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BIG CHANGES in deer hunting are coming next fall.

The number of deer management permits is being cut to 278,720 from 489,950 last season -- a 43 percent statewide rollback.

The number of hunters who must sign for an extra deer of either sex will go up from one hunter to two or three in some units.

Region 9 will see an increase from six "deer management units" (DMUs) to 12 as boundaries are shifted to split up some larger units.

"The expansion of the group size and cutback in the number of permits is, in part, a response to hunter complaints that the flood of DMU permits in recent years has resulted in the killing of too many does," said Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Art Woldt.

Woldt said issuing DMU permits is a "flexible management tool" game managers use to adjust the deer population.

The DEC estimates New York's deer herd is down only from about 750,000 before last fall's season to about 720,000 today, a number just about in balance with available habitat.

But in Region 9, the permit cutbacks will be sharper, averaging 57 percent, according to regional wildlife manager Terry Moore.

"We had 110,090 permits available last fall," he said. "Next fall, we'll cut those to 47,425 permits. And we will go back to the 'party permit system' in most units. Only five units here still will have the one-person party; the other seven will need multiple signatures."

The biggest change will be in DMU 90, Moore said, with a 64 percent decrease in available permits. The old Unit 90 covered southern Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. Now, parts of that unit will be split off to become parts of three new units, he said.

"Last year, 25,770 permits were available in Unit 90, although we issued only 17,966 tags. This fall, if we had kept the old 90 boundaries, we'd have only about 9,300 permits to issue -- that is, Albany would cut what actually was issued by about one half."

That's basically what is going to happen throughout Region 9's new DMUs, Moore said.

"The northern units will not see such a sharp drop in available permits," Moore said, "but the southern units will.

"The biggest change, obviously, is in DMU 90, followed by the old Unit 92, to be cut by about 40 percent."

After almost a decade of ever-more-generous issuance of doe tags by the DEC, many hunters believed the deer population had "crashed."

Though they disputed that, biologists saw the 1988 buck take was down about 10 percent from 1987 -- in a year they expected to exceed the previous harvest.

Biologists manage deer population by setting up homogeneous units in which the cover or habitat is believed to be pretty much the same. Then, by watching the harvest figures, they set doe permits accordingly. With New York's deer herd showing rapid increases, the number of DMU permits was doubled in this region, then doubled again, then doubled again.

Such generosity was predicated in part because recorded doe kills were not as high as the managers wanted.

One buck usually can service as many does as he can find, and the only effective way to curb a deer population boom is to cull females, not males.

Many hunters won't kill the female of any species, believing this is good conservation, so some "doe tags" were used to take another antlered buck -- good news for the remaining stags, bad news to game managers.

They believe their deer population estimates are not too far off the mark. Changing habitat, not harvest, has moved the deer to new places, they say.

Back the 10 per cent decrease in the deer harvest with the outcry of "overkill" coming from the traditional hunting grounds of the Southern Tier, and permit cuts were almost a sure bet.

The shift in DMU boundaries has been in the works for several seasons, however. It is a response to changing habitat and land-use patterns. By doubling the number of units, the deer-counters hope to have more refined population, control, hunting-harvest figures with which to work in coming years.

So look for a doe-tag lottery this fall. Be prepared to send in your request early and don't be surprised if you fail to get the tag you used to think was "automatic."

For some, this won't be a problem.

For those who have yet to hang a deer on the camp's meat pole, this probably will be the year we don't draw a doe tag -- and see 3,201 does with not one buck in sight.

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