New York State Whitetail Deer News

Abundant deer populations are present in New York State near metropolitan areas and near farm areas too. Identifying the process to provide public highway safety, successful farming and hunter achievement opportunities is a complex process. Joe Forma Photo
  • Pilot Project Concludes on Public Input for Deer Populations
  • Evaluation and Assessment Continues

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a pilot effort in progress to improve collection of public input about deer impacts and desired deer population levels ( This is a collaborative venture with Cornell University and county-level Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) offices that has concluded and is now being evaluated. The effort was intended to revise and modify the former Citizen Task Force process to improve methods for public input on desirable changes in local deer abundance, consistent with DEC’s Deer Management Plan.

The pilot, which took place in a 1,325-square-mile area of central New York (Wildlife Management Units 7H, 8J and 8S), began with a 2015 survey of residents to gather information on the values they attribute to deer and their experiences with and concerns about deer impacts. Out of the 3,000 surveys that were mailed, 1,456 were completed and returned. Following considerable public outreach to advertise the program, two webinars were held in January 2016 to provide information to residents on DEC’s deer management program, the results of the public survey, deer biology, deer impacts on people and the environment, and deer management issues and challenges. Webinar participants were then asked if they would like to volunteer to be part of an input group, and 12 of the 24 volunteers were selected.

A team of NYSDEC Wildlife Biologists conduct deer assessment checks to provide feedback on age, health and density of the NYS Deer Population during each big game firearms season. Forrest Fisher Photo

This group held two meetings in March 2016 to discuss local deer-related impacts and prioritize issues that they felt DEC should address. These meetings were facilitated by Oneida County officials and two DEC wildlife biologists attended to answer questions and offer advice. Although the group members had been selected to maximize the diversity of deer-related interests and perspectives as much as possible given the low number of volunteers, the prioritization of impacts identified by group participants differed markedly from that indicated by the survey of residents. The number one priority for the input group, deer hunting opportunities, was viewed as least important by the surveyed residents; Lyme disease was identified as the number one management priority by the surveyed residents, but was identified by the input group as least important for DEC to address, along with deer-vehicle collisions.

As group participants observed, making decisions about deer and deer management is a complex task involving diverse stakeholder interests and values, which may be conflicting. Designing a process that can address this complexity satisfactorily is difficult. The pilot process is currently being evaluated by DEC and our Cornell research partners, and we expect to generate recommendations for refinement later in 2016. If, after refinement, the new process proves workable and valuable, DEC intends to implement it on a routine cycle in each aggregate of Wildlife Management Units across the state to respond to changing conditions and attitudes about deer impacts over time. DEC deer managers will consider the public’s prioritization of deer impacts and desires for deer population change, in conjunction with data on the ecological impacts of deer, as they make decisions about changes to deer abundance in each area.

Additional details on the pilot effort and its outcomes are available in the progress report, and DEC will provide more information about future developments as the project continues.

Lending a Hand to Lake Ontario King Salmon Study

Dan Knuth from Utica, holds up one of the heavily schooled, monster spring King salmon found off Niagara Bar in Lake Ontario. They are called “SCREAMERS” for good reason, they will smoke a weak reel drag and snap a line during a burst run, but right now Lake Ontario fish scientists need angler help.

If you fish Lake Ontario, like the Beatles song goes, we all need a little help from our friends – and this is the perfect time to lend a hand … while you are fishing!

The Niagara County Fisheries Development Board working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Niagara River Anglers Association (NRAA) and Lake Ontario Trout & Salmon Association (LOTSA) want to get a better understanding of the makeup of the large number of Chinook salmon that show up along the Niagara County shoreline every May.

This coming May (2016), many of the three-year-old class of Chinook salmon will have their adipose fin missing (clipped) if they were raised in the Salmon River Fish Hatchery.  And if that fin is clipped, the fish will have a coded wire tag implanted in their head that identifies their stocking type (direct versus pen reared) and their stocking location.  Biologists need the head for the study.


