Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Opener, and then a real snow blast

Waverly, N.Y. — New York’s single biggest hunting day – the opening day of the Southern Zone firearms deer season – brought mixed reviews from hunters.
DEC officials said the opening weekend harvest was “about on par with last year,” but it’s difficult to accurately gauge hunter success early in the season due to a number of factors.
But an epic, lake-effect snowfall that hit areas south and east of Buffalo brought hunting to a screeching halt last week, with 60 inches of snow in some spots and more on the way at press time.
The hardest hit areas were Lancaster, Cheektowaga, Elma, Alden and West Seneca, as well as Hamburg, Orchard Park and East Aurora.
Other towns just outside the lake-effect ban were spared.
Areas east of Lake Ontario in the Northern Zone counties of Jefferson, Lewis, Franklin and Oswego were also affected.
States of emergency were declared in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Franklin, Genesee, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and Wyoming counties. And deer hunting became an afterthought as residents tried to dig out from the storm.
The opening weekend’s cold weather saw temperatures generally hovering in the low 20s early and then barely above freezing later in the day.
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said that often impacts a hunter’s decision to take their deer in to a processor for butchering. During warmer weather there’s more urgency to get the deer into the cooler.
“With the colder weather hunters may have held onto their deer (before taking them in for processing),” he said. “Our early reports show it seems like Saturday was a little slower than last year but it picked up a on Sunday.”
DEC uses a combination of harvest reports, field observations and “meat locker checks” (visits to venison processors) to get a reading on hunter success.
Hurst said a new harvest reporting system, part of the state’s E-licensing system that has received mixed reviews from hunters and license-selling agents, “could have impacted hunter success in reporting their harvest.”
A final statewide deer kill tally won’t be available until early next year.
But early indications are that success afield varied, which is typically the case during the Southern Zone opener, when DEC officials estimate about 85 percent of the state’s 850,000 licensed hunters take to the woods.
Ed Rouse of Lima (Livingston County) said his five-member hunting party went without killing a deer for the first time in 30 years. 
“We passed on some small bucks and two of us missed shots at does,” he said. “It was very quiet. We all agreed we didn’t hear a dozen shots all day long.”
In Apalachin (Tioga County), a worker at Sweeney’s Market said the number of deer brought in for processing was down about 25 percent from last year, which was an unseasonably warm opening weekend. Most of the deer brought in were does, he said.
At DEC’s deer check station in Holland (Erie County), the whitetail harvest count was down just slightly from 2013, but fewer mature bucks were checked this year.
One of those big bucks, an 8-pointer, was tagged by Jeffrey Smith of Wilson (Niagara County), who downed the buck at about 7:45 a.m. on opening day while hunting in the Farmersville area.
Another hunter, Billy Rupert of Boston, N.Y., had a memorable 24 hours of hunting. Rupert, hunting in the town of Grove (Allegany County), bagged on a 6-point buck in the final hour of the regular archery season on Nov. 14, then went back out for the firearms opener on Saturday and took a 5-point buck at 8:30 a.m.
Hunting pressure, despite good weather conditions which included snow in many parts of the state, was described as moderate to light.
Rouse, also noting the light hunting pressure in his area, said it’s a product of several factors.
“It’s too bad,” he said. “People are getting old and getting out of hunting, there aren’t enough mentors to steer youth into hunting, and most importantly, access is difficult. Other than state land, most people don’t have a place to hunt anymore. Everything is posted tight.”
While snow cover was a welcome sight to hunters on opening day, the lake-effect blast in parts of western New York will likely create huge hunting challenges for the remainder of the season in those areas.
DEC officials said the Southern Zone firearms deer season accounts for about 60 percent of the total statewide deer harvest, which topped 243,000 last season.
The Southern Zone firearms deer opener this year also included a zone-wide bear season kickoff. Early harvest reports showed the statewide bear kill – which includes the Northern Zone – was “a little below last year, but not substantially lower,” Hurst said.
He added that hunters in several southeastern wildlife management units killed nearly 250 bruins during the first-ever early bear season in that region.
New York’s Southern Zone regular deer season runs through Dec. 7, and is followed by a Dec. 8-16 late archery and muzzleloader season. There is also a bowhunting-only season in Westchester County that runs through Dec. 31, and a special season in Suffolk County that carries through January.

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