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Big game hunting season ends

The regular big game hunting season comes to a close in all Northern Zone Wildlife Management Units at sunset on Dec. 14 with the conclusion of the late muzzleloading season.

Although preliminary DEC estimates indicate that the deer take was down a bit from last season's harvest, the hunting season can still be considered a great success. It was the first year the state allowed 14 year old hunters to legally take to the field in pursuit of big game.

As a direct result of the new Mentor Law, the DEC has seen hunting license sales increase of about 3.5 percent, from about 1.375 million last year to more than 1.421 million through Nov. 30 of 2008.

A spokeswoman for the DEC describes the increase as "a favorable reversal of the long-term decline largely attributable to the demographics of an aging population."

Prior to this year's license sales figures, the average age of New York's big game hunters had approached 53 years of age. With the addition of youthful hunters, this figure is expected to drop dramatically.

In the 2007 big game season, there were 37 hunting accidents with six fatalities. In 2006, only one fatality was reported for the season. The 2008 season ended with four fatalities. Sadly, this tragic total included a local hunter from Keene.

In the 1960s, the accident rate was 19 per 100,000 hunters. Since 2000, the rate has dropped to 6.5 incidents per 100,000 hunters.

From 1996 to 2002 the average number of accidents reported in New York was 56 but from 2003-07 the average dropped to 33.

Although the regular big game season has concluded, there remain numerous opportunities to still go afield for small game such as rabbit, ruffed grouse, squirrel and pheasant or for furbearers including fox, raccoon, coyote or bobcat.

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