Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Hunters in New York Harvested More than 253,000 Deer in 2020-21

deerChronic 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.

Notable Numbers
  • 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.

Related Stories


NYS DEC

Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.




16 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    “45 percent — portion of successful deer hunters that reported their harvest as required by law. This is down from 52 percent in 2019.”

    What’s up with this? How accurate is any of the above data when required reporting is so low? Seggos needs to address this.

    • Boreas says:

      Should processors require some sort of proof from the hunter that the kill was reported? I thought they were required to do so in order to process the carcass.

      • JT says:

        Boreas,

        I don’t think there is a requirement that the processor verify the deer kill was reported. The processor only has to verify that the deer has a tag, and then, many hunters process their own deer. Reporting the harvest is done either by phone or on-line. Not sure why many hunters do not report their harvest, could be laziness, anti government attitudes, or could be past problems they have had with the phone reporting system. It’s unfortunate to only have 45% reporting. It does not give me a lot of confidence in the numbers knowing they have to apply a large fudge factor to get the final numbers. One thing I would like to see included in the report is deer killed by vehicles.
        One way they could increase reporting is to make hunters bring the previous years tag when they purchase their new license. If it is filled out, they should have a harvest report on file. No report, no new license.

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    My understanding is that not all hunters want the meat. So I have often wondered…why does not the state of New York allow the processing of venison for sale to the public? You can’t find venison anywhere, except for, or so I heard, at soup kitchens where the poor get to eat it. Or am I missing something?

    • JT says:

      Charlie,
      Was just looking on the DEC website. It says that venison cannot be sold but can be donated. They have the donation program for the needy but anyone could be eligible to take the donated meat. You would probably need to pay the processing fee. There’s a whole list of rules to follow as well. Not sure how easy it would be to obtain venison this way, you would probably have to find a meat processor and ask.

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      I don’t really know why, but perhaps the USDA has regulations on the sale of game meat as well.

      • JT says:

        Boreas, Charlie,
        Yes, I think that is part of it, the USDA meat inspections.
        Also, the DEC does not want to create a market for wild game where hunters harvest wild game for profit.

        • Boreas says:

          We certainly are becoming more aware of unregulated “bushmeat” – another term for wild game meat.

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Thanks for the replies as I have been educated some on this matter, and I think I will look into obtaining some of that donated meat as I just love venison.

    JT! So far as ‘wild game for profit,’ we’re talking venison, not all wild animals, but you make a point. There’d be no deer left if hunters knew they could sell the meat, but maybe not! I mean… there still would be bag limits, and they’d have to be in-season, and if they could sell the meat they would surely be doing that now off-market wouldn’t they?

  4. JT says:

    Charlie,
    Wild Game, yes, venison. Not really much else that amounts to anything. I suppose you could have turkey and goose, but these are not as popular. I wouldn’t think there is a black market for venison, but antlers, on the other hand is a different story. Sometimes bucks are shot just for the antlers, not sure the scope of this problem, but it does exist. Most illegal hunting has to do with hunting at night, hunting out of season and use of another hunters tag. What happens is someone who takes a deer, then takes a second deer using another hunters tag. Some people have their wives take the hunter education course and buy a license so they have an extra tag. The ECO’s frown upon this because many hunters go the season without filling their tag, while some take more than their fair share. I never do, I have enough trouble filling my own tag every year. But getting back to the article and the annual deer harvest numbers, I think the DEC does a pretty good job despite the challenges they face obtaining solid data.
    I did a quick google search and saw a couple websites where you can buy farm raised venison. They raise a different kind of deer called Fallow Deer. This is legal to sell because it is USDA inspected.

    • JB says:

      I think that you are mainly right, DEC does their best to adjust the numbers, but it is possible that COVID compromised the reliability of some of their usual metrics. How many fewer people took their harvest to a public processing facility due to virus fears? How many additional people hunted due to COVID? The interesting headlines for me in the data were that this year was the highest harvest year in 20 years and that there was such a huge increase in the anterless harvest (30% across the board). Also, it is weird that they did not include the usual town-by-town breakdown, at least in the PDF linked.

