With sporting licenses scheduled to go on sale Aug. 13, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation went right down to the wire in announcing anticipated and updated changes to deer-hunting regulations throughout the state, including up here in the northern zone.
Initially, DEC’s five-year deer management plan called for a 44-day season to open on the fourth Saturday in October. That has been changed, and the season will open on the second Saturday after Columbus Day. Thus, it will run from Oct. 20 through Dec. 2 this year, similar to years past.
DEC made this change regarding concerns many northern-zone hunters (myself included) had about the impacts of late muzzleloading season hunting that could extend into mid-December. Few of us want to see what happened in Benson (southern Hamilton County) a few years ago, when the deer yarded up early and were slaughtered by muzzleloader hunters coming in from all over. It really was fish in a barrel. In response, DEC made slight WMU boundary adjustments so that area would not be open for the late muzzleloading season.
As per the new regulations, the regular (rifle) season dates will be as follows in subsequent years: 2013, Oct. 26 to Dec. 8; 2014, Oct. 25 to Dec. 7; 2015, Oct. 24 to Dec. 6; and 2016, Oct. 22 to Dec. 4. WMUs in the Adirondack foothills normally have that week of muzzleloading hunting following the closing of the regular season. Add seven days to these closing dates to get the closing dates for late muzzleloading seasons.
One thing a 44-day regular season will guarantee is that hunting takes place for seven weekends. Some years, depending on the how the calendar fell, it had been eight weekends. The last time this was the case was in 2008.
Another proposal in the initial plan that has been altered is related to the hunting of antlerless deer. DEC had wanted to issue deer management (doe) permits for northern-zone archery and muzzleloading hunters. That is on hold and the either/or tag system will remain. What will change is that in WMUs where doe permits are issued, they will be able to be used in all seasons. Formerly they were to be used in rifle seasons only, but now can also be used during archery and muzzleloading seasons. These WMUs are all in Region 6 in the northern and western parts of the northern zone.
Sadly, what currently lies in limbo is the status of a potential youth season. What’s even sadder is the fact that it’s tied to crossbow legislation.
Sitting on Gov. Cuomo’s desk at press time is a bill to extend the current crossbow seasons (use in rifle and muzzleloading seasons only) beyond 2012 to 2014. However, this bill also contains language that would ban the use of crossbows or firearms (except for small game) prior to or during an archery season.
This language is the result of Long Island Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney’s reaction to his bowhunting constituents, including a well-organized campaign by New York Bowhunters Inc. to include this language in the bill. Furthermore, as the chairman of the Assembly’s Conservation Committee, he has the power to bring or hold back legislation as he sees fit. He did just that with a competing crossbow bill that would’ve given DEC the power to regulate crossbow seasons, rather than the Legislature. Sweeney and his supporters got their wish, for now.
As stated in a previous column, the crossbow issue is one that is dividing hunters and will likely continue to do so because it will not go away. Youth hunting is a different story. Across the nation states are not only implementing youth deer-hunting weekends, but are determining that they are working in terms of hunter recruitment and retention. New York’s youth turkey-hunting program is a prime example of this, as well.
Opponents to a youth season, especially certain bowhunters in the southern zone, say changing the opening day of rifle season from a Monday to a Saturday was done to increase youth participation. I beg to differ and say that is only partially true. What it more-so accomplished was giving everyone more opportunities, especially those of us in the working class who could not always get that Monday off.
Slight hope remains for a possible three-day youth hunt on Columbus Day weekend. That will not be possible if the governor signs the crossbow extension bill.
The rest of the changes are in place, including extending antler restrictions in the southern zone, as hunters start to prepare for another deer season — and, what could be an interesting one at that, before we even step into the woods.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.