Happy hunting: Antler restrictions in the Catskills

Antlers: Too small (top) and large enough to kill (bottom): DECAntlers: Too small (top) and large enough to kill (bottom): DECThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is expanding its antler-restriction program for deer hunting into a larger portion of the Catskills, in a bid to allow more young bucks to grow into mature deer before they are killed during hunting season. 

The DEC has been experimenting with antler restrictions in the Catskills since 2005, and Governor Andrew Cuomo expanded the program this summer into an area south and west of Route 28 in Ulster, Sullivan and Delaware counties for the 2011 season. 

The antler restriction program requires that bucks can only be shot if they "have at least one antler with 3 or more points that are at least one inch long." (See photo at left.) So far, the program seems to work, according to its Deer Management Plan, which was finalized this month: 

Data from the pilot program indicate that harvest of yearling bucks has declined about 80%, consistent with the program’s goal (Hurst and Kautz 2011).  The average number of 2.5+ year old bucks in the harvest has increased 53%, and in 2009-2010, approximately 85% of adult bucks taken in the pilot units were 2.5 years old or older.

But while some hunters and groups, notably the New York State Whitetail Management Coalition, support antler restrictions, others aren't convinced. The DEC conducted a survey of hunter attitudes in 2010, and found that while hunters supported protecting young bucks, they also want freedom to bag whatever buck they choose.

From the DEC's deer management plan, p. 43

Both voluntary and mandatory antler restriction programs would afford some additional protection to yearling bucks. Yet, most hunters also indicated that they were experiencing the minimum desirable level of freedom to choose which buck they could harvest.  This presents a unique challenge in that any regulatory effort to protect young bucks from harvest, which may increase satisfaction for some hunters, will require some loss of freedom of choice or opportunity, which will likely decrease satisfaction for other hunters[.]

The DEC's solution to this regulatory challenge is to keep the antler restrictions in the Catskills this year and expand them to some neighboring "wildlife management units" in the counties surrounding the Catskills in 2012. For the rest of the state, antler restrictions are still optional. 

Bowhunting season in the Catskills began on October 15, and the regular deer hunting season begins on November 19.