When the holiday-week deer hunt in the Southern Zone was first proposed, my initial reaction was a possible conflict with the snowmobiling season.
Coming from a region where – at least when there’s snow – snowmobiling is big business – I shared my concerns in this space. DEC was well aware of such possible conflicts, and ahead of last year’s hunt addressed the situation by opening up a public comment period and possibly allowing counties the option to opt out of the hunt, similar to what was offered for the pilot junior hunting program. The hunt went forward in the Southern Zone counties with none opting out.
Legislation passed earlier this year could be headed to the governor’s desk any day that would take the decision of county participation in the holiday-week hunt out of the hands of DEC. This has sportsmen’s groups like the New York State Conservation Council concerned, as most in the sporting community prefer that decisions regarding fish and wildlife regulations, particularly hunting seasons (including crossbow), be in the hands of people knowledgeable of such matters rather than politicians. Of course, when one’s desired outcome of such decisions is more favorable from the legislative side, the old “if Dad says ‘no’ ask Mom,” situation comes into play.
That’s what we have with A7785/S6510, which passed both houses in May and, at press time, had yet to be delivered to the governor’s desk but could at any time, joining a stack of bills awaiting her signature.
The NYSCC has another concern, a legitimate one if you are a hunter, and that is the fact the language in these bills reads that a county by resolution or law, can prohibit “any hunting” during the seven-day holiday week hunt. “The term ‘any hunting’ makes us believe that counties will be able to prohibit any hunting season occurring during this period, including waterfowl and small game hunting,” the NYSCC recently said in a statement that suggested sportsmen contact the governor and ask her not to sign the legislation.
Getting back to the snowmobiling conflict, this too remains a legitimate concern and my biggest one is a wedge that could be driven between hunters and snowmobilers, and the fact that many people in this state come from both camps. When covering the issue during and after last year’s public comment period, what DEC Big Game Unit Leader Jeremy Hurst told this publication put some of those concerns at ease, saying “there’s nowhere in the southern part of the state where we have snow during that seven-day window every year. There’s maybe two counties that have it about 40% of time, and that would be Chautauqua and Erie.”
We obviously can’t control the weather and there’s bound to be one of those years when snow is more prevalent during the holidays than may have been the case in recent years. And while snowmobile clubs can open their trails after rifle/shotgun seasons end, they tend to wait until all big game seasons are over before doing so, as a courtesy. They also need time set them up with signs, repairs, brush clearing and so on. With that, let’s let the two camps and DEC figure this out together and not leave it up to our state’s politicians and governor.
Yet another major concern is how far are we going to go in the hunting sector with opting in and out of different things, which is a route some have suggested we take with crossbow hunting. If we keep going down that road it will only lead to more confusion. Right now there is a high priority on making the pilot junior hunting program, which expires after next hunting season, permanent and broad across the entire state. If anything we should try to get away from a la carte regulations.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to enjoying the holiday-week hunt for the first time – having secured access this year to some Southern Zone property – and will be doing so along with my brother and a young West Point cadette who will be home for the holidays. This is exactly the situation DEC intended when establishing this season.