Deer survey shows split

Albany — DEC officials may have been hoping a survey of the state’s deer hunters would offer a clear direction heading into what could be wholesale changes of deer hunting regulations in 2016.

Instead, the survey results showed a continued split among the legion of whitetail hunters, specifically on the issue of yearling buck protection.

“New York’s deer hunters are a diverse bunch, with differing visions as to what deer hunting should be,” read an analysis of the April survey of over 2,700 deer hunters across the state. “About one-third of them are primarily interested in the opportunity to see and take big bucks and seem to be focused on that. They are supportive of accepting restrictions on the harvest of young bucks.

“Another one-third care much less about sacrificing the opportunity to harvest any buck that they wish and are more concerned with the opportunity to take any deer, including young bucks and antlerless deer.”

The survey analysis, conducted by DEC’s Dan Bishop and Courtney LaMere, concluded the likelihood there “is clearly no regulatory solution that is going to make them all happy.”

DEC officials are expected to unveil the survey results, as well as perhaps the proposed regulatory changes, at a meeting early next month. New York Outdoor News obtained copies of the hunter survey and its analysis ahead of that meeting.

The survey also showed that while some hunters were either unsure or “right down the middle” on accepting restrictions on shooting yearling bucks, some hunters surveyed – 17.4 percent – were supportive of both restrictions on buck harvest as well as the freedom of hunters to choose what buck to take.

“This group indicated a strong willingness to accept restrictions on young buck harvest and is relatively willing to pass opportunities on young bucks, but at the same time places a high value on the freedom of choice,” the survey analysis read.

Bishop and LaMere dissected data from a Cornell University survey conducted in April and sent out to over 6,700 hunters, 2,720 of which completed the questionnaires. While that 40 percent response rate is high by survey standards, many New York sportsmen contend the entire deer-hunting fraternity should be polled on the issue of yearling buck protection.

The survey went to hunters in four geographic areas: Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties; the Adirondacks; northwestern New York; and the remainder of the state, which is expected to be divided into multiple “buck management zones” under the regulatory proposal.

The study was used “to obtain data on hunter satisfaction needed to evaluate strategies for reducing harvest of yearling bucks in light of consequences each strategy may have on hunter satisfaction, deer population growth, and costs for deer program administration.”

It asked hunters to rate the importance of 16 different factors in determining their level of deer hunting satisfaction, including:

• the opportunity to take a big-antlered buck.

• opportunity to take any buck of their choice.

• opportunity to take more than one buck.

• opportunity to take at least one deer.

• overall opportunity to be in the field.

• consistency in buck harvest rules and regulations.

• being able to easily see if a buck is legal to shoot.

The survey showed most hunters were moderately or very satisfied with:

• levels of opportunity to be in the field (82 percent).

• to take at least one buck (62 percent) in the wildlife management unit where they hunted.

• buck hunting rules and regulations (58 percent).

• deer hunting rules/regulations (59 percent).

But satisfaction with opportunities to take more than one buck or harvest a big-antlered buck was lower, at 41 percent.

The Bishop-LaMere survey analysis, however, focused on question No. 16 of the survey, which asked respondents their willingness to accept restrictions on the harvest of young bucks.

That question is the core of the debate as the DEC seems poised to implement some type of yearling buck protection regulations – possibly antler restrictions – in at least some areas of the state.

Antler restrictions (three points on one side) are currently in place in 11 southeastern New York WMUs.

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