The final version of New York State budget for the coming year, which could be approved this week, includes a provision lowering the minimum age for hunting big game (deer and bear) with a firearm or crossbow from age 14 to 12.
The provision entails a two-year pilot program that takes effect June 1 and expires Dec. 31, 2023. The change will impact most of the state, excluding Long Island, New York City and Westchester County.
Another big change that was proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo back in January in his executive budget proposal was to allow use of crossbows for hunting big game during the entire bow hunting season. That change, however, did not make it through both houses of the state Legislature into the final spending plan.
Chuck Parker, president of the New York State Conservation Council, said he was “”basically disappointed by the lack of inclusion of crossbows into the full archery season, but happy to hear about the pilot program that would lower the big-game hunting age.”
“Hopefully, this is the start of an increase in opportunities to hunt with the legal implements available,” he said.
The regulation change lowers the hunting age for junior hunters ages 12 to 15 using a shotgun, rifle, crossbow or muzzleloader. It includes the following provisions:
1). The young hunter, who is required to have taken and passed a hunter safety course and have a hunting license, must be accompanied their parent, legal guardian or by a person over the age of 21 designated in writing by the hunter’s parent or legal guardian.
2). The adult mentor must also hold a hunting license and have at least three years of experience hunting deer and be near the minor while hunting. Specifically, that means the adult mentor must be close enough to “issue verbal directions and instructions, maintain constant visual contact and other otherwise provide guidance and supervision to the minor.”
3), Both the young hunter and the adult mentor are required to stay on the ground. Tree-standing hunting is not allowed.
3). Both the adult mentor and the young hunter will be required to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of solid or patterned fluorescent orange or pink “consisting or no less than 50 percent fluorescent orange or pink material worn above the waist and visible from all directions or a hat or cap with no less than 50 percent of the exterior consisting (of the same colors) and visible from all directions.”
4. Counties where this change would take effect have to each pass a local law authorizing the new regulation and notify the DEC about their participation in the pilot program.
As part of the pilot program, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will be required to prepare a report by Feb. 1 of each year that includes the number of violations, hunting-related accidents and revocations, the number of counties participating, number of minors participating and the number of deer taken.
New York already allows junior bowhunters ages 12-15 to hunt big game with a bow when accompanied by an adult mentor. Currently, 46 states in the U.S. currently allow hunters ages 12 or younger to hunt big game with a firearm.
As for crossbows, hunters in New York can use then during the last week or two of the regular bow hunting seasons in the Northern and Southern Zones, during the regular firearms season and in the late bow/muzzleloading seasons.
Allowing their use during the entire regular bow hunting season has been debated for the past couple of years. Cuomo’s proposal also would have required that crossbow users take and pass a bowhunter’s safety course, which they’re now not required to do.
Rick McDermott, of Pulaski, of New York Crossbow Coalition, has been advocating for crossbow use by hunters in New York since 2012. He said he felt this was the year that the crossbows would be allowed during the full Southern and Northern archery seasons based on the support of the governor and a good number of lawmakers from both houses of the state Legislature.
“But evidently not,” he said. “The fight is not over.”
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