In order to obtain this information, we need the help of all anglers fishing Lake Ontario out of the ports of Fort Niagara/Youngstown, Wilson and Olcott.  We are requesting the head from any Chinook salmon caught in the month of May that is harvested for food and has the adipose fin missing.  Only 3-year old kings with the adipose fin missing.  These heads can be placed in a bag and then in freezers located at Fort Niagara, Wilson and Olcott in specific locations (Fort Niagara State Park next to the fish cleaning station; Bootlegger’s Cove Marina next to the ship’s store; Wilson Boat Yard next to the Gas Shack; Wilson-Tuscarora State Park near the fish cleaning station; and the Town of Newfane Marina (Olcott) adjacent to the fish cleaning station. The DEC will collect the heads from the freezers, as well as analyze the data so that it can be used as another piece of information to help with management of the king salmon program.

This is the last year class of Chinook salmon that were clipped and marked in the lake.  Therefore, it is our last chance to capture this important data to help with managing the Chinook salmon program in Lake Ontario.  Assisting with this program is a win-win situation for all – you will be helping yourself as well as your fellow anglers.  We all need a little help from our friends!

Just a quick comment on the spring salmon fishery in Niagara and Lake Ontario: One of the best places to be in the entire Great Lakes in the spring is anywhere from the Niagara Bar off the mouth of the Niagara River to 30-Mile Point east of Olcott, New York.  This is where the salmon hang out because of the forage that’s available.

When the kings are in, it’s some of the best salmon fishing you’ve ever seen anywhere.  These fish are champion fighters.  Catching a 15-pound fish in the spring is like catching 30-pound fish in the fall, tearing out 100 yards of line like an NFL running back in an open field run looking to the end zone – without any contract disputes or ham strings to worry about!

To find out more information, check out and click on the fishing section.  A free map outlines all of the information you need to know to get you connected.

Thanks for your help!

NYS: Zero Hunting Fatalities for 2015

2015 is the first year in decades without a reported NYS hunting fatality, marks growing trend of improved hunter safety

The 2015 New York hunting season proved to be one of the safest on record and yielded the first year without a hunting-related shooting fatality since the 1950s, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today. DEC’s 2015 Hunting Safety Statistics report (PDF, 141 KB) highlighted a total of only 23 hunting incidents, the third lowest number on record, with 10 incidents self-inflicted and 13 two-party incidents.

“Hunting is a strong and economically important tradition that continues to be safely enjoyed by many in New York State, and I commend hunters of all ages for maintaining high standards in hunting safety,” Acting Commissioner Seggos said. “The trend of declining hunting accidents is proof that our hunter safety education programs are working thanks, in large part, to the efforts of the 3,000 volunteer Sportsman Education Instructors that teach our hunter safety courses every year.”

This is the first year without a hunting-related shooting fatality in New York since record-keeping on hunting statistics began in the mid 1950s. 2015 also continued the trend of declining incidents with New York’s hunting-related shooting incident rate (incidents per 100,000 hunters) declining almost 80 percent since the 1960s. The past five-year average is down to four incidents per 100,000 hunters, compared to 19 per 100,000 hunters in the 1960s.

While hunting is safer than ever, accidents can still happen. It is important to remember that every hunting-related shooting incident is preventable. As this year’s report indicated that eight of the victims in the multi-party incidents were not wearing hunter orange. Accidents can be prevented if hunters follow the primary rules of hunter safety:

  • assume every firearm is loaded;
  • control the firearm muzzle in a safe direction;
  • keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire;
  • identify your target and what is beyond; and
  • wear hunter orange.

“Sportsman education is an essential and required training course for hunters and teaches future sportsmen and women how to be safe, responsible, and ethical hunters and trappers,” Acting Commissioner Seggos said. “Through our NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative, Sportsman Education Programs are being enhanced and our hunting license privileges have been updated to ensure increased opportunities for recreational hunting in the state.”

The declining in hunting-related accidents is evidence that New York has a safety-conscious generation of hunters thanks to the committed efforts of DEC’s volunteer instructors. These trained, DEC-certified instructors teach safe, responsible and ethical outdoor practices and the important roles hunters and trappers serve in natural resource conservation. All courses are offered free of charge and class registration is easy. In 2016, DEC is updating the course curriculum to further enhance the program and implement recommendations identified in a 2015 peer-reviewed analysis if New York’s education program.

For more information on Sportsman Education course registration, access to the course manuals and worksheets, please visit the Sportsman Education Program webpage on DEC’s web site.

