New York’s voluntary route
Hunters in New York state won’t have to abide by mandatory antler restrictions (except in units where those restrictions are already in place) this season because the DEC listened to the wishes of many who opposed them. The idea of antler restrictions has been a bone of contention among New York hunters for a number of years because there are many who are in favor of the idea. Those in favor of imposing mandatory antler restrictions say ARs will change the makeup and quality of our deer herd, while those opposed say they should be allowed to take any antlered buck they see.
The argument for or against antler restrictions can be made both ways. Personally, I don’t begrudge a guy who can only get out one or two weekends a year the opportunity to shoot a spike or forkhorn if he or she so wishes. This is a person who, because of work or family commitments, may only get a buck every few years, so who am I to say he shouldn’t shoot what some consider to be a “small” buck?
As a hunter who hunts in Pennsylvania as well as here in New York, I can only say despite what some may think, antler restrictions seem to be working for the better in the Keystone State. This past season, hunters harvested an estimated 137,580 antlered deer, which represents an about 15 percent increase from 2013-2014.
The percentage of older bucks in the harvest might well be the most eye-popping number in the report. A whopping 59 percent of whitetail bucks taken by hunters in Pennsylvania during the 2015-16 deer seasons were two and a half years old or older, making for the highest percentage of adult bucks in the harvest in decades. Game Commission Wildlife Management Director Wayne Laroche noted the trend of more adult bucks in the harvest started when antler restrictions were put into place. According to Laroche, more yearling bucks are making it through the first hunting season through which they carry a rack, and season after season a greater proportion of the annual Pennsylvania buck harvest has been made of adult bucks.
In 2014-15, 57 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were two and a half years old or older, but to see that number now pushing 60 percent is remarkable. “It goes to show what antler restrictions have accomplished. They’ve created a Pennsylvania where every deer hunter in the woods has a real chance of taking the buck of a lifetime,” Laroche noted.
Okay, so does all this mean antler restrictions should be implemented here in New York? Not necessarily, because just by looking at the photos sent in by readers of New York Outdoor News, many hunters here in New York are opting to let the smaller bucks pass and from their photos many are abiding by self-imposed antler restrictions and are shooting what can be considered to be bucks of a lifetime. Besides, the DEC will be taking steps to encourage hunters to let smaller bucks walk and this still means a hunter can take a spike or forkhorn if they wish to do so. This approach should keep everyone happy at least for a while.