A couple of weeks ago the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) surprised deer hunters with something akin to an early Christmas present: Our game commission is floating the idea of extending the southern zone deer season through the Christmas break.
Currently, in that zone (which includes all of the counties covered by this newspaper), the late-season archery and blackpowder offerings immediately follow the regular firearms season and last for 9 days. This year, they run from December 14 to 22.
Under the DEC’s proposal, they would like to add 7 days to those special seasons, this year and going forward, from December 26 through January 1.
That may not seem like much, but this greatly increases opportunity for hunters to get into field and forest to fill their freezers. That “holiday deer hunt”, as the DEC calls it, would occur during what is for all schools and colleges and many factories and offices the Christmas break. Hunters who may have previously struggled to find the time to fit a Saturday or Sunday of hunting into their busy schedules will have access to numerous days of leisure to get outdoors.
I am in full support of the DEC’s plan. It’s a winner. I look at the impact that it has on what we could call the Four Fs: family, funding, feeding and flowers.
The shared breaks will allow shared hunts, getting the whole family outdoors. That bond is how a lifetime of sustainable harvest, conservation-mindedness and respect for nature are created in a youngster. The holiday hunt also brings back to the fold older family members who have moved away. The holidays are when many come back to New York State and spend a few days, if not the whole week, at their loved ones’ homesteads. Now, they can rekindle the love affair they had for their old stomping grounds.
Bringing back the snowbirds and chasers of greener pastures will also help bring much-needed funding to the DEC, advancing the good work they do in managing wildlife, stocking fish, protecting the environment and hosting campgrounds and trails. A non-resident license that covers hunting, archery or muzzleloading, and two doe tags comes in at $150. If the State picks up four thousand hunters for the holidays, that’s $600,000 being directly invested in the DEC. There’s a lot the DEC can do with that, especially in the COVID era when state budgets are strained and people are flocking to the outdoors.
The outcome of all of these efforts should be a harvest of nature’s bounty. A couple of deer can keep a family well-fed for a year, providing them a very healthy protein. This is much needed in today’s world: In 2019, more than 10% of US homes had some level of food insecurity. That number has been driven up dramatically by the socioeconomic impact of COVID and its lockdowns of the economy. In late-March, when COVID was at its most frightening, a quarter of US households claimed they didn’t have enough to eat. The State could help fight hunger by extending the season and allowing hunters to fill their freezers and their bellies as well as those of others who may be in need: The Venison Donation Coalition in New York provides a whopping 38 tons of venison each year to food banks…a holiday hunt could substantially increase that.
Lastly, there is the considerable environmental impact of an extended deer season. Further winnowing down the herd saves local forests and wildflowers. Many naturalists, yours truly included, know that the overabundance of deer in Western New York has destroyed our forests’ understories, wiping out vast stands of rare orchids and other wildflowers. What I always use the example in this plight: Our family farm for all my childhood had a vast population of trilliums; in one spot, a sea of white covered over an ace of the forest floor every spring. Those trilliums have been wiped out for almost 20 years now, as the deer browsed on the plants’ tender leaves, some of the first greens of the spring. Rightsizing the deer population could bring back these and other plants we’ve lost.
If you would like to make your voice heard as the state ponders this initiative, know that through November 8 the DEC is accepting public comment on the proposal. You can voice your opinion in two ways, email (WildlifeRegs@dec.ny.gov with Holiday Deer Hunt Proposal as the subject) or postal mail (Jeremy Hurst, NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233). Before doing so, it’s suggested you read all the details on page 7 of the September 9th New York State Register at tinyurl.com/HolidayDeer.
From the 28 September 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News