      Thankfully, CWD has not been detected, but they aren’t testing enough in my opinion. I am familiar with fallow deer. They “raise” them on large open ranches in Texas, where fallow deer are an established invasive species, and you can buy it frozen and have it delivered to your house. Deer farms are the number one cause of CWD spread in the world, and it is a terrifying thing. Hopefully we do not see more deer farms open anywhere near us. But that being said, fallow deer are one of the few cervid species that are believed to be CWD resistant. They have been locked into pens with infected white tail, and several years later immunohistological CWD assays tested negative. Also, on a side note: there are occasionally clusters of vCJD (human contracted prion disease, usually zoonotic), like the one in the southeast possibly linked to squirrel brain eating or the one in the Rochester area possibly linked to elk hunting out west. A cluster of vCJD-like illnesses in New Brunswick has just begun to become known with about 50 known cases. It is unknown whether prions are to blame, but it is widely believed to be the result of some common environmental trigger. Let’s hope that there is not some emerging transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (transmissible prion disease, usually originating in animals that are eaten by other animals) outbreak in the Northeast.

      • JT says:

        JB,
        Yes, I think the increased harvest this year had a lot to do with covid, same as increased numbers of hikers. People getting outdoors for recreation, but with hunting, also people start getting a little nervous about the nations food supply and wanting the option to obtain their own food off the land. I have thought about this, say we had really major food shortages, wild game could become scarce in a hurry. I think this may have been the reason for increased doe harvest, more people hunting for meat rather than just sport and antlers.
        I remember quite a few years ago, there was a CWD outbreak down near Rome. A friend of mine lives there. The DEC went in and thinned out the herd to get a handle on the spread. He stopped taking does afterwards to try to help build the herd back up. No new reports of CWD since then.
        Some states have banned the use of deer urine that hunters use as attractants. It is a highly controversial practice to ban these products among some hunters. The urine is collected from fallow deer on the big farms and the state agencies are concerned that this may potentially help spread CWD amongst whitetail deer. It is still legal in NYS.
        Then you have the ban on feeding deer corn, which I know a lot of people ignore, but many hunters put out food plots which is legal. Sometimes hunters do not get the big picture and help the cause. I am sure CWD will be back.

        • JB says:

          Hi JT,
          I think that increasing meat prices were probably part of the changing hunting pattern. I have also thought that maybe there were a lot of non-regular recreational hunters out there who were not as concerned about taking the biggest trophy buck, at least in the Adirondacks. You are right that inflation in meat prices or shortages would probably be a huge problem for wild game. I think that the reality is that there are very few places in the world left where the lone wolf survivalist/prepper mentality is still viable–in an emergency, people who espouse such philosophies would collectively defeat their own strategy by destroying the available resources, be it on the local level from direct exploitation or on the macro-level from larger ecological changes such as disease.

          The one and only NYS CWD outbreak was actually in my neck of the woods, but luckily it apparently only jumped from the infected farm to a couple of wild deer. Amazingly, one of the few confirmed infected wild deer was shot by a hunter who then fed the meat to 40 people at a volunteer fire department potluck. As of 2015 (10 years later), researchers in a follow-up found no self-reported symptoms in those people. But 10 years is long before symptoms would typically show up from all but the most virulent strains of vCJD, and the disease can only be definitively diagnosed in by examining brain tissues post-mortem. We are maybe the only state in the nation that has seemingly managed to eradicate it before it has taken hold, although Quebec and Norway have had success as well. The problem is that once CWD becomes established, it is impossible to eradicate. I give DEC serious credit for their handling of the issue, but they need to continue incrementally introducing measures to combat CWD as it continues to spread around the country.

