New York’s regular big game season for deer and bear in the Southern Zone starts Saturday and runs through Dec. 8.

The season for early bowhunters, which started Oct. 1, ends today. There is still a late archery opportunity for hunters as well as the muzzleloading season, both of which run from Dec. 9-17.

Ryan Rockefeller, a big game biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said that based on reports from the early bow season, “It’s a pretty active year. There are plenty of deer. As many or more than last year. It can be different in some pockets. And I’ve seen a lot of nice bucks.”

He said he passed on a young buck in favor of a doe during bow season.

The recent cold weather spell has brought deer out in the open more to feed, Rockefeller said.

“The key will be food sources,” he said, while “opening day should be almost perfect conditions.”

The snow will make it easier to spot deer in the woods and the cold will keep them moving. Precipitation should not be a factor.

As far as food, a good crop of apples seems to be pretty strong and there’s a healthy acorn crop after last season’s disappointing crop. “That will help the deer going into winter,” Rockefeller said.

There should be a good bear population this year after deep snow last season cut into the harvest during big-game season. The snow hampered hunters as well as bears.

“The bear population in the Southern Tier is pretty stable,” Rockefeller said. The biggest change in Cattaraugus County is in the northern part of the county. “That has the most rapid reforestation for old farms, prime habitat,” he added.

Ryan said a DEC deer check station will be set up along Route 16 in Holland in Erie County on Saturday from noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

DEC officials have a few reminders for hunters venturing out this weekend.

The most important thing to remember is firearms safety:

n Always point your gun in a safe direction.

n Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

n Be sure of your target and what’s beyond.

n Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

Another important safety reminder is to wear blaze orange or pink to make oneself more visible to other hunters.

“Hunters who wear orange are seven times less likely to be shot,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos points out.

Last year, five hunters were reported injured getting into or out of tree stands. There were no deaths due to the falls. A Chautauqua County woman was shot and killed by a hunter who mistook her for a deer after dusk.

State DEC officials urge hunters to wear a safety harness and a climbing belt, as most accidents occur when climbing into our out of a tree stand. Never climb up or down from a tree stand with a loaded gun.

The DEC is again encouraging hunters to use a mobile app to report their deer or bear harvest by accessing an electronic version of their hunting license and reporting deer, bear and turkey harvests with their mobile device while still in the field.

Hunters may also use the telephone reporting system by calling toll free to (866) 426-3778. Mobile and online systems are faster, however.

The DEC encourages hunters to pass up on shooting that young buck so it will continue to grow and make for a better harvest in another year or two.

“Working together, hunters are making a difference for the future of the deer herd and increasing their likelihood of seeing older, larger bucks,” DEC big game biologists say.

The state has just published new regulations aimed at keeping Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) out of New York.

No cases of CWD have been reported in the state in 14 years.

The DEC this week announced new regulations to protect the state’s deer, elk and moose from Chronic Wasting Disease.

The most significant change is that hunters are now prohibited from returning to New York with the whole carcass of a deer, elk, moose or caribou from outside the state.

Deboned meat, cleaned skull cap, antlers with no flesh, raw or processed cape or hide, cleaned teeth or lower jaw and finished taxidermy products of CWD-susceptible animals are the only items that may be brought into the state.

DEC conservation officers will be monitoring roadways into New York where the carcasses of CWD-susceptible animals might be carried. Carcasses illegally imported into New York will be confiscated and destroyed, according to DEC officials.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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