By CourtesyFebruary 7, 2020
By William Killough, Matt Allison and Chris Pray
In 2019, the West Point Garrison initiated a five-year experiment altering the deer management program on the reservation. In October, a group of hunters petitioned the garrison commander to implement a new management tool aimed at the preservation of yearling bucks.
The hunters were interested in implementing an Antler Point Restriction (APR) with the goal of increasing the number of bucks that reach the 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 age group. The proposed new rule would prohibit hunters from taking any bucks with less than three, one inch points on at least one antler.
There were a few questions associated with this rule: What is the actual population and demographics of the herd? Will the rule achieve its goals? How do we serve hunters who value the hunting experience differently from those seeking a trophy deer? Will some hunters be shut out from taking a deer this year? Will the implementation of a new rule be accepted by the West Point hunting community?
To help answer these questions, two town hall meetings were held during which hunters were presented both pro and con arguments for the APR.
At the conclusion of the presentations, hunters were given the opportunity to ask questions and participate in a vote to determine if the APR would be implemented.
The APR motion carried. Other outcomes of the town hall meetings were a compromise on allowing approximately one-fourth the huntable area of the reservation to be exempt from APRs, and an associated human dimensions study was directed to help answer the questions of, 'What do our hunters value?' and 'Does the program meet these needs?'
This study is included in the FY2020 Environmental Budget to collect the baseline data, with a follow-up study that will incorporate a review of the program's impact, scheduled at the conclusion of the first five-year period.
The rule was announced at the annual hunting lottery, and went into effect for the 2019 regular and late big game seasons.
With the conclusion of the 2019 hunting season, we now have statistical data of the first APR deer season, and how the APR impacted the take.
Below are some key take-aways regarding the season and the new APR:
• Did the harvest meet its goal-The answer would be a resounding yes. Hunter success rate stayed the same with 82.7% of the harvest at six points or better up from 55% the year before and of that 44.8% were eight points or better, up from 25.8% last year. Our four-point or less harvest was down from 31% last year to 3.5% this year. The yearling harvest went down from 18 last year to one this year, a 95% decrease.
• The pre-existing herd-The deer herd easily supported the new rule. In contrast to reporting rates in New York State Wildlife Management Units, which had recently implemented an APR that saw an immediate 40% reduction in take and a 20% long-term reduction, there was no change in buck harvest success rates this inaugural year.
• Acceptance-Hunters readily accepted the rule. The majority of hunters were either for the rule change or without comment. A few were dissatisfied, but the area compromise allowing them to hunt in accordance with their preference was acceptable. Only a few hunters reported missing out on taking a buck due to the APR, but they were not upset by the loss and still considered their chances of success to be good.
• Take by sex-Ninety-four deer were harvested at West Point, including 58 antlered bucks, 28 adult doe and eight fawns. The adult buck harvest remained the same, but 13 more does were harvested from 2018. The total deer harvest is an 18% increase from 2018 and marks the highest overall deer harvest in the last five years.
• Herd health indicators-Antlered buck dressed weights for the regular season ranged from 99 pounds to 168 pounds, with the average antlered buck harvested weight being 124 pounds dressed, up from 107 pounds in 2018. Adult doe weights averaged ranged from 72 pounds to 115 pounds with the average adult doe weight being 92 pounds dressed.
• Regular season take by age class-Forty-three adult bucks were harvested, including 12 2 1/2-year-olds, 20 3 1/2-year-olds, eight 4 1/2-years-olds and two bucks 5 1/2-years-old or older. One yearling buck was harvested (versus 18 in 2018-a 95% yearling decrease) while 42 2 1/2-plus-year-old bucks were harvested (versus 27 in 2018-a 64% increase).
• Buck take by antler points-Fifty-eight antlered bucks were taken each year in 2018 and 2019. However, in 2019, there was a major increase in older, antlered deer with higher-point counts.
- In 2019: 82.7% of bucks had 6-plus points, including 44.8% with 8-plus points. 3.5% had less than 4 points.
- In 2018: 55.1% of bucks had 6-plus points including, 25.8% with 8-plus points. 31.0% had less than 4 points.
• Harvest by season-The 94 deer harvested at West Point included 20 deer taken in early bow season (21.2%), 65 taken in regular firearms season (69.1%) and nine taken in late muzzle loader season (13.8%). Early season harvest falls within range of previous four years. Regular season harvest continues its upward trend. Late season harvest tripled.
• Deer by area-In 2019, deer were harvested in 30 of the 46 possible areas. Of the 94 total deer harvested, 10 deer were harvested on cantonment. This year's take included 73 deer harvested in APR areas while 21 deer were harvested in non-APR areas.
The top five areas in terms of harvest were, in order-Area P (eight deer), Area U2 (seven deer), and Areas J2 Bow, J3 Bow, L, R, Y and Z2 (each with five deer).
• Use of APR & Non-APR areas-In 2019, check-ins into APR areas made up 74.1% of all total check-ins and check-ins into non-APR areas made up 25.9%. Interestingly, this strongly resembles the usage of those same areas in 2017 and 2018, indicating the adoption of Antler Point Restriction did not impact usage of these areas.
• Antler point restriction-In 2019, West Point adopted a three-on-a-side antler point restriction across roughly two-thirds of the reservation. The stated goal of this regulation was to decrease yearling take and increase mature buck take. The restriction accomplished these goals and did so without impacting the overall area use or overall hunter harvest rates.
• Regular season hunter/days & catch per unit effort (CPUE)-CPUE is a method of calculating success by dividing the catch (harvest) by the unit of effort (a hunter/day-e.g., a hunter signed out to go hunting on a certain date). In 2019, we had 229 total regular season hunters accounting for 842 total hunter/days. With a total regular season harvest of 65 deer, this is a catch per unit effort of 7.7%.
In 2019, there were 100 more hunter/days than in 2018, but with the increased take this is a similar overall catch per unit effort (8.0% in 2018). Hunters overall experienced similar success rates.
• Who got deer-Of all 94 successful deer harvests, the following reflected the by hunter harvest:
1.) Active duty military account for roughly one-third (32, 34.0%).
2.) West Point civilians (20, 21%).
3.) Retirees (both military/civilian retirees, 18, 19.1%).
4.) Guest hunters took nine deer (9.5%).
5.) Dependents took six deer (6.4%).
6.) General public hunters took five deer (5.3%).
7.) Cadets took three deer (3.2%).
• Long-term harvest trends-The 2019 deer hunting season at West Point saw the most deer taken since 2013 and marks the fifth straight year of increased total deer harvest.
Although historical trends show the last seven or so years being the leanest years in terms of overall harvest, this is largely the result of general public hunter restriction and regulations aimed at herd expansion through the management of total take.
It would appear that as of the close of the 2019 deer seasons, the new APR did not result in any of the negative consequences which can make the issue contentious. Lots of good deer were taken as many people got out in the woods and had a good time.
This year's APR kept the take in yearlings to a minimum, and these deer will be available in the next few years as 5's, 6's and 7's. So far the experiment appears to be a success.