September muzzleloader in some units?
Albany — It’s only one man’s opinion.
But when that man is DEC’s Big Game Unit Leader, as Jeremy Hurst is, you’d suspect it might carry a lot of weight.
So when Hurst, at a webinar on the state’s deer management efforts earlier this month, indicated his leanings toward a September muzzleloader season to address high whitetail numbers in some wildlife management units, those in attendance at various DEC regional offices or listening online sat up and took notice.
“From my perspective, I see (the September muzzleloader season) as the best option,” Hurst said during the May 10 webinar. “I believe it would be the most effective at achieving the antlerless harvest that’s necessary (in select units).”
Hurst’s comments came as no shock to those in attendance at various regional sites or listening in online; the possibility of a September, antlerless-only muzzleloader deer offering to trim whitetail numbers in some WMUs has been outlined as the third option if two previous steps failed to yield the desired harvest.
And those two steps – more liberal use of bonus Deer Management Permits and last year’s failed antlerless-only restriction during the Oct. 1-15 slice of the archery season and again in the late archery-muzzleloader season – have, in fact, failed to generate the antlerless kill needed to keep deer numbers in check in those units.
“Using DMPs has not been effective,” Hurst said, “and we tried Phase 2 (the antlerless-only portion of archery and in the late archery-muzzleloader season) with little success. So we’re moving on to the third phase.”
In addition to the September muzzleloader season in those WMUs (primarily in the Lake Ontario Plains region but also in a couple of southeastern New York units), other options in the discussion stage are a muzzleloader season “during one of our existing seasons,” Hurst said, alluding to the possibility of the smokepole-during-archery offering. Too, DEC has discussed a “late late” muzzleloader season after the existing late archery-muzzleloader season.
Hurst reminded hunters and others, however, that there is no regulatory proposal on the table at this point, or even in the developmental stage. And DEC officials recognize, particularly after last year’s failed antlerless-only plan, that hunter support is critical to the success of any proposal.
“We know there’s a lot of concern from hunters, and we want to work with hunters to find an avenue that is compatible with hunter interests,” he said.
And the likelihood of any such proposal being implemented for this fall is slim, since the clock is ticking. Introducing a regulatory proposal would have to allow for a public comment period, and that would likely push the process well past the deadline for publication in the annual hunting regulations guide for 2016-17. Given the impact of such a move, DEC officials would almost assuredly want to have the regulation in place for the guide to alert hunters to the change.
Hurst’s webinar presentation outlined DEC’s ongoing update of its deer management plan; its recent decision to encourage voluntary restraint in harvesting yearling bucks and stopping short of imposing mandatory antler restrictions across the state; and other deer management issues (urban and suburban whitetail problems, Chronic Wasting Disease, and impacts on forests).
The two webinars didn’t generate high participation, likely because from a hunting standpoint, the critical issue of antler restrictions had already been put to rest with DEC’s decision not to impose mandatory three-points-on-one-side regulations.