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Crossbows top NYON news story of 2014

Waverly, N.Y. — It was a year like most, with both good news and bad news topping the pages of New York Outdoor News.

And in 2014, sometimes the debate raged over whether the news was, in fact, good or bad.

That’s why our top news story of the year – the arrival of crossbows within a portion of the Northern and Southern zone archery deer and bear seasons – emerged as a clear No. 1 choice for 2014.

Easily the most contentious issue among sportsmen in the Empire State, the news was hailed by many sportsmen, vilified by others, and launched a new fraternity of horizontal holders who headed afield during the latter stages of the archery season. It was all a product of the state’s budget-making process, which included crossbow use language that placed the popular implements squarely within the archery season – or at least a slice of it.

The No. 2 story of the year actually rose from the No. 6 spot in 2013, but for all the wrong reasons. New York’s much-maligned E-licensing system, the product of the state’s Shared Services Initiative launched under then-Gov. David Paterson, was a headache for both license buyers and selling agents from the onset, but especially during peak purchasing times – when 2014-15 sporting licenses went on sale and again as the Oct. 1 Deer Management Permit deadline neared. The system, at times, crashed; many vendors, including some who opted out of even offering licenses any longer, wish it had burned as well. Work continued on the fragile and cumbersome E-licensing system, but there were no guarantees it would improve to the point where license buying would be a smooth transaction.

NYON’s No. 3 story of the year was, literally, big news, simply because it involved the state’s largest big-game animal – the black bear. DEC’s push to develop a bear-hunting culture in the state, and a response to the expansion of bruins in many areas where they’ve never before inhabited, prompted what was essentially a statewide bear season. Too, a special early bear season was created in several wildlife management units in the Catskills and western Hudson Valley in an effort to keep bruin numbers from exploding. The state is also hoping to develop a dedicated fraternity of bear hunters; most are now harvested by deer hunters who happen upon a bear while pursuing whitetails.

Our No. 4 story of 2014 is actually a spinoff of our top story of the previous year. While passage of the SAFE Act gun restrictions in 2013 prompted a long and loud outcry among the state’s sportsmen and gun owners, the 2014 elections gave them the opportunity to officially state their displeasure.

And they did so, though not in enough volume to upend Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bid for a second term in office. Still, opposition to the SAFE Act was seen as a major factor that led Republican challenger Rob Astorino to outpolling Cuomo in upstate New York before being overwhelmed by the New York City vote totals. And four state senators and two Assembly incumbents were surprisingly ousted by voters. The common denominator? All six had voted in favor of the SAFE Act.

NYON’s No. 5 story of 2014 is one that continues to be written in the North Country, as huge tracts of previously private – timber company-owned – parcels are opened to the public, including to hunting, fishing and trapping. The transaction triggered what remains an ongoing discussion over just how much access is to be gained, with some sportsmen contending much of the tract remains inaccessible to only the fittest of hunters and anglers.

Deer management is always high on the newsworthiness list in New York Outdoor News, and the No. 6 story of 2014 relates to the pursuit of whitetails. A loosened setback requirement for bowhunters and crossbow users capped a lengthy effort by DEC to allow better access for bowhunters and assist them in their deer management efforts, notably in urban areas where whitetails pour into unhuntable pockets. The setback change – from 500 feet down to 150 feet for bowhunters and 250 feet for crossbow users – came as part of language within the New York state budget. DEC had recommended a 150-foot rule for both implements, but the ongoing crossbow debate seemed to even enter into the budget-making process.

While whitetails are clearly the top hunting target for New York hunters, wild turkeys are a solid second. So when the state’s turkey population drops sharply, it’s big news. And the downtown in turkey numbers in New York was our No. 7 news story of 2014.

Biologists in New York and other turkey hotbeds are grappling with downturns in turkey numbers and a corresponding decline in the spring gobbler harvest, which in New York dipped to a low of under 16,000 birds this past spring. That’s a far cry from the 2003 kill of 36,800. Biologists are pointing to poor nesting and brood-rearing seasons, habitat loss, predation and possibly the arrival of the Lymphoproliferative Disease Virus (LPDV), a tumor-forming virus that has made its way to the U.S. after years of its presence in domestic turkeys in Europe and Israel.

The No. 8 story of 2014 stretches well beyond New York borders – across the country, in fact. That’s because a New York artist, Jennifer Miller of Olean (Allegany County) saw her acrylic painting of a pair of ruddy ducks selected as the winner of the 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. As a result, her work will appear on the federal duck stamp – which is poised to increase in price from $16 to $25 – next year.

While the whitetail is the state’s most popular big-game animal, New York’s top saltwater fish, the striped bass, was in the news in 2014 and earned the No. 9 spot in our top stories of the year.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, after much debate and input from anglers at some animated public hearings, is poised to reduce the daily striper limit from two fish down to one, while keeping the current 28-inch size minimum. The move comes following an assessment of the striper stock which showed female spawning numbers and the overall striper population trending toward a level where they would be considered “overfished.”

Our last story within the NYON Top 10 for 2014 can be tied to the SAFE Act: Remington’s decisions to locate a new gun-making facility in Alabama. The move comes at a high price for Remington’s Ilion, N.Y. facility – Remington is moving its popular Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle production to Alabama.

Company officials ultimately termed the SAFE Act – which made the Bushmaster illegal in the state in which it’s produced – was a factor in the decision, and a pair of layoffs have followed at the Ilion plant.

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