Deer regs will remain intact this season

Albany — DEC’s deer managers have decided there will be no regulatory changes to whitetail hunting this season, opting against expanding mandatory antler restrictions, shortening the deer seasons or adopting a “one-buck” limit.

The decision comes after a lengthy process using a “Structured Decision-Making” model which included a survey of the state’s deer hunters.

And it ends speculation that mandatory antler restrictions – which will remain in place in the southeastern New York units where they are currently set – would be expanded into other newly created “Buck Management Zones” of the state.

Instead, DEC officials, noting that the percentage of yearling bucks killed by hunters each season is on the decline, will wage a campaign to urge hunters to pass on young bucks voluntarily.

“We’re going to promote and educate more and encourage hunters to pursue voluntary antler restrictions to meet their interest in seeing larger bucks,” said DEC Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Patricia Riexinger.

And the decision may keep deer hunting regulations in place beyond 2016, officials said. The decision-making process was designed to settle the issue of antler restrictions and other potential regulations beyond this coming season.

“We need to put this to rest,” Riexinger said. “We’re not interested in revisiting this for a few years.”

The decision to maintain existing deer regulations will be welcomed by some hunters, but will leave others grumbling. DEC officials were well aware of that during the process: survey results showed a continued split among the legion of whitetail hunters, specifically on the issue of yearling buck protection.

An analysis of that survey concluded there “is clearly no regulatory solution that is going to make them all happy.”

The “Structured Decision-Making” process analyzed numerous options, including:

• a shorter firearms season.

• a one-buck per hunter rule.

• a full season of mandatory antler restrictions.

• mandatory antler restrictions for a portion of the seasons.

• promotion of voluntary restraint.

• no changes.  

Of those alternatives, the process identified the “no change” option as the optimal strategy, the best fit with hunter values and management objectives in each Buck Management Zone.  

DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said the process “drove the decision,” and the no change option “was consistent across all Buck Management Zones. Hunter values for various aspects of deer hunting were the most important factor influencing the decision.”

The decision may come as a surprise to some deer hunters who were anticipating the expansion of mandatory three-points-on-one-side antler restrictions in additional wildlife management units. They are currently in place in 11 southeastern New York WMUs and will remain intact.

The survey was 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 contended the entire deer-hunting fraternity should be polled on the issue of yearling buck protection.

It went to hunters in four geographic areas: Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties; the Adirondacks; northwestern New York; and the remainder of the state, which was ultimately divided into multiple “buck management zones.” Those zones are, at least for now, moot.

The study 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 about one-third of those responding “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 third, however “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,” an analysis showed.

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.

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.

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