Antlerless-only reg’s impact difficult to gauge

Albany — Limiting hunters in select units to taking only antlerless deer during a portion of the archery season and again during the late muzzleloader seasons was designed to boost the antlerless harvest in those WMUs.

Whether it worked or not is too early to tell, DEC officials say.

And, looking at early harvest statistics as well as muzzleloader license sales in several counties where the regulatory change was made, it’s difficult to get a clear read on how hunters reacted to the antlerless-only restriction.

DEC biologist Jeremy Hurst said last month a complete analysis of the rule change wasn’t available, but the reported harvest of female deer during the Oct. 1-15 period when hunters in those units were limited to taking only antlerless deer “varied considerably among WMUs.”

“During Oct. 1-15, reported take of female deer was within plus/minus 15 percent of the 2014 level in seven of the 12 (affected) WMUs; increased plus/minus 30 percent in three WMUs, and decreased plus/minus 30 percent in two WMUs,” Hurst said. 

“However, reported take of female deer during the latter half of October was substantially greater in 2015 than 2014 for most of the WMUs. As a result, reported take of female deer for all of October increased 28 percent for the 12 WMUs combined.”

Hurst said the antlerless harvest in those units – WMUs 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A and 9F – increased by 28 percent overall. But there was seemingly a wide range of harvests in those units, with the antlerless take in WMU 9F of western New York down by 17 percent while the antlerless kill in WMU 8F was up by 68 percent.

Many bowhunters in those units were upset with the antlerless-only restriction, noting that the early season is an ideal time to pattern a buck on a food source. They predicted many archers would simply sit out the Oct. 1-15 slice of the season or hunt in nearby units where the antlerless-only rule wasn’t in place during that time.

Sportsmen were also outraged that the regulation was enacted for the 2015 season after previous indications that it wouldn’t be considered until 2016.

While the antlerless harvest figures in those units is one barometer of the impact of the regulatory change, another is muzzleloader license sales in several counties where the antlerless-only units are located.

Those figures showed, with one notable exception, muzzleloader license sales were down slightly, and actually up by 2.05 percent in Erie County, where 15,658 muzzleloader privileges were sold, compared to 15,344 for the same period of 2014.

The sharpest decline was seen in Orleans County, which showed an 11.73 percent dip in muzzleloader license sales.

Wayne County saw a 6.22 percent decline in muzzleloader license buys, while other counties also saw slight dips – Livingston (down 3.81 percent); Monroe (down 2.02 percent); Niagara (down by 1.68 percent); Genesee (down 1.65 percent) and Orange (down 1.17 percent).

“Whether or not the regulation change is what caused the change in sales may be speculative,” said DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang. “But, except for Orleans County, I suggest limited change in sales.”

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