Antlerless harvest drives declines, antlered deer seem to be stable
By Rich Davenport, published June 2, 2022
On May 24, 2022 the NYSDEC released their 2021 Deer Harvest estimates after a lengthy delay caused by some unforeseen software challenges, confirming what many hunters across the state were opining – that the 2021 season was a down year for activity and action.
It would seem the harvest estimate reflects this, as overall the 2021 take was down nearly 17% from the 2020 harvest, coming in at 211,269 antlered and antlerless deer combined, well under the 253,990 animals harvested in 2020. The driver of this decline was antlerless harvest, which dropped a whopping 27% from 2020, despite two new hunting opportunities in the Southern Zone – an early firearms season in September in select WMUs for antlerless only deer, and the new Holiday Hunt which allowed for archery, crossbow or muzzleloading the week between Christmas and New Years. The antlered deer harvest, while down, witnessed a slight decline of under 5%, indicating the antlered portion of the deer populations may have somewhat stabilized.
Harvest per season, early archery saw a total of 48,679 deer harvested, 139,734 deer were harvested during regular season, 19,268 deer fell during the muzzleloading seasons and 1,670 deer were harvested during the special Columbus Day Youth Hunt. In addition, an estimated 1,918 deer were put down during the special September season in limited WMUs across NY’s Southern Zone.
Northern Zone saw a total of 29,519 deer taken throughout the various seasons, with 20,463 of those being antlered deer. Good to see the youth hunt accounted for 222 deer being harvested, while the muzzleloading seasons accounted for nearly 3 times more deer harvested than archery. A little over 9,000 deer harvested up north were antlerless. Nearly 17,000 of the 20,463 antlered deer were harvested during the regular season.
Southern Zone numbers are obviously a big larger, with over 90,000 antlered deer harvested in 2021, and nearly 182,000 total animals harvested throughout all seasons. An interesting number is the September early antlerless season, which last year was the first time for this one, and should have been limited to antlerless only deer in the handful of impacted WMUs, like 9A and 9F, as examples. However, according to the report, 55 adult male deer, antlered bucks, were taken I hope that resulted in some tickets for unlawful harvest. A total of 1,863 antlerless deer were taken during this special 9-day season, with the vast majority, or just over 1,400 being adult does. Also saw 245 button bucks taken as well, representing 12.8% of the total. In fact, 15.6% of those deer harvested in that early Sept firearms season were bucks.
Unlike the northern zone, it appears archery and muzzleloading are exact opposites, with nearly 47,000 deer harvested during the archery seasons, 4 times as many as taken via muzzleloader. 117,623 deer were taken during the Southern Zone regular season, 58,126 of those being antlered deer, or bucks (and a few antlered doe), and 59,497 being antlerless. Button bucks made up approx.. 6.2% of the total regular season harvest, which translates to 7283 future bucks. Not bad, considering the majority of animals harvested in S. Zone happens during regular season, and according to the totals, the BB take makes up a total of 5.3% of the overall total S. Zone harvest, all seasons.
Overall harvest was down sharply this year, nearly 17% but the buck take was off only 4.8%, with the balance driven by antlerless deer at a decline of 27%. Adult does were down nearly 25% from last season, which was partially driven by lower DMP issuance in some areas, and an archery season that saw 28% fewer deer harvest than last year, but falling just 2,000 or so deer shy of the 5 year seasonal average. DMP was reduced by 7.8%, but harvest on DMP was way off, 27.5%, or nearly 30,000 tags left unfilled vs. last year’s totals. DMAP take was also down, 15.2% from last season. Crossbow success continues to climb, although still not very significant, over 14,000 deer were harvested this year with the crossbow, statewide, up a little more than 3,000 animals. ML was fairly flat, while archery tackle saw a 28+% decline in harvest. Youth hunters during the special youth hunt 1670 animals, an uptick of 36.6% vs, last year, indicative of the 12 and 13 year olds joining the fun.
DEC has concluded that buck numbers have remained fairly stable as is reflected in the harvest numbers across much of NYS. A couple units in Region 9 showed a dip in buck harvest (9F, 9G) but most everywhere else was pretty stable from last year – with stability shown in harvest remaining about the same. In the southern tier, however, looks like an increase in buck harvest has reflected an uptick in buck density in these areas, which had been on the low side of DMP issuance for quite a while, since post 2004 anyhow. WMUs 9R, 9W and 9X all showed a 10%-20% increase in buck take in 2021 over 2020, while 9T saw an increase between 20% and 40%, and 9S, or Allegany State Park, had a buck harvest indicating density increased over 40%. The increase in ASP harvest could be the result of more hunters hunting the park. Moving west to east, region 8 showed a slight decline in buck harvest along the lake plain, with the biggest drop coming in Monroe county, near Rochester in the archery only area. A slight drop was also noted in 8Y, but 8R and 8P both showed an uptick on buck density, with the vast majority of region 8 being stable. Region 7 showed about half the region’s WMUs showing stability while units 7A, J, R and S showing slight declines. The North Country showed stable buck harvest across regions 5 and 6, with wmus 5A and C posting a modest increase in buck harvest/ density. Western areas of regions 3 and 4 showed good buck stability, with 4R and 4H posting modest increases in buck take, while 4G saw a significant bump of over 40% in buck harvest density over last season. 4L also posted a modest gain, as did 3N, but the Hudson Valley section of these regions, including the capitol district, posted significant declines in buck density and relative harvest with declines of well over 40% in units 4T and 4Y, along with 3C, F, and J. These were the areas where the 2021 EHD outbreak appears to have been most severe. Suffolk County, WMU 1C, also posted a greater than 20% decline in buck harvest.
