For those who have not kept up, the state is in the process of formulating a plan that biologists hope will help them better manage the white-tailed deer herd here, and new rules and season dates will most likely emerge as a result — some as early as next year.
What does that mean to you? Well, that depends on your preferred hunting method and where you like to pursue deer.
First and foremost, despite what you may have heard about the plan, I’m guessing there’s nothing in it that’s going to prompt you to sprint to the pickup and tear up your hunting license in protest.
There is a ton of misinformation and rumors circulating about the plan, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is asking all hunters to learn the facts before forming an opinion.
So, for those who have not curled up in an easy chair with the 57-page document, I am going to do my best to simplify its contents and explain how the changes might affect you.
Then, if you are upset about a particular part of the plan, at least you can make an informed response to the DEC.
Biologists would like to switch to an across-the-board doe permit system instead of allowing a deer of either sex or antlerless only to be taken during bow and muzzleloader seasons.
That means a hunter with the appropriate tags would still be allowed two bucks — one during regular season and one during primitive arms — but would need to obtain a deer management permit to take a doe during bow, muzzleloader or regular season, anywhere in the state.
I spoke at length to state Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Hurst, who was instrumental in compiling the new plan and the recommendations in it.
He said it is very difficult for biologists to have “scale control” when hunters are allowed to take does with both bow and muzzleloader tags every year.
“In some cases, that’s not what’s best for deer management,” Hurst said.
Instead, biologists would like to be able to issue doe permits based on the health of the herd each year — giving out more where needed and less where the herd is struggling from factors like winter kill.
That would keep the number of deer more level from one year to the next based on what an area can support, Hurst said.
The flip side to that, Hurst acknowledged, is that not as many deer management permits would be issued in areas with low deer densities, like the Adirondacks.
“The reality is, in low population densities, we can’t afford much antlerless harvest,” he said. “If we had a year where we saw a big swing in deer or hunter numbers, the impact on the herd could be scary. It would take many years to rebound.”
At the same time, it would open an opportunity for rifle hunters to take a doe anywhere in the state with a deer management permit for that area.
Another area that is sure to spark some conversation in hunting camp is with regard to antler restrictions. The state proposes increasing the hunting area where antler restrictions are in place. Restrictions were put in place in 2006 in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 3C, 3H, 3J, and 3K. In these units, bucks taken have to have at least one antler with three or more points which are at least 1 inch long, including brow tines.
The goal is to increase the opportunity to harvest 2-plus-year-old bucks with greater antler growth.
The proposal on the table is to increase those restrictions to include WMUs 3A, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S, and 4W, in counties like Schoharie, Greene, Delaware and Ulster, around and south of Albany.
The plan quotes some startling statistics about dwindling hunter numbers, so in response, the DEC seems focused on getting more kids afield, and has proposed a special three-day firearms season Columbus Day weekend. The DEC is also advocating to lower the legal age to hunt big game to 12, something 46 other states have already done.
Hurst said officials contemplated allowing youth out in late September, prior to bow season, but that plan didn’t coincide with the license year, which renews Oct. 1.
To appease bowhunters who will have to share the forest with youth gun hunters for three days, the DEC is proposing lengthening the bow season to the north and south. Under the plan, bow would open Sept. 27 to the north and Oct. 1 to the south. The northern season would run through muzzleloader, which would open a week later on Oct. 20. Regular season to the north would then start Oct. 27 and run through Dec. 9, and a week of late muzzleloader after that.
The southern bow season would run Oct. 1-Nov. 16 when regular season would kick in, which would wrap up Dec. 9 and muzzleloader would follow Dec. 10-18.
A proposal to mix in a four-day early muzzleloader season from Oct. 9-12 in the southern zone has stirred much controversy, as rumors have circulated that it is in the works for most or all of the southern zone. But Hurst said that’s not the case. Instead, the concept is to leave the option open for a muzzleloader season in areas with very high deer populations.
Only then would a WMU be open to the early muzzleloader hunt, he said.
DEC has taken more than 2,000 comments dating back to 2009 on this plan, and a majority of New Yorkers support the use of crossbows for all seasons, especially for those with physical disabilities, so DEC officials are endorsing them for use in the plan.
The state is also proposing reducing the setback required for using longbows and crossbows around structures from the current 500 feet to 150.
And, lastly, DEC is proposing an increase in fines and civil penalties for violators. The current penalty structure hasn’t changed since 1996, and many sportsmen’s groups support bigger penalties for those who illegally take wildlife.
According to Hurst, some of these proposals are more likely to be seen before others. The DEC is allowed to establish some rules on its own, like antler restrictions and season dates, while others take new laws in Albany.
Recommendations like the minimum hunting age, increasing penalties and the use of crossbows, for example, take legislative approval, and will therefore take more time to put in place, as will a change to an across-the-board doe permit system in the northern zone.
“Some of these are really just a concept, so lets not jump the gun,” Hurst cautioned. “There is no way, for example, that the Deer Management Permit system would come into play next year.”
How to comment
For those who have not spoken up, the public comment period on the plan ended July 28, but Hurst said it will be several months before the plan is finalized and his office is not ignoring the opinion of those who are still submitting comments.
Comments may be submitted in writing to DEC Deer Management Plan, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hurst can also be contacted directly at 402-8867.
The plan can be found in its entirety at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7211.html.