          The problem with using urine attractants is that, in TSEs in cervids and sheep, misfolded prion accumulates widely throughout the body and bodily fluids of animals, whereas in bovids and exotic ungulates, misfolded prion typically is more confined to the nervous system tissues. This means that CWD is primarily spread horizontally, very rapidly, between cervids via saliva and urine. It also means that eating meat from afflicted deer will expose the predator to PrPCWD (misfolded cervid prion), hunters included. Because vCJD has a typical incubation time of between 15 and 50 years, it is very difficult to study the human form of TSE. Making matters worse is that there are different “strains” of PrPCWD and some individuals with specific endogenous prion alleles are believed to at least have a greatly delayed incubation period before they begin to show symptoms (vCJD is always fatal within several years of onset of symptoms). There are even some theories which suggest that copper deficient diets make prion misfolding within the body more likely to occur or that TSEs are actually the result of other environmental factors and not prion. Primate studies are our best source of information on human susceptibility thus far. Squirrel monkeys are very susceptible to oral inoculation (contracting prion disease from eating contaminated meat), but they are more susceptible than humans to other TSEs as well. One of our best models, the macaque monkey, has shown mixed results in very expensive long-term studies (live monkeys must be kept in biological containment zones for many years): Czub et. al. in Canada is preliminarily showing a near 100% contraction of TSE after 7 years in macaques fed just a few pounds infected white-tail meat, whereas similar research in the US found “abnormalities” in orally inoculated macaques’ brains after a similar period, but immunohistological CWD assays were negative. I have similarly mixed feelings. CWD is probably less likely to be a source of disease in humans than BSE (mad cow disease), but the potential for for human exposure is huge when CWD can spread so easily among cervids. Then again, the only way to eliminate your risk of contracting vCJD completely would be to stop eating all mammals. Spontaneous cases of BSE occur in about 1 in 1,000,000 cows, with regular screening showing about 1 case per year in US slaughterhouses. Those spontaneous cases of prion disease are also potentially more virulent in humans. That aside, I personally believe that eating bison or beef is much safer than eating venison or mutton. There is also a greater infrastructure in place to ensure that bovid meat is safe to eat, and it is eaten by hundreds of millions of people throughout the country every day. I will not eat venison these days unless it is from an absolutely incontrovertible source, absolutely not from a farm. If I were in my 70s or 80s, maybe I would not be as careful since something else would probably kill me first.

          The US deer farming industry has really lobbied against government regulations restricting deer farming, like the successful regulations we have here in NYS. Europe and Canada have a zero-tolerance policy. There is a lack of understanding about the problem. Maybe in a few decades we will all be more educated and careful about prion disease. Strange to think that COVID, a zoonotic virus most likely originating from wild game meat, has actually triggered an increase in US interest in wild game.

  5. JT says:

    JB,

    Some interesting information here. The part about TSEs in cervids and sheep, misfolded prion accumulates widely throughout the body and bodily fluids, I was under the impression that as long as you stay away from the brain and nervous system tissue, you should be safe. So this may not be the case then. The DEC website advises this. They also mention that there have been no cases of CWD reported in humans, but if the incubation period is 15 to 50 years, perhaps we just don’t know. Like you said, they really should be doing more testing.
    I don’t think I will change my diet since deer hunting is kind of ingrained in me and I think the benefits outweigh the risks. Then, the more deer that hunters take, reduces the population and helps reduce the risk of CWD spreading.

    • JB says:

      Thanks, I figured I could probably be useful here. The CDC and DEC are all “towing the party line” on this…i.e., “the meat is fine as long as it is deboned”. But there is plenty of peer-reviewed research confirming the presence of PrPCWD misfolded prion in deer meat. The part that is really not understood is human susceptibility. Humans are definitely susceptible to some TSEs, like BSE (mad cow); we know from the outbreak of the 1990s that the incubation period for BSE-induced vCJD is relatively short (about 10-15 years; vCJD caused by 20th-century cannibalism in Papau New Guinea sometimes had a much longer incubation period).

