Deer-hunter numbers are declining, and existing hunters should be given more opportunities to keep the population sustainable, which reduces damage to forest ecosystems and agriculture and minimizes vehicle collisions. That’s the overall takeaway from the DEC’s draft ten-year deer management plan. The 79-page document can be viewed on the DEC’s website (https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7211.html).
- Extend shooting hours from 30-minutes-before-sunrise to 30-minutes-after-sunset; (currently it’s sunrise to sunset)
- Permit crossbow use during entire archery season; (currently they’re allowed in the final two weeks before firearms season plus one week after)
- Lower the minimum age for youth hunters from 14 to twelve
- Create tax incentives for landowners to allow public hunting on their property
- Prohibit use of natural deer urine products as an attractant to prevent possible spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal condition that began in the Midwest and is gradually making its way to New York State
The report notes the regulations in other states and hunter opinion to support the decision for each of these points. Other recommendations geared toward reducing deer numbers in overpopulated areas would likely not have an impact on the Mid-Hudson Valley. They include reducing hunting prohibitions in suburban areas and allowing a doe-only firearms season in September where the DEC deems it necessary.
The latest round of changes is part of a trend tilting the odds toward hunters as deer numbers remain strong while hunter numbers decline. After being nearly wiped out through unregulated and market hunting at the turn of the previous century, the population of white-tailed deer in New York State increased to around 400,000 in the 1970s and is now around 950,000. Each year New York hunters claim around 200,000. and another 60,000 to 70,000 are hit by vehicles.
Veteran hunters will recall when the sight of a buck was rare, when a group of hunters needed to apply for a “party permit” to harvest one antlerless deer among them, when it was illegal to shoot a deer out of a tree stand with a firearm, when opening day of firearm season could be on a weekday, and when many parts of the state prohibited the use of rifles and instead required hunters use shotguns (which have significantly less range).
The average age of hunters in New York State is 49.5 years, about 13 years older than the overall population, and deer-hunting participation has declined by about 40 percent since its high point in the mid-1980s. The DEC cites urbanization and decreased access private land for hunting as two leading factors, with the recommended tax incentives as a possible remedy for the latter.
Bucking the long-term trend, hunting participation in 2020 increased significantly over years past. The likely cause for this, according to an analysis by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, is coronavirus, which gave people more time to consider taking up a new hobby. Plus, the DEC made the hunter safety course online-only, which is easier to attend, and enrollment nearly tripled over a typical year from 20,000 to just under 60,000. In addition, sale of hunting licenses was up about 15 percent during the first month they went on sale. The report notes that hunting is an outdoor pursuit that is naturally socially distanced.
Public comments on the plan can be submitted through December 28 to email@example.com (use “Deer Plan” in the subject line) or by mail to DEC Deer Management Plan, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.