This year, DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement is NOT planning to have its Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) out in force on opening day of the gun season for deer in the Southern Zone. That’s good news for poachers, but bad news for the rest of us.

The planned effort, (or lack thereof), is being cut due to “budgetary concerns.”

The Director of the Division of Law Enforcement provided the following statement;

“DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers will be on regular call duty on Opening Day and respond to any call for service or complaint that is received. Overtime is not anticipated.”

So, nearly one third of ECOs who are scheduled to be off on the Southern Zone opener, will not be assigned or allowed to work on notably the busiest hunting day, (likely the busiest day period) for upstate ECOs.

Let me preface further discussion of this unfortunate decision by stating the individual ECO is a dedicated professional. They want to work. They have been out there, putting their lives on the line to catch poachers, and they do a great job of it. But now they are being hamstrung by a bad decision on the part of their Division Director.

In my 30-year career as an ECO and ECO supervisor, I can’t recall a single time when ECOs were told to actually stay home on opening day.

It’s a demoralizing decision. It comes at a time when ECO morale is already in the toilet for a number of reasons. This misguided course of action is likely to have a very negative effect on those ECOs already down in the dumps.

Timing couldn’t be worse for it. This should be the magical time of year for ECOs. Fall hunting seasons inspire them to get out and focus on being a game warden. They took the job to combat poachers. They sacrifice hunting on opening day to protect you, the legal deer hunter, from those who would steal your game.

The cost of not having our dedicated, professional ECOs working on opening day cannot be measured merely in terms of dollars and cents. It can lead to permanent loss of the future motivation of our officers. We can’t afford to have that. The decentralized, independence and self-motivation model is required for our ECOs to be effective. This is no time to diminish the “Thin Green Line” that stands between us, poachers and polluters.

Due to this decision, ECOs will have less resources and be less able to catch road hunters, deer jackers, and game hogs, not to mention having less capability to respond to Hunter Related Shooting Incidents.

It just doesn’t make any sense.

You obey game laws, pay for your hunting license, and what are you getting for it? In 2020, a decision that says protecting our deer, deer hunters, and the non-hunting public alike are the lowest of priorities. So, what are the priorities? What does DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement Director spend his overtime budget on? You’d be shocked to truly find out where and what that overtime money is spent on.

There’s one thing I know it’s NOT being spent on; fighting wildlife crimes. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a statewide detail to combat wildlife poaching. In the past there were massive statewide saturation enforcement initiatives to combat poaching like Operation “Jackhammer”, Operation “Dark Night,” Operation “River Run” to mention just a few. Some of these details took place nearly ten years ago!

Why doesn’t DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement do wildlife crime fighting initiatives anymore? There is no downside. I can speak from experience they are “win-win” propositions. Everybody benefits; DEC, the Division, and most importantly, legal hunters, trappers, and fishermen and every NY citizen who values our wildlife resource.

The closest thing that has consistently been done each year that even comes close to a Division-Directed anti-poaching effort, has been assigning ECOs to work on the busiest deer hunting day of the year. Now even that is being eliminated. The question to ask is why? License sales are up, the Conservation Fund is flush with cash, and everybody’s going hunting. Logic tells you the least the head of the Division of Law Enforcement could do is let his able officers work on opening day. It’s a no-brainer. But I guess that kind of work’s just not important to Division leadership anymore.

It also happens to be a particularly bad year to cut back on deer hunting enforcement. It’s been a busy year for hunting with reported record hunting license sales. Due to COVID, everyone is home, off, or working from home with flexible hours, leading to potential record numbers of hunters in the deer woods on opening day.

To provide some context, a week ago, on a weekday in the middle of pheasant season, there were so many orange-clad hunters out at each stocking location, every pheasant field I surveyed looked like a pumpkin patch, and by the way no ECOs were in sight.

Too close quarters for my liking. There’s even a report of a hunter related shooting incident at one such crowded opening day pheasant stocking location that went largely unnoticed.

Opening days are when “stuff” happens. Most deer, and the majority of bucks are shot on opening day of the Southern Zone deer season. Speaking from experience, that’s when the rubber meets the road for ECOs.

Deterrence, safety, mission fulfillment, your hunting license dollars at work, all valid justification for every ECO to work on opening day. So why is this being allowed to happen? The moneys already been spent, and ECOs are biting at the bit to get out and catch deer poachers, so why is their director holding back this willing workforce?

DEC has always been dedicated to wildlife law enforcement and assigned ECOs to work the opener because sportsmen and deer season were important, so why change what works? As a retired 30-year veteran of the Division, I’m embarrassed for them that he chose to take this course of action.

Let’s not embolden deer poachers by ordering officers not to enforce the game laws when they’re needed most.

Happy Hunting, Fishing and Trapping until next time.

Crossbow Season Opens in the Southern Zone on Saturday, Nov. 7

Last Chance to Comment on Proposed “Holiday” Deer Hunt: Sunday, Nov. 8 is the last day to weigh in on DEC’s proposal to expand deer hunting opportunities in the Southern Zone for this year and in the future. The proposed regulations would create additional hunting opportunities to take antlered and antlerless deer with bows, crossbows, and muzzleloaders from December 26 through January 1.

Comments on the proposed regulation to extend deer season through the Christmas Holiday will be accepted through Nov. 8, 2020.

You can send your comments on the topic by email to, or by writing to: Jeremy Hurst, NYS DEC Bureau of Wildlife, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-4754.

Remember to report poaching violations by calling 1-844-DEC-ECOS.

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