      All healthy mammals contain prion protein in their bodies, particularly in the nervous system, but when it becomes misfolded, it is believed to lead to disease. TSEs are transmissible neurodegenerative disorders of mammals characterized by vacuous lesions in the brain in association with misfolded prion protein. The theory is that misfolded prion acts as the contagious agent of TSEs when it comes into contact with healthy endogenous prion and causes a cascade of prion misfolding, which then leads to eventual fatal neurological problems. There is some theoretical research that analyzes structural differences between PrPCWD and normal human prion protein, the theory being that human prion is different enough from cervid prion that a species barrier is created which TSEs cannot cross, unlike the BSE prion. The problem with that theory is that there is obviously no long-term data to back it up. On the other hand, the only counter-evidence (i.e., that CWD can cause vCJD) is derived either from circumstantial clusters of vCJD in hunters in endemic CWD areas, which remains alarming due to the rareness of vCJD (typically about 1 case in 1,000,000 in the US population), or from macaque studies, which are inconsistent thus far and not guaranteed to translate to humans but, as I said above, nonetheless unsettling. The Canadian macaque research has caused quite a stir, with Canada instituting very strict anti-CWD mandates.

      I will point out that the advice to “not eat sick looking deer” is not as helpful as it sounds. Wildlife pathologists have learned pretty quickly that asymptomatic animals often present with irrefutable evidence of CWD on post-mortem brain examination. TSEs have an incubation period of probably 2-10 years in cervids from time of exposure until they begin showing any symptoms at all, but the misfolded prion has propagated extensively by the appearance of the first symptoms. Remember also that cervids can become infected vertically, from the mother in utero. Also, any advice that cooking will destroy prion is probably not helpful. Prion is remarkable stable, surviving and remaining infectious in experiments after being heated in furnaces to thousands of degrees. The prion protein is also notoriously difficult to remove from surfaces, even clinging tightly to stainless steel or being uptaken by plants from soil. Even in soil, prion can remain infectious for decades.

      The risk to humans posed by other humans who have contracted vCJD is also well known. Corneal transplants, human growth hormone from cadavers, pharmaceuticals derived from human urine (fertility treatments), blood transfusions and even surgical instruments are potential vectors that infectious disease specialists think about, at least since the mad cow outbreak. In fact, I have heard that the U.K. now imports blood from overseas as a result of fears stemming from that outbreak; the country was hit harder than anywhere else in the world during the 1990s, and it is estimated that 2% of the population, and thus 2% of potential blood donors, could be asymptomatic vCJD carriers as a result.

      I think that NYS deer hunters are at little risk right now. If more monitoring is done, and I think that this may be a silver lining of COVID, we will probably understand more in a few decades. But until then, agreed, we should remain vigilant. Overpopulation of deer is a problem in some NYS areas, and DEC should continue doing all they can to encourage larger takes in those places as needed. But the most effective proven measures are banning the import and raising of captive cervids, banning practices that unnecessarily cause deer to congregate in close proximity, and making it easy for hunters to get carcasses tested. Unlike most animals raised for livestock, it seems like CWD is telling us that most deer species simply have not been selected, either naturally or artificially, for living in large numbers in close proximity. Caribou obviously would seem to be an exception to that conjecture, but that is a whole other interesting issue that you don’t want to get me started on.

      • JT says:

        JB

        As you mentioned, “TSEs have an incubation period of probably 2-10 years in cervids from time of exposure until they begin showing any symptoms at all, but the misfolded prion has propagated extensively by the appearance of the first symptoms”. Based on this, I don’t think it would be highly likely you would see many symptomatic deer. I read somewhere the average life expectancy for bucks is 2.9 years and does 6.5 years. So you could have a CWD outbreak and not even know it. Reason for more testing.

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