Waverly, N.Y. — A warm, windy and at times rainy opening weekend of the Southern Zone firearms deer season left some hunters scrambling to get their deer to venison processors and others scratching their heads and wondering where the whitetails were.
With temperatures climbing into the 50s, many hunters – some of whom would typically butcher their own deer – chose to take their deer to meat cutters.
Other hunters didn’t have that problem.
“It was a mixed bag (of reports),” said Ty St. John of Ty’s Deer Processing in Scipio Center (Cayuga County), where about 200 deer had been brought in over the opening weekend. “The deer seem to be in pockets.
Some towns slammed them; other guys aren’t seeing much. We got a lot of scrub bucks in; some 10s and 12s, but mostly 4-, 5- and 6-pointers. And lots of does.”
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst also said reports varied from across the state.
“It was all over the board,” he said. “The weather was warm, windy and rainy – especially Sunday with the rain.”
Hurst said the opening weekend harvest was down 9 percent from last season, but doesn’t feel that’s indicative of deer numbers in the state.
“Some of that could be weather-related, but with this weekend coming up (Nov. 23-24) and the long Thanksgiving holiday I think we’ll see that number catch up pretty quickly,” he said.
While the warm weather made it easier for hunters to remain on stand for long periods, it may have also stalled deer movement. The wind and rain didn’t help, either.
“I hunted in Steuben County south of Canisteo, and there was light hunting pressure and terrible weather,” said New York Outdoor News contributing writer Bill Hilts Jr. “We didn’t hear many shots in our area. I talked to one guy who saw eight black bear and one deer on opening day.”
Scott Benjamin of Mountain Man Taxidermy in Waverly (Tioga County), who operates a deer processing business, said the warm weather boosted business.
“We had a lot of new customers; guys who probably would butcher their own if it wasn’t so warm,” he said.
Benjamin said that while hunting pressure appeared light, especially on Sunday with the rain, hunters were generally satisfied.
“Everybody is seeing a lot of deer,” he said. “I’m not hearing the complaints like I did last year.”
The firearms bear season also opened Nov. 16 in the state’s Southeastern and Central-Western zone, which comprise much of the overall Southern Zone. Hurst said early numbers on bruins showed the Central-
Western kill was about on par with 2012. In the Southeastern zone, which includes the Catskills, the rifle take was up about 20 percent on opening weekend after an archery season that saw the bear kill down by 10-15 percent.
“The bears we’ve checked from hunters have been in great condition,” he said, noting the abundance of both hard and soft mast this season. “Heavy, with beautiful coats.”
Early reports show at least one hunter died in a shooting incident on opening day.
Charles Bruce, 52, a Long Island firefighter, died after being shot in the chest by a hunting companion in Otsego County
State police said Bruce, of Franklin Square (Nassau County), was shot at about 10:20 a.m. and died at the scene. An investigation is continuing.
Statewide, there were five shooting incidents in which hunters were injured and five others involving property damage during the season’s first four days.
Hurst said he’s received preliminary reports, too, of “a couple” of hunter deaths in western New York from other issues, such as heart attacks.
The Southern Zone traditionally accounts for the bulk of the statewide deer kill. Last season, 209,458 whitetails were taken in the Southern Zone and another 2,655 on Long Island; the statewide harvest was 242,957.
Included in the 2012 Southern Zone tally was 98,571 bucks, and 985 more from Long Island.
Deer Management Permits, which allow hunters to shoot antlerless deer, were increased by 18 percent this season to about 690,000. That almost assuredly sets the stage for a higher overall whitetail kill in 2013.