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Deer kill down by 15 percent

Albany — DEC’s recent announcement that the 2015 deer kill was down by 15 percent came as no surprise to the state’s whitetail hunters.

It simply made it official.

Preliminary numbers shortly after the Northern and Southern zone seasons ended confirmed hunters’ claims it was a tough season, and the final tally did the same.

New York hunters harvested an estimated 202,973 whitetails last year, including 99,572 bucks.  Those numbers are down from the 2014 totals of 238,672 and 108,604, respectively.

While the overall total was down by 15 percent from 2014, the buck kill dipped by 8.3 percent, DEC figures showed.

The antlerless kill of 103,401 was down by 20.5 percent from the 2014 total of 130,068, in part due to an overall reduction in Deer Management Permits.

“With the severe winter of 2014-15 and a reduction in the number of permits available for antlerless deer in most wildlife management units, a decline in deer harvest was anticipated,” DEC officials said in a news release. “However, the overall deer harvest was lower than expected, as hunting success was apparently also reduced by the unseasonably warm conditions and lack of snow during much of November and December.”

DEC harvest reports were running on par with 2014 levels until early November, then began lagging as the state’s firearms hunters dealt with warm weather conditions that stalled deer movement.

The 2015 total was comprised of 175,987 deer killed in the Southern Zone, including 83,517 bucks. Another 23,589 deer – including 14,850 bucks – were bagged in the Northern Zone, while Long Island accounted for 3,397 deer, including 1,205 bucks.

Harvest declines were seen across the board, with a few notable exceptions:

• the total archery season harvest of 2015 was 37,697, up 6.5 percent from the 2014 tally of 35,388.

• the crossbow harvest of 7,469 was up 34.9 percent from 5,535 the previous season.

• the youth deer hunt harvest stood at 1,222 in 2015, up 3.4 percent from the 2014 total of 1,182. The hunt takes place during the three-day Columbus Day weekend and allows hunters ages 14 and 15 to harvest a buck or doe. Youths took 617 bucks during their special season in 2015.

• the total harvest through the state’s Deer Management Assistance Program, which allows landowners to trim deer numbers on their properties, stood at 10,847, down 14.1 percent from 12,627 in 2014. DMAP permits are valid only during the open deer hunting seasons and can only be used by licensed hunters. Only antlerless deer can be taken.

• the Deer Damage Permit total, which is not part of the overall harvest number, was 5,588, down from 6,076 in 2014. Those permits are issued to address deer-related damage on individual properties while damage is occurring, generally outside of hunting seasons. They are typically limited to antlerless deer only, though the take of bucks is authorized for some permits. “(Deer Damage Permits) authorize deer culling, not deer hunting,” DEC says on its website.

While the state’s deer hunters often question the accuracy of DEC’s deer harvest figures – just under 7 percent of the harvest is actually checked by DEC personnel – officials said the statewide harvest estimate is accurate to within plus/minus 1.95 percent.

The tally is based primarily on the examination of nearly 14,000 harvested deer at check stations and meat processors, as well as harvest reports from successful hunters. Although reporting a deer harvest is mandatory, just 44 percent of successful hunters did so in 2015, DEC officials estimate.

DEC’s 2015 deer harvest report, which can be viewed in full at http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/2015deerrpt.pdf, also showed over half the bucks killed last season were  2.5 years and older, continuing a shift towards older bucks in the harvest. “In most of the state, hunters are making this happen by their own voluntary decisions to pass up young, small-antlered bucks in favor of older deer,” DEC said in a news release.

State biologists are still grappling with high deer numbers in several areas of the state, notably the Finger Lakes and Lake Plains of western New York. An attempt to trim whitetail numbers through a regulation mandating antlerless-only harvest in some units during the archery and muzzleloader seasons was met with strong opposition from hunters, and DEC officials indicated it will be scrapped in 2016.

This article was originally published at Outdoor News.