2013-2014 New York Deer Harvest Numbers: 243,567 but not enough

Albany — New York’s long-awaited deer harvest tally for the 2013-14 seasons showed 243,567 whitetails were killed – about 600 more than the previous season.

And in some areas of the state, it wasn’t enough, DEC officials said.

“It was sort of underwhelming for the antlerless take we were desiring,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “While the overall number might not reflect what some hunters are seeing in their areas, there are a lot of areas across the northern part of Region 9 (western New York), Central New York into the Mohawk Valley, as well as the bowhunting-only areas in parts of southeastern New York where there are more deer than what is desired.

“We haven’t been achieving the antlerless harvest we really need.”

The statewide kill was virtually on par with the 2012-13 total of 242,957, a statistically insignificant increase of 0.3 percent.

It included 114,716 bucks (down 3.6 percent from 118,993 the previous season) and 128,851 antlerless deer (up 3.9 percent from 123,964).

Southern Zone hunters, as usual, accounted for the most deer – 208,325, including 94,195 bucks. Of those numbers, 33,338 were taken by bowhunters, including 22,815 bucks.

In the Northern Zone, the total harvest of 32,369 included 19,538 bucks. Muzzleloader hunters – who have a one-week season ahead of the region’s lengthy firearms offering – killed 8,258 deer, 3,733 of which were bucks. Bowhunters accounted for another 2,340 (1,255 bucks) in the Northern Zone.

On Long Island, the total kill of 2,873 included 983 bucks.

The 2013-14 harvest ranks as the highest since 2003. New York’s deer kill numbers peaked between 1999 and 2003, with a high of 308, 216 in 2002. But severe winters sent whitetail numbers plummeting in some areas of the state, with the total kill falling below 200,000 in 2005 (180,214) and 2006 (189,108).

Hurst said the popular Southern Zone firearms season – which produces the state’s single biggest hunting day when the season kicks off on a mid-November Saturday – got off to a slow start, with mild weather and an abundance of acorns and beechnuts that limited deer movement.

“That seemed to affect deer movement and hunter success,” he said. “But by the end of the gun season the harvest kind of picked up to the same level.”

He added that DEC biologists will be taking a close look at winter mortality before determining Deer Management Permit allocations for the 2014-15 seasons.

“We don’t want a misconception that (high deer numbers) are universal across the state,” Hurst said. “There are certainly areas where there is an appropriate number of antlerless deer and where we’ll be reducing DMPs. But in other areas we’ll continue with high DMP availability and emphasize the need for hunters to help us out (by taking antlerless deer) – to step up now as managers and conservationists and help out.”

Last season, several wildlife management units saw their bonus permit system change to antlerless-only tags instead of the previous either-sex option in an effort to trim deer numbers. Hurst said that’s likely to continue this coming season.

As DEC develops a deer management plan that is seemingly focusing on yearling buck protection options, Hurst said no regulations changes are expected for this fall beyond those allowing crossbow use during parts of the archery season, as well as the loosening of the setback requirement from 500 feet to 150 feet for bowhunters and 250 for crossbow users.

“We’re pleased (with the loosened setback regulation),” Hurst said. “It was a recommendation in our deer plan, and makes it possible for hunters to get in on some ground in more residential areas. But it still relies on hunters making connections with landowners (to receive permission to hunt).”

One potential change in the future is a move toward antlerless-only deer hunting in parts of the archery and muzzleloader season in some units. “That could be our next approach, but not for this season,” Hurst said. “We really need to make a more thorough evaluation.”

Other highlights of the deer harvest report for 2013-14 were:

• youth hunters harvested 1,275 whitetails – 728 bucks and 547 antlerless deer – during the state’s second-ever youth deer hunt for 14- and 15-year-olds over the three-day Columbus Day weekend. That tally is down from 1,411 in the inaugural hunt of 2012. An estimated 8,860 young hunters headed afield.
• amid the ongoing debate over mandatory antler restrictions, DEC’s deer harvest report showed a growing trend toward hunters seemingly passing up yearling bucks. New York hunters last year killed a record number of bucks (about 55,300) aged 2.5 years or older. That represents 48 percent of the total buck kill, compared to 33 percent (45,350) back in 2000 when New York’s deer population peaked.
“Although mandatory antler restrictions in 11 WMUs in southeastern New York are a contributing factor, many hunters outside those areas are voluntarily choosing not to take young bucks, thereby letting these bucks get another year or two older before they are taken,” DEC’s report read.
• 5,104 deer were killed on Deer Damage Permits, up from 5,046 in 2012-13. DDPs are issued by the DEC to reduce deer damage on individual properties, primarily for crop damage. Most, but not all of the deer taken are antlerless deer. DEC’s Region 8 had 1,955 whitetails taken on Deer Damage Permits.
• another 12,285 deer were taken through the Deer Management Assistance Program, in which DEC issues permits to landowners whose property “is in need of site-specific deer management efforts.” Only antlerless deer can be taken, and only by licensed hunters during hunting seasons. The 12,285 figure is up by 17 percent from 10,497 in 2012-13.
• New York hunters continued their poor track record of reporting their harvest – 44.2 percent last season, compared to 44.3 percent in 2012-13. By law, hunters are required to report their kill, but it remains one of the most-ignored regulations on the books.

DEC officials used harvest data and also examined nearly 16,200 harvested deer at check stations and meat processors last season. Statewide harvest estimates are made by cross-referencing those two data sources. 

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