Mandatory antler restrictions a boon to hunters and economy

By Brian Sweeney
Restrictions on antler sizes will be expanded to the Catskills during the 2012 white-tailed deer hunting season, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has announced.
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) unveiled a number of changes of last week as part of its Five-Year Deer Management Plan.

The DEC will extend mandatory Yearling Buck Protection with Antler Restrictions (a minimum of three points on one side) into Wildlife Management Units 3A, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S and 4W — located in Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware, Greene and Schoharie counties — as called for in the Deer Management Plan.

This change, which was previously in effect in other parts of the state, is designed to ensure the long-term health of the deer population.

“The DEC is working to develop a systematic and objective process to guide future decisions regarding antler restrictions or other buck harvest strategies to best satisfy the desires of New York deer hunters and stakeholders,” officials said, explaining the strategy.

Old rules hurt herd
Under previous guidelines, allowing the harvest of bucks with a minimum of one three-inch antler resulted in most bucks in NY being taken as immature juveniles before they can reach adulthood, according to the DEC.

The new rules allow the DEC to market to hunters the promise of a plentiful supply of adult bucks.
In a study by Cornell Surveys, commissioned by the DEC, data showed that most hunters in New York favor greater restrictions on antler sizes.

A number of representatives of sportsmen’s groups praised the DEC for expanding the Antler Restrictions (AR).

Joe Montalbano, from Ulster County, remarked, “We have really seen excellent results in our area. It used to be that a fork horn was the normal buck but now with antler restrictions the new normal buck is an eight-pointer.”

Change of heart
He added,”I have to admit when Antler Restrictions were proposed in 2004 I strongly opposed them at our federation meetings. To anyone who is opposed to it now, I would say, ‘Go for it 100 percent — it really works!’ Our club, Marbletown Sportsmen, for the first time in its 62-year history has harvested an 11-point buck and other clubs are having the same success.”
Delaware County Economic Development spokesman Bill Willis praised the new AR,

Boost to business
“Most deer hunters are dissatisfied with their buck hunting and this is clearly shown in the fact that New York is losing two hunters for every new hunter recruited. This will have large economic impacts to the state. New York deer hunters contribute over $700 million to the economy.”
Jay Martin, Big Game Chairman of the Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of Ulster County, was also enthusiastic about the expansion of AR.

“Protecting yearling bucks results in a large increase in the age of the bucks harvested. For example 3.5-year-old buck harvest is up 258 percent in the AR areas of Ulster and Sullivan counties. Both Ulster and Sullivan counties have harvested the biggest bucks since the late 1920s in the AR areas and the overall buck take is up 5.7 percent over the pre-AR harvest.

Dick Henry, a recently retired New York DEC biologist, said the Yearling Buck Protection program is having an enormous impact on the state’s deer herd.
“I have never seen a single white-tailed deer management program that has invigorated and excited hunters more. Hunters in the current AR areas are hunting a deer herd that many generations of NY hunters have never experienced,” he stated enthusiastically.

In other news, the state will also adjust bear hunting seasons to remain concurrent with deer seasons. DEC’s wildlife personnel believe that retaining a consistent season structure for big game hunting is currently preferable. It was noted, however, that future bear management might necessitate deviation from this approach.