By Rich Davenport, published December 28, 2021
New York Southern Zone deer hunters awoke on Sunday, December 26, 2021, to the opening of the new Holiday Deer Hunt, which affords an additional late season deer hunting opportunity using archery, crossbow or muzzleloading firearms, after much chagrin over potential county opt out regulations being adopted before the inaugural hunt could commence.
Running for 7 days, encompassing December 26, 2021 – January 1, 2022, the idea behind this recreational opportunity was rooted in comments received over the years concerning having a late season opportunity to hunt when kids or grandchildren are home from college on winter break. Many hunters, too, may have this last week of the year as vacation time, which made sense to create this new season for retention and recreation purposes.
Officially adopted on January 27, 2021, the new Holiday Hunt is for deer hunting only, rather than encompassing big game (deer and bear). The idea was first proposed in 2020, but after a large number of comments were received, not enough time existed to hold the hunt at the end of 2020, as originally envisioned. Part of the reasoning behind this Holiday Deer Hunt was to examine whether hunters would embrace a later extended season timing, with thoughts of providing a break from “deer fatigue” within the department, while giving hunters a chance to try out the new timing before any changes to the existing 9-day extended season were proposed.
However, in response to this proposal, several other user groups, including snowmobilers, balked at the change, citing safety concerns and negative economic impacts at the start of the snowmobiling season, as despite the trail rules stating they can open once the Regular Big Game Hunting season ends, many counties have agreements in place with concerned landowners and snowmobile clubs to keep the trails closed until the last big game hunting season concludes. Despite the beliefs of the NYSDEC and NYS Parks and Recreation believing both activities can safely coexist, efforts to head off this new opportunity were undertaken by the New York State Snowmobile Association, enlisting a state Senator and Assemblywoman to craft legislation permitting concerned counties to opt out of the hunt, via local law prohibiting this duly established southern zone-wide hunting opportunity. Before the legislation passed the Assembly (the companion bill passed the Senate), representatives met with DEC officials to seek a regulatory remedy, which was proposed in September 2021, but was shelved in early December, as a wider range of concerns were brought by more stakeholders, warranting a second look before acting on the proposals.
Hunter attitude concerning this Holiday Hunt varies, depending on which part of the southern zone they may hunt. Many on the eastern side of the state show more trepidation, driven in large part to the EHD outbreak in the Hudson Valley, and concerns that an over-harvest could occur. Others hold the belief that NY’s deer season is too long as it is, while some consider the timing a bit late, as some bucks may be shedding their antlers and appear to be a Doe to a hunter. Those who support the move include hunters with college aged children that did hunt with them before heading off to school, and others that would like to see the opportunity extended as is done in other neighboring states; states that have shown snowmobiling and late season deer hunting can coexist safely together.
Happy, successful hunters have already been sharing their harvest photos on social media, and since a conspicuous lack of snow cover has greeted the inaugural season, it would appear the concerns over the trails and loss of a few days of potential revenue has been shown to be a moot point, as is often the case between Christmas and New Years Day. Economic activity this year is being driven by hunters, although how many hunters will take advantage of this additional opportunity remains to be seen.
Indeed, the Holiday Deer Hunt, for 2021 at least, has commenced southern zone wide, as originally authorized. Although it is expected the opt out notion will be revisited in early 2022, either by DEC regulators, or the NYS Legislature, for this season anyhow, a good gauge of hunter acceptance and realities of the timing during this holiday week should be well learned and understood. This should also lend itself to additional outreach to the landowners and snowmobile clubs to gain the realization that both activities can indeed work hand in glove, and what is really driving the debate is fear of the unknown, and fear of change.
The 2021 version of the Holiday Deer Hunt is off to a very good start. Let’s hope it continues and fears are dispelled so the notion of allowing county opt outs are completely abandoned in 2022. And who knows? Perhaps the southern zone can handle the additional 7 days, or perhaps it becomes appropriate to delay that extended season to give the deer, the hunters and the wildlife officials a little break between the Regular and Extended Seasons. Time will tell.