Deer kill expected to decline
Albany — New York’s 2015-16 deer seasons have yet to begin but DEC officials are already predicting a lower whitetail kill than last year.
Biologists say winter deer mortality in several areas of the state last year, combined with an overall reduction in Deer Management Permits, points to a lower harvest this season.
“The 2014/15 winter was more severe than average, with fairly prolonged periods of deep snow and sub-zero temperature, particularly in the western Catskills and southwestern New York, and was the second rough winter in a row in portions of northern New York,” DEC officials said in a news release. “DEC staff observed numerous cases of fawn mortality and fielded many similar reports from the public in these areas during late winter and early spring.”
In response to the winter mortality, DEC reduced Deer Management Permits – which allow hunters to take an antlerless deer – by 20-30 percent from 2014 levels in several wildlife management units.
That’s in sharp contrast to the situation in parts of central New York, the Finger Lakes, Lake Ontario Plains and a few units in southeastern New York where deer numbers remain high. In those units DEC has kept DMP allocations intact or even increased permit numbers to keep whitetail numbers in check.
DEC also this year established a controversial “antlerless-only” limitation from Oct. 1-15 in several wildlife management units where high DMP allocations failed to adequately trim deer numbers. That antlerless-only restriction was also set for the late archery and muzzleloader season in those units – 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A, and 9F.
“Harvest report data revealed that only 5.2 percent of successful hunters in those WMUs reported taking three or more deer (including bucks), and only 1.2 percent of successful hunters reported taking four or more deer,” DEC officials said in a defending the antlerless-only regulation for those units. “Additionally, reported harvests during the early bowhunting season in these WMUs are disproportionately skewed toward antlered bucks compared to other hunting seasons.”
Officials added that “greater cooperation by bowhunters in removing antlerless deer in similar ratios as during other seasons and increased harvest of antlerless deer during the late seasons will benefit the broader public who are affected by negative deer-related impacts.”
In another unit, WMU 6A in the state’s Northern Zone, DEC is looking to curb the antlerless deer kill by setting a bucks-only regulation during the Northern Zone’s weeklong October muzzleloader season. Antlerless deer will be eligible for harvest during the December archery and muzzleloader season in that unit.
“Because about half of the antlerless harvest in 6A currently occurs during the early muzzleloader season, DEC has adopted a rule to temporarily make the early muzzleloader season in this unit valid for antlered deer only,” officials said. “This change should sufficiently reduce the antlerless harvest to stimulate desired population growth while still allowing the minimal antlerless harvest that occurs during bow season and the late muzzleloader season.”
While hunters have been lighting up chat rooms and message boards on the heels of the antlerless-only regulations in several units, more changes are likely forthcoming next year as DEC officials look at what could be sweeping changes to deer hunting rules, with a focus on yearling buck protection.
DEC is also finalizing its analysis of potential buck hunting regulations and what changes could be made. And whatever regulations arise, they are sure to trigger more reaction from the sporting community.
“Hunters continue to be much divided in what they value about buck hunting,” DEC officials wrote. “While many hunters have voiced a desire to reduce harvest of yearling (1.5-year-old) bucks to have a greater chance of taking an older buck with larger antlers, many hunters also prefer to have the freedom to choose which buck they harvest and to practice restraint voluntarily.”
Changes could be made in various “buck management zones” created by the state as part of the decision-making process. That means different areas of the state could see different deer hunting regulations.
DEC’s process of progressing toward those decisions is outlined on pages 22-23 of the 2015-16 New York Hunting & Trapping Guide as well as on the ”Buck Harvest Management” link on the DEC website.