Why was 2023 such a tough deer season ?
By Oak Duke
New York State’s Southern Zone firearm deer season is in the rearview mirror, ending Sunday with a soggy whimper instead of a bang.
Typical these days of changing climate.
Actually, many gunshots were heard across the state on the final Saturday, in deer country as many of the half million New York deer hunters, who had early hopes and dreams of putting venison in the freezer, gave it one last shot.
But alas, as usual many were served what we call “tag soup” as soup de jour.
Why was 2023 such a tough deer season for hunters?
Well, for one thing the Rut, or the whitetail breeding season kicked off very early this year…one of the earliest, in late October. And by the time the regular firearms season rolled around Saturday, November 18th, most of the breeding bucks were in an annual behavioral phase in what we call Lockdown.
Lockdown could be defined as the time when whitetail does are actually being bred, usually following the “Running time” by up to two weeks or so.
The Rut peaked here in Western New York, around Halloween, extending a couple days into November.
Then the door was slammed – Lockdown.
And hunting was tough after that as many deer became nocturnal, tucked safely in their bedding sites and sanctuaries by the time the sun came up for most of the firearms season.
And for the most part deer did not venture out, beginning their major daily feeding pattern until December’s early darkness fell.
That makes for tough hunting and many unproductive sits.
What about the two new rules this year?
One required hunters to wear blaze/orange, the other extended shooting times.
Did they have any measureable effect on the overall deer take?
All deer hunters, for the first time this year were required to wear a blaze (florescent) orange/pink vest or hat while hunting with a firearm, totaling 250 square inches of “blaze.”
Previously, the wearing of orange or red was wisely and strongly suggested.
But for the 2023 season it became the law.
Did whitetails benefit from hunters being more visible?
And therefore fewer deer shot?
Hard to quantify that one.
But there is general agreement that fewer human beings were shot, being mistaken for deer.
And secondly, shooting legally started one half hour before sunrise this year and ended one half hour after sunset. Previously, hunters were only allowed to hunt and shoot from sunrise to sunset.
Deer hunters were required to calculate their own legal shooting times, depending upon their hunting location, as it varies by location.
The simple way to determine the correct shooting time is to Goggle “sunset” or “sunrise” today. And add or subtract 30 minutes.
I did not hear more shooting either early or late during the season on the many days when I was out at dawn and dusk, including Opening Day and the final Saturday or even Sunday.
Actually, Opening Day here, November 18 seemed much quieter than usual, and ditto from many reports and comments from around the state.
The final Saturday in the Wellsville area in Allegany County featured one last shot fired at 5:04 pm, six minutes before the close of legal shooting time here.
And I like many deer hunters were watching the start of the Bills/Chiefs game at the close of the season on Sunday afternoon.
However, deer season is not really over, with the Late Bow/muzzleloader season with a Monday, December 11 kickoff and running until December 19.
But most of the deer harvested in New York State are taken during the regular firearms season (64%.) Bow season trails with 22% for 86% of the whitetails harvested and muzzleloader at 8% portion of the annual take with crossbow at 5%.
So the final season’s impact on the deer herd is relatively small compared to the percentage of harvest during the regular firearms and archery season here in the Southern Zone of New York.
Then, after a five-day ceasefire, deer season will finally conclude here after the new post-Christmas bow/muzzloader season running from December 26th through January 1, 2024. (Westchester, Suffolk County, and the Adirondacks (Northern Zone) have their own specific deer hunting dates, so check the New York state regulations guide.
Despite the very nice late Fall-early winter weather, allowing deer hunters to stay afield in relative comfort, longer, the lack of a tracking snow through much of the season made reading sign, and therefore hunting, much more difficult.
We did get a couple brief tracking snows during the regular firearms season, but nothing like we had during bygone decades in the last century.
We won’t know the final stats and harvest totals until next May as the DEC does not compile and total its numbers until then. But my guess is that the overall statewide take will be down, hovering around the quarter million mark. And with the half million deer licenses sold, New York state will see about a 50% success rate.