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Outdoor Tales

Deer plan has holes

Faithful followers of this column undoubtedly fell off their seats last week when I actually penned something on the state’s proposed deer management plan that was chock full of factoids but absent of my ever-so-superfluous opinion.

Well, this week you won’t be disappointed.

Before I smash the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan on the floor and jump up and down on it with football cleats, however, I first want to commend them for the effort. Honestly, we’ve had too many knee-jerk regulations put in place in the past without a thorough process involving public input and sound science. It is nice to see wildlife managers step back and look at the broader picture in the interest of a healthier herd.

The DEC has received well over 2,000 comments on this plan over the past two years, and it appears as if they are listening to us. Recommendations like expanding youth hunting and huntable land as well as increasing crossbow use and opportunities for disabled hunters are evidence of that.

But other recommendations, while put forth with good intention, are seriously flawed in my opinion — mainly because DEC just doesn’t have the “boots on the ground” to adequately implement and track them.

They are certainly not at fault for that. If the state would free up the $26-$28 million we sportsmen have sitting in the conservation fund, perhaps the trend of not filling badly-needed positions at the DEC would end.

In the meantime, I have to question the viability of proposals like the one to switch to an across-the-board doe permit system, without enough staff in place to implement them.

There is no question that a doe permit system would require a careful tracking mechanism to determine the size of the herd in any given area to work. Currently, the DEC relies heavily on things like doe sightings reported by bowhunters when determining deer numbers, and thus how many doe permits an area can support.

I’m not so sure that type of analysis of the population is going to provide sufficient data to accurately base doe permit numbers on. I also doubt they could estimate the herd quickly enough in the spring to doll out the correct number of doe permits that fall.

Further, I know wildlife officials who would argue that deer numbers change very little from one year to the next — at least in the northern zone — even after doe harvest is allowed with primitive arms. So what exactly will be gained?

Plus, I think many northern zone hunters have the same concern as me in that very few permits would be issued here. That, to me, means less opportunities for the ever-dwindling number of folks who still hunt here. According to the state’s own numbers, deer hunting has dropped 40 percent since 1980 — can we really afford to drive anymore away?

I just don’t think the deer population, the number of hunters or the number of antlerless deer they take during bow and muzzleloader seasons fluctuates that much, and it certainly hasn’t decimated the herd. At the same time, I would argue that the DEC routinely underestimates the number of people who harvest deer yet fail to report their take as required — but that’s a column for another day.

Antler restrictions I’ll keep this one short and sweet — I’m not a fan of antler restrictions. I’m not a trophy hunter — never have been. Nice antlers are a bonus, but they’re really chewy no matter how thin you slice them. You want monster racks? Watch the outdoor channel. I’m also skeptical that antler restrictions would make much of a difference in New York. Unless you’re talking about a heavily managed ranch somewhere, I’ve seen very little hard evidence that restrictions actually create more opportunity for larger racked deer, at least in the wild. In fact, I’ve read studies that say just the opposite — that removing the herd’s older deer with the best genetics can actually be detrimental to antler growth. Meanwhile, young deer taste better and are often less apt to make it through a severe winter. This region has always been about survival of the fittest — so why harvest only the fittest?

Longer season Lastly, I just can’t bite my tongue on the proposed extension of the seasons, most of which benefits bow hunters.

Before I continue, though, I want to make one point absolutely clear — I am an avid bowhunter — I absolutely love the sport and I admire anyone with the patience and dedication to harvest a deer with a bow.

But it seems like every time the state tries to increase opportunities — youth and crossbow hunting immediately come to mind — they first have to appease the bowhunting lobby before it can be enacted.

You can’t tell me that the addition of nearly two weeks to the front end of the bow season in the southern zone, for example, wasn’t an olive branch given to bowhunters because they will have to put up with three days of youth in the woods with firearms.

An additional week of bowhunting is also proposed for the northern zone, pushing the last day of regular season to Dec. 9 and the last day of late muzzleloader to Dec. 16. I don’t know about where you hunt, but around my camp the deer are normally in their yards by then, and does are pregnant.

Is a season at that time sound science? Here’s an idea; change the license year to allow kids in the woods before Oct. 1. Then, why not give them first crack at the forest when the deer are still in their natural patterns.
Wait a minute .... was that a collective gasp of air I just heard from the bowhunter groups?

Better tack on another week of bow or it’ll never fly.

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