Chronic Wasting Disease Risk is Real, No Evidence Currently in New York State
Hunters in New York harvested an estimated 253,990 deer during the 2020-21 hunting seasons, an increase of 13 percent from last year, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced.
“With a seven-percent increase in licensed deer hunters, a 30-percent increase in antlerless harvest, and two new record-breaking bucks taken by bowhunters, 2020 was a remarkable year despite pandemic-related challenges,” said Commissioner Seggos. “Regulated hunting benefits all New Yorkers by reducing the negative impacts of deer on forests, communities, and crop producers, while providing more than 10 million pounds of high quality, local protein to families and food pantries across the state annually.”
The 2020 estimated deer take included 137,557 antlerless deer and 116,433 antlered bucks. Statewide, this represents a 30-percent increase in antlerless harvest and a three-percent decrease in buck harvest from the last season. Across the board, whether with a bow, muzzleloader, or rifle, hunters targeted antlerless deer more in 2020 than 2019, supporting DEC’s management objectives to maintain stable deer populations in most of the State and to reduce deer abundance in a few areas. Hunters took 33,260 deer in the Northern Zone, a 10-percent increase from 2019, primarily due to increased antlerless harvest. Southern Zone hunters took 220,730 deer, a 14-percent increase from 2019, also because of increased antlerless harvest.
Increased antlerless harvests may have been due, at least in part, to additional hunters and renewed motivation to harvest venison during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the number of licensed big game hunters increased to just over 588,000, approximately seven percent more than 2019. The number of bowhunters increased 10 percent, reaching a new high of more than 251,000, and the number of muzzleloader hunters increased six percent to more than 253,600. And after several years of declining participation, the number of youth deer hunters ages 14 to 15 increased by 23 percent. This year, new legislation allows 12- and 13-year-old youths to hunt deer with adult supervision. With these additional hunters, DEC issued approximately six percent more Deer Management Permits (antlerless tags) than in 2019, and hunters were more successful filling DMPs at a greater rate than prior years, resulting in a 34-percent increase in DMP harvest.
Across the state, harvest of 2.5-year-old bucks exceeded that of yearling bucks for the second year in a row, as hunters continued to voluntarily pass up young bucks. In portions of southeastern New York without mandatory antler point restrictions, 70 percent of the bucks taken were 2.5 years or older, demonstrating that the voluntary choices of hunters are effective at providing opportunity for hunters to take older bucks. The goal of DEC’s Let Young Bucks Go and Watch Them Grow campaign is to preserve hunter freedom of choice while advancing the age structure of harvested bucks, predominantly into the 2.5-year-old age class. As proof of the effort’s success, in 2020 two new records were set with the largest typical and non-typical archery bucks ever taken in New York, from Suffolk and Niagara counties respectively, according to the New York State Big Buck Club.
- 16.9 and 0.6 — number of deer taken per square mile in the units with the highest (WMU 8R) and lowest (WMU 5F) harvest density.
- 61.7 percent — portion of the adult buck harvest that was 2.5 years or older statewide, up from 45 percent a decade ago, and 30 percent in the 1990s.
- 45 percent — portion of successful deer hunters that reported their harvest as required by law. This is down from 52 percent in 2019.
- 14,825 — number of hunter-harvested deer checked by DEC staff in 2020 to determine hunter reporting rate and collect biological data (e.g., age, sex, antler data).
- 2,720 — deer tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in 2020-21; none tested positive. DEC has tested more than 56,000 deer for CWD since 2002.
Deer harvest data are gathered from two main sources: harvest reports required of all successful hunters; and DEC’s examination of more than 14,800 harvested deer at meat processors and check stations across the state. Harvest estimates are made by cross-referencing these two data sources and calculating the total harvest from the reporting rate for each zone and tag type. DEC’s 2020 Deer Harvest Summary report (PDF) provides tables, charts, and maps detailing the deer harvest around the state and can be found on DEC’s website. Past harvest summaries are also available on DEC’s website.
Stay Vigilant to Keep CWD out of New York
DEC tested 2,720 harvested deer across the state and found no evidence of CWD in the herd. DEC partners with cooperating meat processors and taxidermists to obtain samples for testing each year.
“Every year New York remains free of Chronic Wasting Disease is a success, but the risk remains,” Commissioner Seggos said. “Hunters are critical for New York’s ongoing monitoring and CWD prevention efforts, as well as continuing to take preventative steps to keep our state’s deer herd safe. Hunters who hunt deer or elk out of state may inadvertently-but illegally-bring CWD-infected carcasses or animal parts into New York, a potential disaster for deer and those who love deer. We encourage hunters to continue to support DEC’s efforts to keep New York CWD-free.”
CWD is a highly contagious disease that affects deer, elk, moose, and caribou. CWD poses a significant threat to New York’s wild white-tailed deer herd. It is always fatal and there are no vaccines or treatments available. CWD is believed to be caused by a prion, which is an infectious protein, that can infect animals through animal-to-animal contact or contaminated environments. CWD has been found in 26 states.
To expand protections for New York deer and moose, DEC adopted regulations in 2019 to prohibit importation of carcasses of deer, elk, moose, and caribou taken anywhere outside of New York. Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) have increased enforcement efforts, seizing and destroying hunter-killed deer brought in illegally. DEC also strongly recommends that hunters not use natural deer urine-based lures, which could contain CWD prions. Hunters that believe lures are important for their success can use synthetic products.
For wildlife diseases like CWD, prevention is the most effective management policy, and hunters are important partners in disease prevention. If CWD is detected in New York, DEC and the State Department of Agriculture and Markets will implement the Interagency CWD Response Plan (PDF). The plan will guide actions if the disease is detected in either captive cervids-any species of the deer family-or wild white-tailed deer or moose. There are no documented cases of CWD infecting humans, but DEC urges caution when handling or processing CWD-susceptible animals. For more of what DEC is doing and what you should know about CWD, visit DEC’s website.