Deer Hunting Cooperatives
New York Hunting
Working Together for Older Bucks and Better Habitat
Throughout New York, hunters are banding together to create deer management cooperatives, or co ops. A co-op is a group of hunters who work together to accomplish goals over a collective acreage of land.
Reducing harvest of yearling (1.5-year-old) bucks is often a goal for co-ops. Bucks that are 2.5-years-old or older provide substantially more meat and larger antlers, and tend to create more rubs, scrapes, and vocalizations during the rut than their yearling counterparts. When groups of hunters choose not to harvest yearling bucks, they can substantially reduce the amount of effort needed to observe and take older bucks.
For a co-op in Yates County, NY, hunters agreed to try to harvest only bucks that have an outside spread of 14 inches or greater, which excluded the great majority of yearling bucks while leaving available the great majority of older bucks. As a result of their self-imposed restriction, the rate at which the hunters saw older bucks nearly doubled within five years, and the hunting effort needed to see an older buck has declined substantially, even more so in 2017 (Figure 1). With such positive results, co-op organizer John Hammer said, “Our co-op continues to grow each year as non-member property owners join after seeing more and larger bucks on their properties as the result of their neighbors letting young bucks go.”
It is not necessary to prohibit harvest of all yearling bucks to achieve similar results. In fact, about 19% of the adult bucks harvested by the Yates County Co-op members were yearlings (Figure 2). Many co-ops allow youth, first-time, and senior hunters to harvest any buck they choose. Co-ops also have the flexibility to change buck harvest criteria based on member input. “Some members have pushed to raise our minimum width requirement over the years, possibly to 16”, while other members have resisted,” John said. “So we haven’t changed it. Instead, we’ve given our members the freedom to adopt additional harvest standards above the co-op minimum for their individual properties, and this has left everyone satisfied.”
Many co-ops also seek to improve habitat conditions for deer and other wildlife. Co-ops can enhance natural forage and cover for deer by creating young forest, fostering open areas with native forbs and shrubs, and pruning or planting native fruit and nut trees. Too, many co-ops participate in DEC’s Deer Management Assistance Program to meet their antlerless harvest goals, bringing the co-op’s deer population into better balance with the habitat.
This upcoming season, consider knocking on some doors or making a few phone calls to hunters on neighboring properties. You may just find out that they are seeking the same opportunity to let young bucks go and watch them grow!
Note: DEC thanks the Yates County Deer Management Cooperative for sharing data and their experience working together to manage white-tailed deer.