Many of you will recall that the antler restrictions imposed by the DEC for some Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) last year weren't received well by most hunters. Some even refused to hunt those areas at all in protest. Now, following a multi-year study, which included a statewide survey of 7,000 deer hunters, DEC wants to approach whitetail management differently moving forward.
Instead of imposing more restrictions, DEC has opted to take advantage of something the study revealed: hunters prefer to take older bucks. Since 1996, the percentage of the whitetail harvest consisting of bucks 2.5 years and up has steadily risen. DEC calls this "voluntary restraint" and it is an undeniable trend among deer hunters.
Still, the study revealed the complexity of the issue. One of the documents produced by the study, Factors Influencing Hunters' Attitudes on Restrictions on Buck Harvest to Protect Young Bucks (PDF 314 kB) 2015, concluded by stating in-part, "New York's deer hunters are a diverse bunch with differing visions as to what deer hunting should be." It went on to say that a third of hunters are primarily interested in seeing and taking big bucks. The hunters are generally supportive of restrictions which protect young bucks. There's also another third who want the freedom to shoot any deer they wish. The rest fall somewhere in the middle, with a mixture of positions on the topic.
So the new plan is to simply encourage the continuation and expansion of
this growing practice of "voluntary restraint". DEC plans to work with
sportsmen and women and other stakeholder groups to develop a
cooperative, educational effort to encourage hunters to pass up shots at
young bucks. These stockholder groups include the New York State
Conservation Council (NYSCC) and Quality Deer Management Association
(QDMA), which is known to encourage choosy whitetail hunting practices.
"The issue of antler restrictions has divided our deer hunting community for too many years," said Larry Becker, Chairman of the New York Sportsmen's Advisory Council. "It is most important that everyone understands that DEC has listened to what the majority of the deer hunters in the State want and that this was the primary factor that drove the final decision. The hunters spoke and DEC listened."
Kip Adams, QDMA Director of Education & Outreach, said "The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) is pleased New York has engaged its deer hunters at such a high level to learn their values and desires. We feel this is a positive step for the DEC and for hunters, and we are extremely supportive of the Department's proposed educational campaign on the benefits of protecting yearling bucks."