Albany — For many Southern Zone deer hunters, about the only positive statement they could offer up at the close of the 2015-16 season was that it was over.
Unseasonably warm weather stalled deer movement and led to a frustrating season for many hunters, and their frustration was backed by DEC’s harvest figures, which showed a 15 percent dip in the overall deer kill and an 8.3 percent decline in the buck take.
And the Southern Zone accounts for the bulk – about 85 percent – of the statewide harvest, so its hunters were grumbling through and after the season.
That could change this year.
The same mild weather during last year’s deer season continued after, allowing whitetails to cruise through the winter with virtually no mortality and excellent fawn survival.
As a result, DEC deer managers say hunters should see more deer afield compared to last year.
“Many of these deer will be young animals, as conditions were excellent for overwinter fawn survival and production this spring,” DEC Big Game Unit Leader Jeremy Hurst said in his pre-season forecast. “Too, the 2015 deer harvest appeared slightly depressed by the combination of ample mast and unusually warm weather during the regular firearms season, which reduced daytime movements of deer and reduced hunter success. So, with slightly greater survival through last year’s deer season, good food supply, and a very easy winter, we expect that the deer population is poised to rebound quite well from the harsh winter of 2014-15 and antler growth to be above average this fall.”
Heading into the season, DEC biologists are projecting a stable or slightly higher buck kill in the Southern Zone, along with a potential decline in the antlerless harvest. That dip, however, would be more a product of a roughly 9 percent decline in Deer Management Permits.
“The minor reduction in DMP availability reflects a continued conservative approach for antlerless harvest in many WMUs)where we would like to allow deer populations to increase and where winter was particularly severe in 2013-14 and 2014-15,” Hurst said. “Also, in a handful of WMUs where deer populations are larger than desired but showing progress declining toward objective levels, we reduced DMP allocations to keep pace with population changes.”
There are a couple of noteworthy regulations changes this season.
The Oct. 8-10 youth deer hunt for 14- and 15-year-old hunters will this year allow those youths to harvest a black bear if the opportunity arises.
And the widely criticized regulation that limited archery hunters to taking only antlerless deer in several units from Oct. 1-15 and again for hunters during the late archery-muzzleloader season has been scrapped. That regulation, DEC officials said, didn’t generate the kind of antlerless harvest DEC deer managers were hoping for.
Instead, DEC is eyeing “alternative strategies” to boost the antlerless kill in specific WMUs, including a possible special muzzleloader season some units.
And a new regulation this year looks to reduce the antlerless harvest in WMUs 6F and 6J by prohibiting the take of antlerless deer during the early muzzleloader season in those units. That regulation is similar to one that has been in effect in WMUs 6A and 6N.
This is also the first year DEC is making a concerted effort urging hunters to consider passing on yearling bucks, a “let them grow” educational plan put in place in lieu of expanding antler restrictions to other areas of the state.
“Many New York hunters are already voluntarily choosing to pass young, small antlered bucks. As a result, the availability and harvest of older, larger antlered bucks has been increasing,” Hurst said, noting that the yearling buck harvest is slowly declining as more hunters decide to let them walk.
DEC officials this year also encouraged hunters to help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (which hasn’t been detected since seven cases in 2005) by not using deer urine-based attractants; by following state law restricting the transport of whitetail carcasses from other states; disposing of carcass waste in a landfill; and reporting any deer that appears to be acting sick or abnormally.
DEC also in a news release took a swipe at hunting preserves, which have been responsible for many CWD outbreaks in other states. The news releases urges hunters to “hunt only wild deer and support fair chase hunting principles.”
Successful hunters are also urged to report their harvest, which is mandated by environmental conservation law but has a compliance rate of under 50 percent.
A listing of Southern Zone – and Northern Zone – deer and bear hunting seasons appears on Page 31 of this issue.