Hunters this season: Younger, brighter, earlier

A pair of hunters sport the proper garb in this photo provided by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The big-game hunters this year will be younger, brighter and earlier as deer season begins, thanks in part to new rules on hunters heading to the woods.

Saturday morning, nearly 600,000 licensed big game hunters became eligible to take part in firearm deer-hunting season statewide. New regulations will allow hunters to start a half-hour before sunrise and remain in the woods until a half-hour after sunset, reports the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We anticipate this hunting season will be similar to last year,” said DEC Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Hurst during an informational Facebook Live event earlier this fall. “We expect roughly 1.2 million deer exist in the state, and as the hunting season goes, hunters will take probably 250,000 of those — roughly a quarter of the deer population will be removed during hunting season.”

Hurst said although that sounds like a lot of deer, it’s a necessary number to keep the deer population at an appropriate level for the environment and for people living in the area.

Cuyler resident Russell Smith, a natural resource conservationist for the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, has hunted all his life. Some of his fondest memories include setting up in the forest before sunrise, listening to the sounds of nature as the animals woke with the dawn.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to be in the woods, taking in the environment. I use it as a chance to slow down and relax -- sometimes life gets in the way and you just need to recharge,” Smith said Wednesday.

Another change for hunters this season is requiring more fluorescent pink or orange clothing. Although these colors may bring the attention of fellow hunters, you’ll still be camouflaged to the deer — they don’t see colors the same way humans do.

This will be the first time 12- and 13-year-old hunters will be able to hunt deer with a firearm, Hurst said. Cortland County approved the local law allowing young hunters to hunt big game earlier this summer. The young hunters must be supervised by an experienced, licensed mentor.

“There’s often a negative connotation with hunting, but there’s a culture there that people don’t always understand and, really, hunters are conservationists,” Smith said.

When the deer herd becomes overpopulated, there is a greater chance for the spread of disease, Smith said, and hunting is one of the few tools people have to prevent it.

The DEC is concerned about two diseases this season: epizootic hemorrhagic disease and chronic wasting disease.

“Right now, we’ve received reports of about 1,900 deer that have died from the epizootic hemorrhagic disease,” Hurst said. Outbreaks have been reported in the past two years in Ulster, Dutchess, Westchester, Putnam, Orange, Columbia and Albany counties.

In New York, experts are seeing the fourth, and most severe, outbreak since 2007. This hemorrhagic disease causes the blood vessels to burst in the deer’s organs and soft tissues, leading to fever and dehydration.

“We are making adjustments with our deer management to address it. The disease is in a few places, but not in a way that’s going to impact population strongly,” Hurst said. “There is another disease that’s not present in New York, that we want to make sure everyone is aware of — we want to keep Chronic Wasting Disease out of New York, and everybody has to do their part.”

The DEC has prohibited hunters from bringing their harvest of an out-of-state animal back to New York, including deer, elk, moose and caribou.

“The only thing you can bring back is a clean skullcap, clean hide, de-boned meat, finished taxidermy mounts,” Hurst said. “Keeping that infectious material out of New York is essential, and prevention is our best strategy. We need hunters to take this disease seriously and do their part.”

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