White-tailed deer head NYON’s top 10 stories of 2016


Waverly, N.Y. — It was a year in which the news, good and bad, came from both in the field and on the water, as well as in the offices of the DEC.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, three of 2016’s top New York Outdoor News stories involved the state’s marquee big-game animal, the white-tailed deer.

Included among those three is the No. 1 NYON news story of the year, DEC’s decision not to expand mandatory antler restrictions but instead undertake a promotional effort urging hunters to pass on yearling bucks and “let them grow.”

Among the most contentious of debates within the Empire State’s deer hunting community, mandatory antler restrictions remains just that despite DEC’s decision not to impose additional three-points-on-one-side regulations beyond those that exist in several southeastern New York wildlife management units.

But after an exhaustive – some say too exhaustive – survey of the state’s whitetail hunters, DEC deer managers decided the divisive issue is such that no mandatory move should be made.

Instead, the state, with the help of the Quality Deer Management Association and others, launched at PR effort urging hunters to pass on young bucks – something which DEC deer harvest statistics show is already happening with increased frequency.

Two other deer hunting-related stories also checked into our Top 10.

DEC’s decision to scrap a failed antlerless-only limitation during the Oct. 1-15 slice of the archery season (and again during the late muzzleloader-archery season) in some WMUs where whitetail numbers need to be trimmed weighed in at No. 4 on our list for 2016.

DEC stats showed the move, made after increased Deer Management Permit allocations and bonus DMPs failed to generate a boost in the deer kill, simply didn’t work. Hunters in those units simply sat out the early portion of the archery season or traveled to other nearby units where the antlerless-only restriction didn’t exist.

As a result, the regulation was “one and done.”

And DEC’s annual deer harvest tally, released earlier in the year following the 2015-16 seasons, checked in at our No. 6 story on the list – for all the wrong reasons if you’re an Empire State deer hunter.

The 2015 season was a forgettable one, with warm weather hampering hunters much of the way and serving as a major factor in a sharply lower deer harvest. The overall take was down by about 15 percent, and the buck kill dipped by 8.3 percent.

Other top news stories in the pages of New York Outdoor News this year were:

• the shooting of on-duty environmental conservation officer James Davey, who was wounded by a rifle round fired by a hunter during an investigation into poaching and shooting after hours in Columbia County in November. The No. 2 news story of 2016, ECO Davey survived but faces a long road to recovery; the suspect faces several charges in connection with the incident. The shooting was the first of an on-duty ECO in about 30 years.

• the No. 3 story of the year involved the DEC’s decision to reduce the stocking of chinook salmon in Lake Ontario by 20 percent next year. The move was made in response to a sharp decline in alewives in the big lake; they are a major part of the salmon’s forage base. The decision – lake trout stockings will also be trimmed – was met with a fair amount of opposition from the angling community. Similar stocking cuts were planned by Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario.

• another fishing story made the NYON Top 10 list, as a record-tying smallmouth bass was caught by an angler on the St. Lawrence River. While other state standards have been eclipsed in recent years (including the state record drum, caught by 12-year-old Amelia Whalen in Lake Champlain this year), the bronzeback mark of 8 pounds, 4 ounces had remained solid. Patrick Hildenbrand’s mark-matching fish tied a record that has stood since 1995. And best of all, Hildenbrand’s monster smallmouth was released back into the big river.

• the No. 7 story of 2016 was the graduation of a class of environmental conservation officers and forest rangers from the 20th Basic School for Uniformed Officers in Pulaski. The 48 graduates – 31 ECOs and 17 forest rangers –help fill the ranks depleted by retirements across the state. And the news got even better later in the year when indications were that another class will be held in 2017.

• NYON’s No. 8 story of 2016 was definitely a “good news” story, even if it occurred the previous year. DEC officials earlier this year announced the 2015 hunting season was a record safe year, with no hunting-related shooting fatalities among the 23 incidents reported during the 2015 season. That’s the good news; the bad news is that this story won’t make the 2017 list. There have been several hunting-related shooting deaths this season, as well as the near-fatal shooting of environmental conservation officer James Davey.

• our No. 9 story involves changes at the top of the DEC leadership ladder, with the retirements of DEC Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Patricia Riexinger and Fisheries Bureau Chief Phil Hulbert. DEC has been slow to name replacements to those posts but look for announcements early in 2016.

• the final spot on our Top 10 list belongs to a story whose final chapter has yet to be written. The battle for access to the Boreas Ponds tract purchased by the state has pitted sportsmen and women on the side of less restrictive access to the Adirondacks parcel, against those seeking a Wilderness classification. Both sides stated their case during a series of public hearings on the issue, and the Adirondack Park Agency will render a decision on the matter before sending it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his approval.

Categories: Hunting News, News

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