Lockport, N.Y. — John Killion was taking part in his first ever New York state youth deer hunt, but he could hardly be considered a rookie.
Killion, age 14, had been jumping across the border with his dad David since he was 6 years old to take advantage of Pennsylvania’s popular mentored youth hunt, which allows kids under the age of 12 to harvest a deer.
So the Canisius High School freshman knew exactly what to do when a 6-point buck came into range early Saturday morning on the first day of the Columbus Day weekend youth hunt (Oct. 11-13).
“The buck came running right in, but he wasn’t broadside – more quartering to me,” said Killion, who has now killed six whitetails, including his first buck ever (the Pa. hunt is an antlerless-only offering). “I had to shoot him right in the shoulder, but he dropped right there and we didn’t have to track him.”
He was toting a .243 rifle and hunting in Allegany County with his dad, who calls the youth hunts “a great way for kids and their parents to get involved in the outdoors and spend quality time together.”
Still, David Killion says New York state “has taken some steps in the right direction in recent years, but we still need to do more,” pointing to Pennsylvania’s mentored hunt offering.
New York’s 14-year-old minimum age for hunting big game with a firearm remains the highest in the country.
But the youth hunt, launched in 2012 after some opposition from bowhunters not happy with having it inserted into the archery season, has been largely labeled a success.
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said that, based on hunting license sales, just over 12,900 14- and 15-year-olds were eligible to take part in the youth hunt this year.
“If participation rates were similar to 2012 and 2013, we probably had slightly more than 8,000 junior hunters afield during the youth hunt,” he said.
DEC harvest statistics showed 1,411 whitetails were killed during the inaugural youth hunt in 2012. That number dipped to 1,275 last year, with more than half (728) being bucks.
Participation has been much higher in the state’s Southern Zone; last year 1,143 of the 1,275 total harvest came in the south, with just 132 deer taken during the youth hunt in the Northern Zone.
Hurst said earlier this month it’s too early to estimate this year’s youth hunt harvest.
“I’m still sorting through the data, but it looks as though we’ve had roughly 700 harvest reports from eligible junior hunters, which is similar to 2012 and 2013,” he said. “I haven’t looked at the geography of these reports yet, so I don’t have a breakdown by zone or region.”
Weather often plays a major factor in the youth hunt’s participation and success, since it’s a three-day season. This year’s weather was generally good across the state, notably on a sunny Sunday. Participation is highest on Saturday, then gradually declines on Sunday and Monday.
Youth hunt regulations for 14-15 year old junior hunters and their mentors including proper licenses and blaze orange requirements.
There were no reported accidents during the hunt, officials said.
In areas restricted to bowhunting only (Westchester County and parts of Albany and Monroe counties), junior hunters were allowed to use only bowhunting equipment to take deer during the youth hunt weekend.
DEC established the youth hunt as a means of boosting participation in hunting as license sales declined and many sportsmen simply retired from the sport.
John Killion, after harvesting his buck on Saturday, was back in the field the following day, hunting pheasants with his dad and their Brittany “Annie.” He connected on a pair of roosters with his 20-gauge shotgun.
“My main goal now is to get a turkey next spring,” he said.