in the survey will not be accepted in order to “maintain scientific integrity and preserve the random sampling survey design.”