This Saturday, Oct. 14, marks the opening of the special early archery season for deer in the Southern Zone. The season runs until the day prior to the regular (firearms) season opener of November 18, or for 35 days. Bowhunters can also take advantage of the special nine-day late primitive season that runs December 11-19, giving them a total of 44 days in which to hunt. That's one heck of a deal for $35, which is what the total cost of a basic hunting license plus the archery license is, or less than a dollar a day.
New York archery hunting participation has increased dramatically since the first special bow season, held a half century ago, but it is now in decline. Why? Hunters as a group are aging. A study by Cornell showed that the peak year for younger deer hunters, age 26-35, occurred in 1989. By 1997 that trend had reversed as the hunters aged and fewer young hunters entered the pool. There was a pronounced spike in the percentage of hunters age 36-55. Due to normal aging effects, older hunters tend to hunt less and, also, see their ability to partake in more demanding activities – which bowhunting is – become increasing more limited.
Another factor is fewer non-rural residents are hunting. In 1987 the percentage of deer hunters living in rural areas was 42 percent, but by 1997 that figure had jumped to 67 percent. While this had many implications, the primary ones were the steadily shrinking access to hunting land and the decline of quality employment opportunities in rural upstate areas. That trend has only gotten worse. I won't bore you with all the figures and details, but deer hunting in New York is going through a major change, one that will soon require some fancy footwork and probably some rather drastic changes by the Department of Environmental Conservation.