Deer harvesting records are made to be broken -- broken down into numbers that tell the true story about New York State's deer populations.
If the late Larry Koller, famed New York deer hunter who wrote his classic book "Shots at Whitetails" back in 1948, were told this state's deer hunters would take a record 295,000 deer, including 141,000 bucks in the year 2000, Koller would have thought he lived and went to heaven.
Impressive as these two harvest figures appear, Department of Environmental Conservation deer managers have concerns and considerable tasks before them to control numbers of deer where populations continue to increase.
Jim Snider, DEC senior wildlife biologist and deer specialist for Western New York's Region 9 says, "I see this year's numbers as a good start, but we still aren't controlling deer numbers the way we should."
Region 9 showed a record increase in the harvest of antlered total deer. The buck take went from 22,843 in 1999 to 25,477 in 2000, a 15.9 percent increase. Total deer harvested in 2000 (66,313) increased 22.2 percent from the 54,195 reported in 1999.
"On average, in a good year we will usually see a 5 percent increase," he said. In part, Snider attributes the 2000 increase to better snow cover, which was lacking during much of the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Recent harvesting changes and additional programs have helped to increase the deer take. Snider points to more Deer Management Permits (antlerless tags), Bonus Permits and the newly established Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) in 1999 as some help in reducing herd sizes. "But it will take at least two more years to meet our current management goals; some measures may require game law changes to enact."
DMAP harvest numbers improved from 1999 to 2000 in Region 9. Hunters this past year took 1,360 DMAP deer, up from 594 in 1999.
During the September 2000 meeting of Erie County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Snider projected that if we were to continue present management programs, with the lack of an increase in hunters each year, we would probably not be able to use hunting as a deer population management tool by the year 2008."
Solutions for proper control include creating means for harvesting more deer, particularly around areas of Regions 8 and 9 in Western New York. "Simply said, we need more hunters," Snider says. He gathered several good suggestions during two Region 9 New York Future of Deer forums held last spring, part of a DEC program held statewide that drew 1,700 people and resulted in more than 1,000 written recommendations.
Leading among suggestions for more hunter involvement are legalizing big-game hunting for 14-year old hunters, changing opening day for gun hunters to a Saturday or a fixed date each year, allowing hunters holding a DMP (antlerless permit) to consign that permit to another hunter, issuing DMPs at the beginning of archery season (Oct. 15) so archers can take antlerless deer right from the start of the season, and legalizing crossbows (during certain seasons and in designated places).
Snider has set up task forces for two units that present particular concern: 9N northern Allegany County, southern Wyoming County; and 9R west of Allegany State Park, Randolph and South Valley. Hunters, Units 9N and 9R area landowners and all interested in deer management are encouraged to participate in either or both Task Force meetings held in March. Call 751-7000 or 372-0645.
Pennsylvania's management strategies, similar to New York's, require a series of public-information meetings around the state, says Dr. Gary Alt, Game Commission Deer Management Section supervisor. "These meetings provide an excellent forum for me to hear people's views on the changes proposed by the commission, and for me to describe why we believe this new approach will work."
Alt makes his presentations statewide through March 30 at various sites, at least one of which will be within 50 miles of any deer hunter in that state. As in New York, Keystone State game managers seek ways to reduce deer-vehicle collisions, reduce damage to farmer and homeowner crop growth while promoting healthier deer herds that hunters and the general public can see and enjoy. Pennsylvania's Game Commission has just opened a new Deer Section Web site: www.pgc.state.pa.us, click on "Hunting Information" and "Wildlife."
One good source of updated deer information for Western New York hunters will be offered Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon during a New York State Conservation Council regional forum offered at Holland Community Center/American Legion, 5 Legion Drive in Holland. NYSCC is seeking more input from area hunters. Snider and DEC Region 9 Wildlife Manager Russ Biss will discuss the 2000 deer harvest, the status of the state's planned computerized license sales, now targeted for a June 1 start, possible regulations changes and other big-game hunting related issues. For details, call Bob Church (592-7211).