Editorial of November 16, 2023
The Great White-tail Count
Autumn is over. The leaves have turned and fallen; the frost has done away with what was left of our gardens; every now and again there’s a flurry of snow; fleeces and puffers have emerged from the closet; and we have fallen headfirst into the great season of The Hunt. In Otsego County, the seasons for coyote (until March 31), ruffed grouse (until February 29), pheasant (until February 29), bear (until December 19) and deer (until January 1) opened in October. All but the deer may be shot with guns all season; the deer have different rules. For these creatures, this Saturday marks the end of the early bowhunting and crossbow seasons and the beginning of the regular—firearms—season. Crossbows may be used for a time, as well. This will continue until December 10, when a late bowhunting and muzzleloading season, which includes the week between Christmas and the New Year, kicks in. Kids hunt, too, over the Youth Firearms Weekend in early October.
Last year, hunters in New York State harvested an estimated 231,961 white-tails, a 10 percent increase from 2021. This take included 116,425 antlered bucks, a 5 percent increase, and 115,536 antlerless deer, legally harvested, a smashing increase of 15 percent. In Otsego County, 3,135 bucks, 2,430 does and 558 fawns were taken. Over 100 of these were shot by youths during their youth hunt weekend. Also, close to 4,000 deer were harvested state-wide during the Holiday Hunt, an additional hunting opportunity that provides for students who are home on school break. This was an 11 percent increase over 2021. The overall total for the 2022 season, although higher than the 211,269 take in 2021, was not as high as those of 2020 (253,990) or 2002 (308,216).
It was a good season, and no doubt a harbinger of seasons to come. The really good news is that our hunters are increasingly passing up young bucks, leaving them to grow and perfect their antlers and increase their weight along the way. In 2022, around 64 percent of the antlered bucks that were harvested were 2.5 years old or older, up from 45 percent 10 years ago and 30 percent in the 1990s.
There was a marked decline of the New York deer population through most of the 19th century, to a low between 1880 and 1890. By 1885, deer were in danger of extermination throughout the state, except for in the wild, nonagricultural region of the central Adirondacks. Throughout the 20th century the deer population returned sporadically, only to decrease again, due both to starvation, during the severe winters of 1925-26, 1930-31, and 1947-48, and to the then-illegal killing of antlerless deer. Since the 1950s, the population has increased substantially.
Today we have an abundance, even over-abundance, of white-tailed deer. Without their principal predators, wolves and mountain lions, they are coming close to over-browsing their territories, devastating the forest understory, and further threatening the gardens and bird feeders of Otsego County. Bears, bobcats, coyotes and automobiles take their share, but hunting is the primary population control.
Good luck, hunters. Good luck, deer. Be safe. Be careful. Be smart.