Taking aim at deer

Albany — DEC’s deer managers are moving forward on regulations that would limit archery hunters in some units to taking only antlerless deer from Oct. 1-15 and again during the late archery and muzzleloader seasons.

But they may not be moving forward quickly enough to get the regulations change in place for this fall.

With a public comment period running through June 29 and the proposal expected to generate widespread interest – and likely opposition – from bowhunters, the regulatory process may not be completed in time for publication in the 2015-16 hunting regs guide.

That would push the proposal, if approved, back to the 2016-17 season.

“Our ability to actually implement those (regulations) for this fall will largely depend upon the comments we receive,” said DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang. “If we have a lot of comments to address it’s not going to happen (this season).”

Stang said the prospect of getting the regulations package in place in time for publication in the hunting regs guide “is a crapshoot right now. My guess is that it won’t happen. We starting to hear some rumblings (from disgruntled hunters).”

Conservation Fund Advisory Board member Dale Dunkelberger, who represents DEC’s Region 9, said he’s “already getting a lot of feedback from hunters in WMU 9A,” which is part of the proposal.

Stang said some sportsmen are confusing the proposal with a soon-to-be-released package of potential deer hunting regulations changes, which could include implementing antler restrictions in additional areas of the state.

“That’s not what this is about,” he said. “This is about trying to kill more antlerless deer in those areas where we’ve got too many deer.”

The proposal is essentially a follow-through on previous statements from DEC wildlife biologists after deer harvests fell short of their goals in several wildlife management units in the Lake Plains/Finger Lakes region and portions of southeastern New York.

Wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said that despite an increase in Deer Management Permit allocations in those units, and a bonus permit system that also was deemed a failure, the “next step” would be limiting bowhunters to taking only antlerless deer in a portion of the season. That antlerless-only offering would also kick in during the late archery and muzzleloader seasons in December.

Units targeted under the Oct. 1-15 antlerless-only proposal unveiled earlier this month are WMUs 3M, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A and 9F.

In addition, a Northern Zone unit – WMU 6A – would see its early muzzleloader season altered to allow only the harvest of bucks. That proposal is in response to a decline in whitetail numbers.

Last season, DEC’s effort to dole out additional Deer Management Permits in several units failed; many WMUs saw leftover tags that weren’t allocated.

And in 2013 the state altered its bonus DMP program in several units – 1C, 3S, 4J and 8C – to an antlerless-only tag. That, too, did not give DEC biologists the results they were looking for in terms of antlerless harvest.

Hurst said DEC officials reviewed that bonus-permit program and were skeptical as to whether expanding it to other units “would yield meaningful increases in antlerless harvest .”

Creation of an antlerless-only portion of the regular archery and late muzzleloader seasons in some WMUs represents the second step in DEC’s planned three-phase approach to trimming deer numbers in those units.

And if bowhunters recoil at the thought of an antlerless-only early portion of their season, they will no doubt oppose another potential move if the recently released proposal doesn’t trim whitetail numbers in those select units.

That next step – outlined in the state’s Deer Management Plan – would be the implementation of a special antlerless-only muzzleloader season in select WMUs.

“We could start to consider more aggressive tactics like an early muzzleloader season,” Stang said.

“If antlerless harvests continue to be insufficient, we must anticipate alternative strategies for increasing antlerless harvest in specific WMUs,” Hurst said in his pre-season report ahead of last year’s deer season.

Bowhunters strongly opposed a similar proposal to establish an early muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone 10 years ago. That proposal was ultimately scrapped.

Hurst said ahead of the 2014 deer season the overabundance of deer isn’t a statewide situation, noting that “deer populations vary widely, and we are managing for stable deer populations in about 35 percent of the state and increasing populations in another 30 percent of the state.”

But harvest figures were disappointing in many of those units this past season, prompting DEC to propose additional mechanisms to trim the herd through the antlerless harvest.

In addition to that proposal, DEC is also eyeing changes to its Deer Management Assistance Program.

Under DMAP, the state issues a special permit and a pre-determined number of antlerless deer tags to a landowner or property manager who is responsible for doling out the tags. The permits may be used only during the deer hunting season and the program is designed to trim whitetail numbers in areas where crop damage or other forest damage is taking place.

DEC’s regulatory proposal says the changes will “improve harvest reporting, increase program accountability, expand opportunity for landowners, reduce paperwork burden of applicants and staff, and increase flexibility for staff administering the program.”

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