New York State Big Game Study Tells Tale

New York Study Plan Result is to Educate and Encourage Hunters to Voluntarily Pass-up Young Bucks 

A multi-year study to guide buck management in New York State found deer hunters prefer to harvest older bucks and that further expanding mandatory antler restrictions is not warranted at this time.  Instead, NYS will encourage hunters to voluntarily pass up shots at younger bucks as a management method to best serve the interests of all deer hunters across the state.

“Through this study, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) engaged with the hunting community to determine the best deer herd management practices to benefit both the deer population and our state’s wildlife enthusiasts,” Acting DEC Commissioner Seggos said.  “DEC staff concluded that promoting voluntary restraint was appropriate given the high level of hunter support for increased availability of older bucks. Using a sound scientific approach to wildlife management is an essential strategy to expand hunting opportunities and growing the hunting economy in New York.”

New York State deer check stations examine deer for health and age, providing important details for successful hunters while gathering data for studies.

DEC and the New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Cornell University conducted the study in response to long-standing interests expressed by many hunters for DEC to adopt regulations to reduce the take of yearling bucks (male deer younger than 1.5 years old) to increase the number of older bucks in the population  Moving forward, DEC intends to work with several leading sportsmen groups across the state to educate hunters on their important role in deer management, the impacts of their harvest choices and the likely changes in the deer population as more and more hunters voluntarily refrain from taking young bucks.

The study included a statewide survey of 7,000 deer hunters conducted in fall 2013 by the Human Dimensions Research Unit at Cornell University, a nationally recognized leader in surveys to assess public opinions and attitudes on wildlife-related issues.

Rich Davenport (left), as co-chairman of the New York State Conservation Council Big-Game Committee, has worked closely with New York State DEC wildlife biologists and law enforcement to provide statistical analysis and other date to help identify the interests of sportsmen and other important stake holders in the world of whitetail deer in the Empire State. Forrest Fisher Photo

DEC considered six alternatives to increase the proportion of older bucks in the population, including mandatory antler restrictions during all or portions of the archery and firearms seasons, shorter firearms seasons, a one-buck per hunter per year rule, promoting voluntary restraint by hunters, and a no change option.  DEC analyzed these alternatives for each of the state’s seven distinct buck management zones. The decision process weighted hunter values 3:1 over potential impacts on population management and costs, but the survey found that hunter values did not strongly lean in any one particular direction.

“The issue of antler restrictions has divided our deer hunting community for too many years and I am pleased to see that the DEC used a very structured, non-biased decision-making process to determine the outcome,” said Larry Becker, Chairman of the New York Sportsmen’s Advisory Council.  “It is most important that everyone understands that DEC has listened to what the majority of the deer hunters in the State want and that this was the primary factor that drove the final decision.  The hunters spoke and DEC listened.”

DEC and conservation education groups plan to work with sportsmen and women and other stakeholder groups, including the New York State Conservation Council (NYSCC) and Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), in the coming year to develop a cooperative, educational effort to encourage hunters to pass up shots at young bucks.  It is clear that hunters’ choices can and do affect the age and size of bucks in our deer herd, and when hunters choose to pass young bucks, it can make a difference for other hunters as well.

“The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) is pleased New York has engaged its deer hunters at such a high level to learn their values and desires,” said Kip Adams, QDMA Director of Education & Outreach.  “We feel this is a positive step for the DEC and for hunters, and we are extremely supportive of the Department’s proposed educational campaign on the benefits of protecting yearling bucks.”

“The New York State Conservation Council would like to applaud the hard work of both the DEC Deer Team and Cornell University, as well as the hunting community that participated in this important work,” said Rich Davenport, NYSCC Big Game Committee Co-Chairman.  “We look forward to assisting the DEC and other sportsmen groups with educating the hunters of today and tomorrow on the benefits of voluntary harvest restraint and the importance of the management role hunters of New York play.  It’s a critical component to ensure we have healthy deer herds well into the future.”

Detailed technical reports on the analysis of alternatives and results of the hunter survey are both available on the DEC website, along with more succinct summaries of the work that was done.  DEC plans to hold public information meetings later this spring and summer to discuss these results and get hunter feedback on ways to encourage others to pass up shots at young, small-antlered bucks.

The meetings will also provide an opportunity for hunters and others to provide input on other aspects of DEC’s deer management plan, which will be updated in the coming year. The current (2012-2016) statewide deer plan is also available on the DEC website.