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Estimating the Deer Harvest

Mandatory Harvest Reporting

It took countless hours of work, days of scouting, trail cameras, top of the line gear, and the perfect shot, but you've done it, you've taken down that elusive buck or that crafty doe. Congratulations, you've earned it. Now comes the most important part - no, it's not field dressing, or dragging out your trophy, it's reporting your harvest. Be sure to report your deer harvest.

Calculating the Deer Harvest

DEC Deer Harvest Calculation Process

Hunter Harvest Reports

Reporting your harvest is incredibly important. Hunter reports are a vital part of our deer management program, and without those reports DEC would not be able to effectively manage deer populations across the state. Not only are these reports essential for DEC's management program, reporting your harvest is also a legal requirement. We compile deer harvest data from two primary sources: hunter reports and DEC physical examination of harvested deer. Successful hunters are required by law to report their deer harvest within 7 days and may do so via DEC's automated phone report system, on-line, or mobile application. Additionally, DEC provides postcard report forms for hunters who do not possess a telephone.

The harvest report includes information that is critical for the harvest estimation process:

  • hunter ID number
  • carcass tag number
  • season
  • town, county, and Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) of kill

Other information in the report (e.g., sex of the deer or number of antler points) is useful should law enforcement action be necessary.

Deer Check

The other primary source of deer harvest data is the physical examination (check) of 14,000-17,000 hunter-harvested deer each fall by DEC staff. This deer check occurs predominantly at venison processing facilities and provides biological data about the harvest (e.g., sex and age of the deer, antler measurements, and other data as needed). Additionally, DEC staff record the deer carcass tag #, which is then compared against the hunter harvest reports to determine reporting rates.

Data Validation

After harvest data are compiled, they must be validated to identify erroneous records, such as those that contain incorrect town/county/WMU associations or spelling errors. We cross-reference all carcass tag numbers in the harvest report and deer check data files with a master list of tags issued to ensure only valid tags are included in the harvest calculation.

Calculating Reporting Rates

We use hunter reports and biologist checks to estimate reporting rates (Figure 1), which are an estimate of the percentage of deer harvested that were reported. Reporting rates (which vary by criteria such as region, season, and implement) are then applied to the appropriate records to estimate the total number of deer harvested. It is important to note that this process is conducted at the smallest spatial scale (Town/County/WMU; e.g., Saranac/Clinton/5C) and then summed to larger scales to ensure that estimated values are standardized.

Determining the Sex and Age Composition of the Harvest

Once the number of deer harvested is estimated, we then use DEC deer check data to determine the sex and age composition of harvested deer, such as:

  • fawn male
  • fawn female
  • adult male
  • adult female

Although hunters indicate the sex of deer in their harvest report, we rely on the physical examination of deer by DEC staff as a reliable sampling of harvested deer. By applying the age and sex distribution to the initial estimate, we then have the final deer harvest total by sex and age for each tag type, season, and location (e.g., county, town, WMU) in New York.

Accuracy of Harvest Estimate

Our system for calculating deer harvests was audited by a private group of professional statisticians in 1990. It was found to be very solid and produce highly reliable harvest estimates. The accuracy of our estimate varies from year to year based on changes in reporting rates and the number of deer checked by DEC biologists. However, our estimate has a precision within 1-2% annually.

Importance for Deer Management

Harvest reporting is essential for proper deer management. When hunters report their harvest, they perform a crucial step in the management process. Hunters are the sole source of two critical pieces of harvest information - when and where deer are taken. These data are used, together with reporting rates, to estimate the number of deer harvested in each town, county, and Wildlife Management Unit throughout the State.

Hunters in New York and across the nation face a growing battle to preserve the heritage and traditions they enjoy. Demonstrating to the general public that the hunting community takes seriously their role as cooperators in the game management process is an important element in maintaining their credibility and preserving their hunting traditions. Participation through game harvest reporting is integral in this process.

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