G&F Forecast Part II: Best Places For Trophy Bucks in New York in 2013
In Part I, we shared the best counties for New York deer hunting, now we want to target the best places for bagging trophy bucks.
Forecast by Stephen Carpenteri
New York is definitely the place to be for odds-on buck hunting in 2013. Last season, hunters took 118,993 adult bucks out of a total kill of 242,957 deer, close enough to 50 percent to satisfy most analysts. In other words, the Empire State buck harvest alone was more than the combined total deer kill in the entire Northeast! Got deer? There’s no doubt about it!
Fortunately for seekers of trophy bucks in New York, the odds for success are high statewide.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Trophy-class bucks have been taken in every corner of the state, from Long Island to the Adirondacks to the Finger Lakes. It’s impossible to say where or when the next state-record trophy buck will fall, but it makes sense to target areas where large numbers of bucks are taken each year and then to target “huntable” lands (public or private) within those areas. Thanks to the dedicated, detailed work of the New York State Department of Environmental Protection’s deer management staff, it’s almost easy to pinpoint the counties and regions where the most bucks are taken each year. They haven’t quite narrowed it down to which tree a hunter should place his stand this fall, but they are working on it!
BREAKING DOWN THE STATS
Hunters who do not have pre-selected hotspots or exclusive access to prime farmland have no choice but to study the numbers and roll the dice. It makes sense to hunt in the counties that produce the most bucks each season because those per-square-mile statistics mean you will see more bucks per trip. Not every buck you see will be a record-book contender, obviously, but if you temper your enthusiasm with patience and a self-imposed minimum rack size you should at least have some great stories to tell at the end of the season as well as impetus to return next year.
Starting from the top, perennial leader Steuben County again led the buck harvest parade in 2012 with 5,562 adult bucks, followed by Cattaraugus (4,564), Allegany (4,392), Chautauqua (4,083) and Otsego (3,819). Counties with more than 3,000 bucks taken last season include Cayuga (3,263), Erie (3,401), Oneida (3,050), Orange (3,373), St. Lawrence (3,676) and Wyoming (3,421).
Generally speaking, New York’s Central-Western Region is the place to be for hunters seeking odds-on opportunities for taking a big buck. Every region has its leaders (Otsego County in the Southeastern Region and St. Lawrence County in the Northern Region) so hunters do not have to travel far to find high numbers of bucks.
Fortunately, there is plenty of land open to public hunting in the form of state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas. Not all of these offer excellent hunting on every acre but all have some areas that have good habitat as a result of clear-cutting or storm damage, and some border active farmlands, orchards and other properties that attract and hold deer during the hunting season.
HOW TO FIND THEM
We know the deer are there in good numbers: in some parts of the state buck per-square-mile harvests are as high as 6.3. Armed with county harvest totals, buck harvest totals and per-square-mile buck kills, you have a place to begin to narrow the search and focus your hunting time in 2013. The trick now is to find public lands within the target area and then find that special corner of prime habitat where abundant food and cover is available.
This process is much more efficient if you study current maps and talk to state foresters and wildlife biologists for input on where recent habitat work has been conducted (clear-cuts, plantings, thinnings, etc.).
Find and scout these areas for signs of deer activity and then decide where and when you want to hunt in the time you have available. Create a list of options in case other hunters are thinking the same thing and end up in “your” spot on opening day! Be able to back out and hunt another area to avoid lost hunting time.
THE PATIENCE FACTOR
Hunters who shoot big bucks have one thing in common: patience. They pass on does, small bucks, medium bucks and even good-sized bucks because they want to shoot the biggest buck in the woods. Top-end bucks constitute less than 1 percent of the annual harvest in any state, and in some states that new state-record buck is literally one in a million. The odds are certainly slim, and only one hunter is going to shoot this season’s biggest buck in any given category, but if you tag out early with a lesser buck, even a good one, you’ve taken your name out of the hat for another year.
Shoot all the “meat” deer you want (antlerless deer as regulations allow) but save that buck tag for the big boy. You’ll know him when you see him — anything else just won’t do.
The NYDEC has even created a chart showing the most productive days of the season. Of course, the peak period is opening week, with gradually diminishing harvests (except during Thanksgiving week and on weekends). The first two weeks of November are most productive for bowhunters, as that period obviously corresponding to the whitetail’s annual early-November breeding period.
Though many top-end bucks are taken during some phase of the rut, trophy-class bucks are taken at all hours of the day from the first day to the last. To further increase your odds for a big buck this season plan to hunt more often, stay out longer and don’t give up till sunset on the last day of the season. Even the worst of seasons can turn on a dime. Maintain your enthusiasm and drive and stay till the last shot is fired — who knows, it could be yours!
