Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Reflecting on 30 years in the business of New York’s outdoors

In 30 years of outdoor writing, Dan Ladd has found the whitetailed deer to be the center of attention in New York, in positive, negative and often highly debatable aspects. (Photo by Dan Ladd)

Deer: No. 1 topic

While sipping on some egg nog over the holidays I realized that 2023 will mark 30 years that I’ve been in the outdoor writing business. I’ve seen and learned so much along the way.

I did a fair amount of radio broadcasting and covered sports for the campus newspaper while in college in the 1980s, but my outdoor writing career started when a friend published a small hometown newspaper in 1993 and suggested I contribute.

Six years later, I was published in a popular regional newspaper, The Chronicle, in Glens Falls, where I eventually became a weekly outdoor columnist, before joining this publication in 2020.

My journey might not be important to anyone other than myself, but along the way I’ve seen so much and after 30 years there is plenty worth reflecting on and perhaps some lessons to be learned.

Most notable, and likely because I’m captivated by deer, is what has transpired in New York, and everywhere for that matter, with whitetails and deer hunting in general. There certainly has been some accomplishments in this state, especially when it comes to youth hunting.

During my first decade of writing, there was little hope that New York would ever lower the big game hunting age requirement below 16. But it started with a lower small game hunting age, and in 2004, the first youth turkey hunting weekend was held. Then in 2008 the big game hunting age was lowered from 16 to 14. That was a game-changer. Along the way, this state has established youth waterfowl and pheasant hunts, a youth trapping program, and over a decade ago, in 2012, the youth deer hunting weekend was realized.

These have all been forward stepping-stones to the current pilot junior hunting program instituted last year, but expiring after this year, that allows 12- and 13-year-olds to hunt deer. Hopefully this will not only be made permanent, but black bear hunting, which is legal for 14- and 15-year olds, will be added to the mix.

There have been plenty of changes in deer season structure in recent decades. In the late 1990s, there was a two-week early muzzleloading season in the Northern Zone, which was eventually changed to one. And the advent of the Super Sportsman’s license and a second buck tag certainly boosted both archery and muzzleloading participation. Now some hunters want that second buck tag omitted. As for myself, I like the second buck opportunity in the Northern Zone.

I also remember a proposal in the early 2000s that would have established an early muzzleloading season in the Southern Zone. That proposal was paired with changing the opening day of Southern Zone archery season from Oct. 15 to Oct. 1. I still have the micro-cassette recording from that heated meeting I attended and reported on over those proposals.

At the meeting, a regional representative and members of a particular organization vehemently opposed both proposals, saying that it was too warm to start bowhunting Oct. 1, and that a muzzleloading season would be disruptive to bowhunters. Neither of the proposals were adopted at that time.

Ironically, about five years later, I was part of a lunch meeting with then-DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, and two members of this same group were there to campaign for – you guessed it – an Oct. 1 Southern Zone archery opener. When I reminded them of the previous opportunity and the meeting comments from their members about it being too warm (and that I had it on tape), their faces turned red. We later shook hands and laughed about it, and the Oct. 1 archery opener was eventually realized.

Moving the Southern Zone firearms opener from Monday to Saturday back in 2005 was very controversial. But eventually firearms seasons in both zones were solidified and as we’ve seen in recent years, some seasons have been added or tweaked. Will we see more of this in future years? Perhaps we will if suggestions in deer management plans come to fruition, especially where managing whitetail populations are concerned.

Speaking of deer management plans, there have been all kinds of proposals over the years within them. Over a decade ago, antlerless deer permits were suggested in the Northern Zone, rather than an open season on antlerless deer during the muzzleloading and archery seasons.

Personally, I liked the idea, but it was not popular with many hunters.

In 2015, there was talk of shortening the Northern Zone season by starting it later. That didn’t happen. And again, muzzleloading seasons have been tweaked over the years. I also recall, about that time, DEC surveying hunters on antler restrictions, with the result being today’s “let them grow” awareness campaign, leaving it up to the individual to decide. Fair enough?

When I began writing 30 years ago, you didn’t hear much about diseases. In 2002, I recall reporting on a meeting with DEC on the prevention of chronic wasting disease (CWD). Three years later, in 2005, it came to be a reality when the disease was discovered in Oneida County, and now we can’t afford to look back. These days, CWD is a top consideration when it comes to managing whitetails everywhere, not just in New York. And of course, we now have EHD and blue tongue disease.

Finally, two more topics that have earned a lot of ink over the years are the crossbow debate and that over lead ammunition. Neither are going away. In both cases, it’s likely only a matter of time before they both evolve to fruition. Crossbow hunting is simply becoming a staple nationwide and sooner or later New York will catch up (or catch on). Like youth hunting, the stepping stones are in place.

That too could likely be said about a lead ammunition ban of some sort. Considering the gun laws our state legislators have recently passed, it’s only a question of when lead ammo garners more of their attention.

There’s been so much to observe in 30 years for this writer, and while deer hunting has led the way, there have certainly been other observations in other outdoor genres, not to mention technology. Perhaps we’ll catch up those another time, as we wonder what the future and 2023 behold.

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