Signs point to good year for NY big game hunters

New York’s firearms season for deer and bear opens Saturday.

Everything points to a good year for New York’s firearms season for deer and bear, which opens Saturday in the Southern Zone.

New York big game hunting licenses are up 15% over 2019, so it looks like there will be more hunters in the woods and fields of the Southern Tier.

If results from the archery season are any indication, there are plenty of deer out there, with more hunters buying into efforts to let younger bucks go so they will grow and become a better trophy a year or two later.

Ryan Rockefeller, a big game biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said this is the second year in a row with a bumper crop of acorns, a favorite mast crop for deer.

“Archery season is on par with last year, maybe a little bit above,” Rockefeller said, noting hunters have been successful and the weather has for the most part cooperated.

The DEC’s Let the Young Buck Go program has had somewhat of a snowball effect, Rockefeller said, noting, “We’re seeing more older bucks.”

DEC officials still say it’s the hunters choice, but urge younger bucks be passed up if possible. “Hunter’s choice is important,” Rockefeller said.

Meanwhile, the doe population seems to be healthy. “There are many 4- and 5-year-old does,” Rockefeller said. “There was good fawn production this year after another mild winter.”

Based on reports by hunters and DEC checks at deer processing locations, archers were able to get some very nice deer.

It’s important for hunters to report their big game hunting successes. It can be done by mail, with a cellphone app or by phone. The data helps DEC managers in setting future tag limits in deer management units.

The DEC won’t have any deer checking stations along routes 16 or 219 this year due to COVID-19 concerns, Rockefeller said.

“We postponed it this year, but we hope to be able to set up the stations next year,” he said.

Rockefeller said warmer weather on Saturday may mean that deer won’t be moving around much as they continue to eat mast crops and build their winter fat reserves. Ridges with oak trees will probably harbor deer, for example.

The breeding season is still ongoing, so there will be some bucks chasing does, too.

Last year, deer hunters in Cattaraugus County took 8,688 deer, 4,870 of which were adult bucks. There were 52 bears taken in Cattaraugus County in 2019.

Statewide, hunters took 98,944 bucks, 74,507 does, 10,574 male fawns and 9,927 female fawns.

Hunters across the state took 1,179 bears in 2019 as compared to 804 in 2018. The five-year average is 1,022 bears.

Hunters in Allegany County took 8,074 deer including 6,117 bucks. There were 51 bears taken in Allegany County in 2019.

The firearms season runs through Dec. 13. A late bowhunting and muzzleloader season follows from Dec. 14-22.

The DEC teaches four simple gun-safety measures all hunters need to follow:

• Point your gun in a safe direction.

• Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

• Be sure of your target and beyond.

• Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

DEC encourages all hunters to wear blaze orange or pink to make themselves more visible to other hunters. Hunters who wear hunter orange are seven times less likely to be involved in an accidental shooting.

In recent years, more hunters have died in falls from tree stands than were shot by other hunters.

When hunting in treestands, use a safety harness and a climbing belt, as most tree stand accidents occur when hunters are climbing in and out of stands. Hunters should never climb in or out of a tree stand with a loaded firearm.

While there has not been a confirmed case of chronic wasting disease in deer since 2005, DEC urges hunters to remain vigilant in their efforts to prevent introducing it to New York. Hunters returning from out of state with deer or elk need to follow strict DEC protocols to prevent introducing chronic wasting disease in the state.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)