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June 21, 2013

Restrictions on antlers a big deal

The Daily Star

---- — Recently, a number of people have been asking me what’s going to happen during this fall’s deer season with the three-point antler restriction. There have been rumors that the entire Southern Tier will have those restrictions this year.

Well, that’s why they’re called rumors. In other words, that’s not true.

But let’s look at the pilot program that led to this decision.

In 2005, the DEC launched the Pilot AR (Antler Restriction) Program in two deer management units in the southern Catskill region. Many hunters were opposed to this program, just as they were when Pennsylvania instituted a similar program statewide. But two years into the restrictions, the Pennsylvania hunters were ecstatic. Everyone was seeing bucks with larger racks. Deer hunters were seeing and harvesting more big bucks than they had ever dreamed.

By 2006, New York state increased the area with antler restrictions to two more management units, and last year it included 11 units encompassing the entire Catskill region.

For those unfamiliar with this program, any buck harvested in the designated area has to have at least three antler points on one side over one inch long. This program allows yearling deer (1 1/2-year-old bucks) to grow, which, in time, will increase the number of mature bucks in any given area.

In 2011, the DEC concluded that the program substantially reduced the proportion of yearling deer harvested. This was obvious and at the end of two years, there was an increase in the number of 2 1/2-year-old bucks that were harvested. In three years, the number of mature bucks harvested equaled the total number of bucks taken before the program was implemented.

In surveying hunters, the DEC concluded that local hunters were very satisfied with the results of the AR program, but hunters from out of the area were generally dissatisfied. But in the last few years, it seems as if everyone has seen the positive results of the program.

There are 11 units with three-point restrictions, and the DEC has no plans to expand this program to other units at this time.

Personally, I think that’s a mistake.

I think the entire state should be under the AR Program. Let’s face it, hunters want to take large-antlered deer. Look at the guys who go out of state to hunt every year. Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and Iowa produce slammer bucks in significant numbers annually. It’s not just the feed and genetics, it’s deer management as well.

New York is too concerned with the number of deer harvested rather that the quality of its deer. It boasts every year of the large number of deer taken by hunters.

Instead of adding more management units to the AR Program, they are suggesting voluntary antler restriction. That’s fine with me. In fact, I’m enforcing it on my property this year.

But guys tell me they shoot those little bucks because as soon as that deer crosses their property line, someone else shoots it. My philosophy is when you shoot a little buck, you’ve missed the opportunity of taking that bigger buck that’s coming along right behind the smaller one.

I think, in the future, we’ll see a state-wide antler restriction. The facts prove that it works.

If the DEC is so concerned about attracting the downstate and out-of-state hunters, it has to help increase the quality of our deer, not the number.

On a related note, the youth deer hunt for the 2013 season is Columbus Day weekend. Get kids involved because they’re the future of hunting.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at