By Justin Gottschalk
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 8, 2005 Strategies to increase the size and quality of the whitetail deer herd bounced across the stage of the Seelig Theatre at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) last Thursday night.
Nearly 100 sportsmen attended the seminar to hear New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Big Game Biologist Dick Henry discuss the proposed changes in buck harvest regulations now being considered by his office.
Specifically, Henry spoke about antler restrictions as a means of improving male-female deer ratios, a system recently adopted with some success in Pennsylvania. Under such a system, bucks lacking a certain number of antler points would be off-limits to hunters. The hope is that by protecting yearlings which account for 70 percent of all bucks taken in a given year hunters will improve the size and point count of the bucks they take the following year.
Similar programs have been successfully implemented, not only in Pennsylvania, but in various hunting clubs across Sullivan County. For instance, Pleasant Valley Rod and Gun Club in Callicoon has seen its average buck size increase from 90 pounds to 120 pounds with some bucks even reaching 140 pounds following years of deer management.
However, Henry stressed that the program is not without its drawbacks. There is a buy-in period, in which hunters must refrain from taking anything under the prescribed limit. That means, for the first year at least, average buck takes will decrease by as much as 70 percent (since this is the percentage of yearlings taken per season).
Henry discussed the possibility of waiving regulations in special circumstances, such as for young hunters taking their first buck. He pointed out the ever-rising average age of hunters, now well into the 40s and nearing 50. He also stressed the need to get more young people involved with deer hunting.
Henry also discussed alternative proposals besides the antler restrictions model. He described means of telling a bucks age that are potentially more accurate than the antler-point method. These include measuring jaw size and discerning body type. In the latter case, longer legs mean a younger buck, while a more balanced torso indicates an older deer.
Buck limits, he said, would not work; nor would merely retaining the current system of doe limits alone.
Deer management is not just about growing deer and maintaining sex ratios. Equally important are avoiding over-development and irresponsible population control.
Hunters, Henry said, are our main means of regulating deer populations and forest ecosystems. He criticized lawmakers from south of the Tappan Zee [Bridge] who do not understand the culture of deer-hunting. He noted that New York remains the only state barring youths under 16 years of age from participating in big game hunting.
An informal survey passed around the meeting showed some 85 people in support of the proposed system of antler restriction, to just six people against the proposal. The survey results signaled overwhelming support, even if the project means decreased buck-take in the short-term.
After the lecture, Henry was kind enough to stick around for a question- and-answer period. Most of the questions asked were generally supportive, but no less pointed for that. Beacon resident Bill Barker brought up the point that our local deer are the same sub-species as that found in Saskatchewan.
Does that mean that if we grow them they will reach the size of their northern brethren? he asked
Not necessarily, replied Henry, since we dont have the same food supply or land area as are found in Canada.
Another problem brought up by the audience was that restrictions in one county might cause hunters in that area to migrate, en masse, to unrestricted counties, potentially over-hunting those areas.
The seminar was sponsored by the SCCC Science Alliance and www.unaffiliatedhunter.org.
A lecture on Quality Deer Management (QDM) is scheduled to be held later this week. Sponsored by the Sullivan County Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, the lecture will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. this Friday, March 11 at Kings Catering Hall on Old Route 17 in Livingston Manor.
Kip Adams will be speaking about QDM in our area, and its impact on deer herds, habitat and hunting. The cost to attend the lecture is $5.