Variety of small game available to hunters keeps shrinking

In many ways it’s rather sad that the most realistic small game hunting in our area has been reduced to primarily for grey squirrel, cottontail rabbit (although the best rabbit habitats are spotty and often near roadways), and wild turkey. As many senior readers probably recall, October was once a month when area hunters sought pheasant, grouse, woodcock and rabbit, but that was decades ago, before the birth of the mammoth NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in 1972.

Of course change is inevitable in nearly everything, given sufficient time and changing demographics and public attitudes. However, it’s noteworthy – at least to me – that government usually plays a major role in the changes that occur, and the DEC has certainly been no exception.

Whereas the predecessor of the DEC, the NYS Conservation Department, was primarily a fish and game agency, its demise reflected a changing attitude by the State as well as public demographics as more people left the rural areas to reside in or near urban areas. Increasingly fewer residents hunted or trapped, and increasingly fewer understood or cared how wildlife management worked and why it was necessary. The focus rapidly turned to total environmental issues and concerns and less on fish and game, their management and habitat conservation and development thereof.

These, combined with major changes in agricultural techniques and the steady replacement of active farmlands and wetland habitat by abandonment or with either residential or commercial development, gradually transformed and changed what was once excellent wildlife habitat for many popular species while new, less compatible habitat replaced it. This pretty much sounded the death toll for many low-growth wildlife species, many of which were game species. Habitat more conducive to attracting and supporting deer, wild turkey, coyote, and of late, bear emerged. And suburban-adaptive species such as deer, skunk, raccoon and even coyote increasingly became the norm.

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