N.Y.’s growing deer problem

New York could be overrun with deer in the next few years.

Don’t laugh. Maybe it won’t be a statewide phenomenon, but there are pockets of New York even now where whitetail numbers are out of control, with no sign of the situation improving. It’s a product of many factors: a lack of access, the adaptability of deer to live in areas where hunting isn’t much of an option, and a dwindling number of hunters.

Too, our own hunting philosophies may be adding to the problem.

We’re not shooting enough antlerless deer.

Admit it, how many times have we passed on does with a tag in hand? It happens regularly across the state and at varying times of the deer seasons. Our reasons are varied and often logical, but since we’re the chief management tool for the DEC when it comes to keeping whitetail numbers in check, we’re essentially shirking that responsibility. That said, we do, in fact, pay for the privilege of basically working for the DEC on deer population control, so it’s certainly our right to not fill a tag if we so choose.

But it’s true. We do a lot of passing on does, myself included. Shoot, even Paula, on the opening day of the Southern Zone firearms season, vowed to pass on antlerless deer in hopes of encountering a buck. That didn’t happen, but I’m pretty sure she would have stuck to her guns and let them go. If a relative newcomer to whitetail hunting is willing to let a doe walk, surely more experienced hunters with plenty of deer tags filled over the years don’t get too excited about an antlerless deer.

This doe-passing game starts during the archery season, especially the earlier portions of the season when warm weather gives us a perfectly legitimate excuse not to harvest a doe. Who wants to deal with a deer in weather that is sometimes downright hot? Too, more and more bowhunters are coming to the realization that the early part of the season is a great time to pattern a mature buck on a food source. If that’s your game there’s no way you’re going to taint your hunting area by arrowing a doe.

And let’s admit it: the average hunter today in New York state is limping, sometimes literally, toward the high side of middle aged – myself included. There are many cases, I’m sure, where we won’t consider taking anything less than a buck because of the grueling drag out of the woods involved once it’s down.

What’s the answer? More Deer Management Permits? Not likely. You can air-drop DMPs but if we’re not filling them by choice, or if we can’t get to the pockets of deer sitting comfortably and riding out the hunting season on posted land, it’s not going to help.

DEC this season attempted to address the issue in a dozen wildlife management units with what many perceive to be a flawed plan, limiting archery hunters to taking only antlerless deer from Oct. 1-15 and again in the late archery and muzzleloader season. Time will tell if that has any impact, but I can understand the state’s theory that something has to be done.

The next step, certainly in the minds of bowhunters, could be even more dramatic: an early muzzleloader season slapped within the archery season. 

But if we choose not to fill a tag, or can’t access areas where the whitetails are tucked away, I don’t see this situation being resolved without something much more dramatic than a regulation change.

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