OUR BEST PUBLIC LANDS
With all the basic ingredients in mind, here’s where to find some great buck hunting opportunities on public land in New York’s top “big buck” hotspots in 2013.
Because the majority of bucks taken in New York are harvested in the Central-Western Region, it makes sense for hunters to focus their energy on nearby public lands.
One of the largest wildlife management areas in Region 8 is the Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area, a 5,100-acre upland tract, approximately eight miles west of Dansville, New York. Roughly two-thirds of the area lies in southern Livingston County, while the remaining third lies in northern Allegany County. The tract was purchased in the 1930s under the Federal Resettlement Administration and is one of several such areas turned over to DEC for development as a wildlife management area.
The area is appropriately named after the timber rattlesnake, which may be occasionally found in the more remote sections of the “Hill.”
The area offers an interesting blend of upland habitats including mature woodland, overgrown fields, conifer plantations, old growth apple orchards and open meadows.
Barricaded access roads are closed to unauthorized mechanical vehicles and are available as foot trails to hunters throughout the area.
Adjacent to Rattlesnake Hill WMA on the southeast are two parcels of state forest lands that provide an additional 2,600 acres of hunting opportunities. The two areas are similar to Rattlesnake Hill in habitat types, with the exception of having fewer natural and maintained openings. These state forestlands are also open to public hunting under applicable statewide regulations.
The Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area is in southeastern Wayne County and northwestern Cayuga County, near the towns of Savannah and Port Byron. It is approximately mid-way between Rochester and Syracuse north of the New York State Thruway. This WMA is part of the 50,000 acre Montezuma Wetlands Complex, an important bird staging and breeding area within the Atlantic Flyway.
In addition to the state-owned Northern Montezuma WMA (which includes the former Howland’s Island WMA), the complex includes the federally-owned Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, and lands owned by other conservation groups and private land owners with an interest in wildlife.
The complex is located in what was historically called the Montezuma Swamp, one of the largest wetland systems in the Northeast. This vast area once supported over 40,000 acres of contiguous wetland habitat, extending northward from Cayuga Lake almost to Lake Ontario. Emergent marshes and impoundments, forested wetlands, old fields, meadows, farm fields and woodlands provide a diversity of habitats for wildlife. Public hunting, trapping and fishing are encouraged in accordance with state regulations. Prohibited activities include the use of motorized vehicles beyond barrier gates and use of off-road vehicles.
Most of this swamp was drained in the early 1900s for commerce and transportation by the development of the Erie and New York State Barge Canals. Draining the area made it possible to clear and farm the rich organic soils generated over time under the marshlands.
Approximately 7,500 acres of public land in the complex is managed by the DEC. Other public lands in the complex are managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and The Nature Conservancy. Various rules and regulations regarding public access to these lands apply.
Contact the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge at 3395 Routes 5/20 East, Seneca Falls, New York 13148 for information about federally owned areas. For information about the conservation land owned by TNC, contact The Nature Conservancy (Central and Western Chapter) at 1048 University Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607.
Another option for hunters near buck-rich Steuben County is the Erwin Wildlife Management Area, a 2,490 acre upland tract located in the town of Erwin in Steuben County.
Management projects include creating wildlife openings and marsh ponds while tree and shrub plantations have enhanced wildlife habitat. The success of this management is evident in the abundant harvest of wildlife from Erwin WMA.
Area vegetation is primarily second growth hardwoods with softwoods and other species intermixed.
Hunting, trapping, and other forms of wildlife-based recreation are permitted in accordance with state regulations. Many hiking trails provide access for hunters seeking to penetrate the interior of the WMA. Boundaries and parking areas are clearly marked, and current special regulations are conspicuously posted at all access points.
The use of motorized vehicles is prohibited throughout the WMA.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
There are dozens of wildlife management areas, state forests and other public lands within New York’s best buck-harvest areas that are open to public hunting under general statewide regulations. For a copy of the 2012 buck harvest report, information on where to hunt on public land during New York’s 2013 deer-hunting season as well as maps, licensing information and current hunting regulations, log onto http://www.dec.ny.gov.
For detailed information on New York’s biggest bucks including Dick Sheflin’s 195 5/8 (gross) non-typical 18-pointer taken in Livingston County last season, contact the Northeast Big Bucks Club at www.bigbuckclub.com or e-mail club president Jeff Brown at email@example.com.
In case you weren’t already itching to get out and hunt, here’s a round-up of the biggest and baddest trophy bucks taken in the Northeast in recent years.
- WHITETAIL DEER TYPICAL
Score: 163 7/8
Hunter: Lance A. Farrar
Location: Penobscot County, ME
Photo courtesy: Boone and Crockett Club