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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Mandatory antler restrictions on the horizon like a dark cloud

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  • Only three states in the Northeast have statewide mandatory Antler Restrictions, as there are only eight states in the entire country and Canada that have mandatory whitetail antler restrictions statewide (a number of others, including NY, have limited AR in localized areas.) But I am afraid that New York is leaning to be number nine.
    If it was such a good idea, why haven't other states jumped on board the AR train? In fact, a couple states that were on board, bailed.
    That is, NY state has it in the works to make it mandatory for every deer hunter in 2015 to count points on a buck before they shoot, and if it has say, fewer than three on a side, then it is not a legal buck.
    ARs are all about antlers. But many hunters hunt for meat, and whether a deer has three points or six points is little difference in the freezer when we are feeding our families. And there is little argument that venison is the healthiest meat.
    Mandatory antler restrictions are a bad idea for a number of reasons. And those reasons are glossed over by glassy-eyed deer hunters who think that making it illegal to shoot a young buck means there will be more older bucks to dream about and shoot. But the facts are in ... it has been proven in Pennsylvania and the few other states that have experimented with AR's, once ARs are implemented there are actually fewer bucks to shoot. All the pressure is on the older class bucks. That is partly why New Hampshire and Michigan retracted their statewide AR programs and so few other states have implemented them.
    However, in certain geographical areas, it may be prudent to institute mandatory ARs if the majority of the deer hunters in that locale thought it was a good idea and there was a specific ecological objective that needed such drastic measures. And it is a positive that state game departments have the flexibility and latitude to fine-tune a deer herd for a short amount of time to reach a prescribed and defined goal.
    I believe in personal selectivity. I pass on a number of bucks each season and have for many years. Many hunters do the same thing. But most deer hunters do not have a lot of time to spend in the woods chasing whitetails, especially young hunters and hunters that have demanding jobs. Their lives are very complex and busy. These people are far from the hunting pros that make the TV shows and bag a big buck between every commercial. The working man and woman deserve to have a large and viable deer herd so that they can get their deer and have some venison in the freezer without a lot of family and work sacrifice.
    Page 2 of 2 - I have to laugh when states, such as in neighboring Pa., and an unusually large buck is shot and all the AR advocates proclaim, "See ... see it's ARs that produced that buck!" When in fact, Pa. has always produced large bucks and for that matter, so has every state, regardless of the specific game management plan.
    I bought a Pa. hunting license every year since 1971, but quit hunting Pa. three years ago when the population due to the Pa. Game Commission's down-is-up whitetail management system and philosophy has decimated the herd. I would feel guilty shooting a deer down there now.
    Unit 3A, North-central area, used to have wonderful deer hunting and I have fond memories there of many great hunts. Northcentral Pa. used to have a superb deer density and each season the successful hunters were legion. No longer. Not since mandatory antler restrictions were implemented. Now the whitetail in Northcentral Pa. is just like their cousins in the Central Adirondacks in New York where there are less than two bucks per square mile!
    Compare that to the adjacent Southern Tier of NY where there is an average of five bucks per square mile.
    What often is hooked to the AR program when it is initiated is a surge in antlerless permits. The game departments expect fewer bucks to be harvested, obviously when an AR program is instituted. So they flood the deer hunting license buyers with doe permits. They want the herd population lowered.
    We saw what happened in New York state when that happened around 10 years ago. The result was a big collapse in the herd that took five years to come back ... and some say it still hasn't fully recovered. And the harvest figures have shown an upswing in the final take figures ... but during that time the center-fire rifle was legalized and many hunters have exchanged their 100-yard range shotgun for a 300-yard range rifle.
    And there was a Mississippi study that determined that AR's created a phenomenon called "high grading" where the biggest and largest racked bucks are continually shot out of a population, the result is smaller-racked bucks with fewer points. It only makes sense, taking out only the biggest and best and allowing the smallest racked individuals to do the breeding. To me it is simply Livestock Breeding 101 in reverse.
    There are many reasons why Mandatory Antler Restrictions should not be implemented in New York state. But here, the greed of the powerful few outweighs the desires of the many.
    Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday on the Outdoors page.
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