By Rich Davenport, published February 23, 2022
New York has seen plenty of changes over the past few years concerning hunting. From covid covid covid forcing hunters safety classes online, to an amazing uptick driven by 14 and 15 year olds embracing the sports, partly driven by covid covid covid (23% rise in that age group, 7% rise overall), a new hunting opportunity in NY’s southern zone commonly called the Holiday Hunt, shooting hours expansion for big game hunting and of course, the pilot program which lowered the deer hunting age with a firearm from 14 to age 12, under supervision, which required county opt in, the woods have certainly gotten a little busier, a bit more crowded, with concerns over the lack of in person hunter safety training maybe not being as effective as when classroom attendance was mandatory, we have seen many changes. On February 22, 2022, the NYSDEC announced that this past 2021 hunting season was the safest season of all-time in NY, a testament to education and effective mentoring, along with the change to include mandatory safety orange or pink while big game hunting with a firearm.
According to the press release, hunter related shooting incidents (HRSI) in 2021 numbered a mere 9 incidents, with two of those nine being self-inflicted, neither being fatal. Of the seven HRSI involving two parties, one was sadly fatal, when on Thanksgiving morning a hunter was shot while searching for a doe he had hit, and his hunting partner mistook him for game. It was noted the victim was not wearing safety orange or pink when the shooting occurred.
This is the lowest number of HRSIs since records began being kept, and is the lowest count of HRSIs since the hunter education program began in 1949. All identified shooters were experienced hunters with an average of 40 years of hunting experience, emphasizing the need for all hunters to remain vigilant when heading afield. All incidents could have been prevented if those involved followed hunting safety rules.
A new hunting regulation that took effect in 2021 extended legal shooting hours for big game to 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. None of the deer hunting incidents last year took place during the new extended hours. The four incidents involving deer hunters occurred between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
At least one of the recorded HRSIs happened during a pheasant hunt. That incident led to only minor injuries, fortunately.
Also new in 2021, 52 upstate counties passed local laws allowing 12- and 13-year-old licensed hunters to hunt deer with a firearm or crossbow while under the supervision of an experienced, licensed, adult hunter. None of the nine HRSIs investigated in 2021 involved a 12- or 13-year-old hunter. Of course, the Erie County Executive decided youths are not responsible enough and vetoed that county’s local law, citing fictional information, now reinforced by the facts.
For the past several years, DEC has also tracked and investigated Elevated Hunting Incidents (EHI), previously referred to as tree stand incidents. EHIs are underreported and DEC is not always notified when these falls occur. In 2021, 10 EHIs were reported; one was fatal. Only one of the 10 hunters involved was wearing a safety harness. However, the harness was not connected to the tree when the fall occurred. Tree stand safety is integrated into DEC’s hunter education course because these incidents have become a major cause of hunting-related injuries. The proper use of tree stands, and tree stand safety equipment, will help prevent these injuries and fatalities. Used correctly, a full body harness and a lifeline keep hunters connected from the time they leave the ground to the moment they get back down.