Sunday, April 09, 2006

NEW YORK NEWS: Antler Restrictions Controversial


The debate over deer-hunting antler restrictions is so fractious that the New York State Conservation Council has decided to play pollster on the issue.

Hunters throughout the state are being invited to fill out a two-page survey on deer management, with several questions directly related to minimum antler criteria. According to council President Harold L. Palmer, the organization has no intention of taking a stand on the issue, but is merely doing a little research to learn what its constituents are thinking.

In this case, neutrality is probably the best policy.

An umbrella organization which lobbies in Albany on behalf of an estimated 300,000 rod and gun club members, the Conservation Council generally tries to build a consensus from the grass roots up before it takes sides on contentious issues.

Antler restrictions, for the uninitiated, are any rules which prohibit hunters from killing a deer whose rack falls shy of a specified minimum standard, such as a certain number of points or a beam-to-beam spread that is wider than the gap between the tips of the ears.

The concept has gained a foothold in the Northeast in the past decade or so, first among hunting clubs and landowner associations and more recently in clusters of state-designated wildlife management units.

Last year, a minimum three points-on-one-beam rule took effect in two Ulster County WMUs, 3C and 3J; and units 3H and 3K in Sullivan County are expected to go the same route this fall.

Meanwhile, an ad hoc group of landowners and hunters in Central New York is trying to gain support for a minimum antler-width rule in WMUs 7F, 7J and 7H, here in the Syracuse area. Public meetings on that proposal will be held at 7 p.m. April 18 at the Auburn Bass Pro Shops store and at the same time April 19 at the state fairgrounds.

Advocates argue that barring the harvest of young, small-antlered bucks will assure that deer herds in the future have a higher percentage of older, larger bucks - in fact, more bucks of all ages. The end result would be a healthier whitetail population with a more natural age structure and a nearly even ratio of does to bucks.

Detractors fume at the prospect of having to hold fire on yearling bucks they would gladly have shot in the past, and worry that antler restrictions will curtail opportunities for hunters who have only a few days to go afield each season.

They're concerned, as well, that tighter rules on buck hunting will cause a reduction in big-game license sales or somehow accelerate a trend toward leasing of prime deer hunting acreage by individual hunters and clubs.

Finally, opponents of antler restrictions fear they'll incur heavy legal penalties for inadvertently killing a buck with a rack that's an inch too narrow or one point short.

The Conservation Council survey won't shed light on such hot-button issues, for it includes only general questions about the role of antler standards in deer management.

Survey respondents are asked to rate the importance of meat hunting versus trophy hunting, whether they favor antler regulations as a means to protect yearling bucks, if they support either point restrictions or minimum antler widths, and whether hunters should be limited to one buck each per year.

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