Politics, Special Interests Could Kill New York Youth Hunt

Governor Andrew Cuomo has a bill on his desk that will kill the long-awaited youth deer hunt currently adopted by … Continued

Governor Andrew Cuomo has a bill on his desk that will kill the long-awaited youth deer hunt currently adopted by the New York Department of Conservation. You read right, the DEC finally adopted a special deer hunt for kids but the Legislature sent a bill to the Governor prohibiting it.

For years, New York’s hunters and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have been kicking around the idea of a special youth deer hunt. The hunt made it into the DEC’s 5-year deer management plan and really started to gain traction among NY hunters. The DEC moved forward with the adoption process, which included conducting hunter surveys, holding public hearings, and collecting and reviewing public comment. In spite of opposition by The New York Bowhunters Inc. and others opposing the kids’ hunt, it was determined that the majority of hunters in the state favored a youth hunt for deer.

By spring, the hunt had gathered momentum. The DEC officially scheduled the 3-day hunt for Columbus Day weekend based on research done with youth hunters and their mentors. Legislation was developed to make it official and hunting families started making plans to get young Jimmy his first deer.

That’s before The New York Bowhunters Inc. sharpened their spears, or should I say arrows, and launched a full-court press to derail the hunt (read more about that battle here). They blitzed the office of Democratic Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee, to voice their opposition to the hunt. Sweeney holds the keys to the legislative side of all things DEC and without his OK, a bill doesn’t even get out of committee. With the bowhunters looking on, Sweeney wrote an amendment to the current crossbow law which stated that the only youth hunt permitted during archery season would be an archery only hunt. In other words, no youth gun hunts for deer during archery season. If the Governor signs the bill, the hunt is history and New York Bowhunters Inc. will have the woods to themselves Columbus Day weekend.

Assemblyman Sweeney’s office maintains that the state’s bowhunters were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed youth hunt. During a conversation with one of Sweeney’s spokespeople, I pointed out that New York Bowhunters Inc’s membership is comprised of a small fraction of the state’s bowhunters (over 2,000 out of about 200,000 bowhunters in the state). I also suggested they don’t necessarily speak for all the bowhunters in the state. But the spokesperson stated that the group was not the only opposition to the hunt and the opposition was overwhelming.

And, since their obligation is to serve the hunting public, there was little choice but to back those opposing the hunt. The Assemblyman’s office stated that they are definitely pro hunting (and cited evidence to prove it) and pro youth hunts. They also stated that they hoped a way to have the hunt could be worked out but it didn’t belong in the bow season as originally proposed and adopted by the DEC.

The NY Bowhunter’s maintain steadfastly that they are not against youth hunts either. They claim to strongly support them, they just don’t want a big-game firearms hunt during their bow season (which has just been lengthened by 2 weeks and just happens to span the Columbus Day weekend). They have been consistent in their position and opposition to the hunt since the hunt was proposed more than a year ago. The bowhunting organization has been beaten up plenty for its position, but its members pressed on, and worked the legislative system. And frankly, they won the day, at least with the Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

According to a source in the know, there is still hope for the hunt. The Governor may be dissuaded from signing the bill for economic impact and other reasons. Apparently his office is still looking at the pros and cons including the political fall-out of being accused of being anti-youth and anti-hunting. They are still hearing from individuals attempting to save the hunt. Others maintain this issue is small-ball to the Governor and he’ll sign it just to get it off his desk. At his point, it’s anyone’s guess.

If he refuses to sign the bill, the hunt should go on and the kids will get their weekend in the woods. If the bill gets signed, the kids lose the hunt unless supporters (namely the DEC) scramble to get a plan “B” in place for 2012.

State after state is successfully running youth hunts. Hundreds of thousands of kids have been introduced to hunting through special youth hunts and in spite of what their detractors might claim, the data show them to be enormously effective and well worth the effort.

The key to plan “B” will be selecting a date for the hunt. This should hardly be a deal breaker. Even though the DEC’s research indicated that Columbus Day weekend would be the best choice for the hunt, a weekend in late September received plenty of support. What’s wrong with that for plan “B”? That’s a great time to take does out of the herd there will be plenty of “shooter” bucks around. Also, the weather should be plenty hospitable to youngsters. Most of all, it doesn’t fall during bow season and should receive plenty of support from the NY Bowhunters and Assembly Sweeney’s office both of whom in principle, are pro youth hunt.

A spokesperson from Assemblyman Sweeney’s office stated that there is plenty of time to reschedule the hunt for 2012 and they would like to support an alternative date. A spokesperson I interviewed from the DEC was unwilling to discuss the matter other than to state repeatedly “the 2012 youth hunt has been adopted but the DEC will comply with any law passed which impacts the hunt.”

She refused to elaborate on that statement or take additional questions to further clarify her position or willingness to work with another date. One can only hope. And while we’re on the topic of hoping, let’s hope the politicians and the DEC can get on the same page.

New York hunters deserve better.