Pretty much everywhere the doe harvest was down between 20% and 40%, with more significant declines in doe take coming in Region 9’s middle tier units of 9K, M, N, , P and X, the archery only area 8C, Hudson Valley and Long Island, all seeing declines greater than 40%. This could spell scarce DMP issuances for the next few seasons across much of NYS. However, it is ironic to note that in WMUs 9A and F, where the early Sept season was held in Region 9, that harvest numbers were actually stable, where one might have expected a slight increase in take. Northern Zone units of 6A, 6J and 6F, where it appears some changes to the ML harvests to allow for antlerless harvest paid off, especially in 6F where a larger than 40% increase in the doe harvest was noted.
Another view of the numbers given is antlerless deer harvested per antlered deer, which is a neat way to look at willingness to harvest a doe, and also potentially buck:doe ratios in certain areas. The western part of the state appears to embrace antlerless harvest more so than our eastern NY brethren, as most regions 7-9 indicate does are harvested at the same rate as bucks, in some areas we saw nearly 2 does taken per buck, with southern tier WMUs showing up to 2 bucks harvested per doe, which isn’t surprising considering the DMP allocation has been low in these southern tier WMUs for quite a while in an attempt to rebuild the buck density. Eastern NY indicates a larger preference for buck harvest, with a couple WMUs showing nearly equal buck to doe harvests, which seems to have occurred in areas that offer heavy doe harvest – perhaps illustrative of the EHD impacts of 2021. Northern zone has always show heavy buck harvest, as not many DMP have really been issued historically in the ADK, although that has been changing in recent years.
The doe harvest, however, does come at a price involving incidental button buck take, and in areas with high DMP issuance it doesn’t surprise to see the BB take accounts for up to 15% of the total antlerless take. Region 9 shows 10-15% except in those low DMP issuance WMUs, where the incidental BB take is between 5 and 10%. Region 8 and 7 also show 10-15% of antlerless being BB take, with the archery only zone in Monroe County showing over 25% of the antlerless deer taken are YOY bucks. High BB take also shows in Long Island and also WMU 3S, with most of the eastern side showing @ 10% of antlerless being BB take. Northern Zone comes in best with most areas showing 1%-5%, but this coincides with low DMP.
Since 2001 the buck harvest has shown a growing structure of older bucks being harvested, as in 2001 over 60% of the bucks were 1 ½ year old animals just starting to sport their head gear. The statewide harvest now shows that just under 40% of the total buck harvest is made up of 1.5 year old animals, and now that is nearly identical to the number of 2.5 year old bucks harvested, which the older class of bucks continues to grow as a portion of the harvest as well. In fact the mature buck component of the harvest grew from @10% of the total antlered take to now it is nearly 25% of those bucks being 3.5 or older, which does show the effectiveness of the “Let it go, watch it grow” campaign to increase voluntary restraint on the buck harvest. It is working, despite the claims to the contrary by the mandatory AR zealots. This is even reflected in number of bucks per square mile harvested, where in the Central Western zone of NY a little over 2.5 yearling bucks per square mile were harvested, to now that figure is @ 1.5 yearling bucks per sq mi. Meanwhile the number of bucks age 2.5 and older has risen from under 1.5 per sq mi to @ 1.8 per sq mi, after peaking at over 2 in 2017. Seems like hunters do prefer older does, with the majority of antlerless adult does being 3.5 and up. Yearling and 2.5 year old does are harvested at about the same rate.
Finally, a word on reporting compliance, although a slight uptick was noted this year vs. last year, the state is still abysmal. Statewide 5 year average shows 48.5% of all harvested deer were reported. That means 51.5% are not reported and therefore illegal. Seems like bow and ML hunters are more likely to report their harvest than “gun hunters” only. An CW hunters seem to have difficulty in reporting DMP harvest, as that rate stood at just over 39%! The bad news…. Seems like some hunters are ingraining the idea that harvest reporting of deer is optional in the youth hunters, as it is estimated that 55.3% of youth harvested deer were reported in 2021, which is 8 points lower than the 5 year average – looks like that trend is going in the wrong direction.
You can download a copy of this report off the DEC’s website by visiting https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/42232.html and there you will find links to the deer and bear harvests going well back in time, including historical archives that, if you’re motivated to do so, can actually chart our own trend lines going way back, which lets you see how the deer herd has grown over time. You can also see additional info such as harvest by WMU, harvest by county and different looks at the data, like densities and take vs. objective in buck management aggregates, as well as data from DMAP and DDP.