Mid-Atlantic Deer Forecast -- Part 1: Our Top Counties

Mid-Atlantic Deer Forecast -- Part 1: Our Top Counties

Here's the latest on where Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey sportsmen bagged the most deer last season.

Are any of these hotspots near you?

Photo by Mark Werner

Deer hunters in the Mid-Atlantic should have ample opportunity to put venison in the freezer this fall. While in some cases population management objectives are being met, seasons and bag limits continue to hedge on the liberal side. Throughout the fall -- for the gun hunter, bowhunter, as well as the muzzleloader -- the chances should be abundant.

Here's a state-by-state look at the current deer-hunting picture, based a large degree on harvests of the past season. The objective here is to paint an accurate picture of where deer populations are strongest, that is, where is the best place to bag a deer, any deer. Harvest data on a county basis and deer management basis will be examined. Next month we'll look at the trophy buck picture.

NEW JERSEY

According to Carole Kandoth, principal biologist for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) Deer Research Project, last year's whitetail harvest was down about 16 percent from what it was the prior year.

"This was due in part to regulations changes made last season," Kandoth explained. "Other factors may have come into play, ones which I am still in the process of analyzing. This includes license and permit sales."

Last fall and winter, New Jersey deer hunters harvested a total of 58,564 deer during all of the combined seasons. During the prior year's slate of hunts, 69,456 deer were bagged.

"We are looking for good seasons this coming year," Kandoth stated. "Generally, for most deer hunters, I feel deer hunting is a good experience in New Jersey."

A rather complex plan is used to manage New Jersey's whitetail numbers. This includes various bow seasons, firearms and shotgun seasons. While the herd was at one time managed on a county basis, the state is now divided up into 67 deer management zones (DMZs). According to the DFW, these DMZs are areas with similar herd characteristics, hunting pressure and deer habitat, and are bounded by highways, rivers and other easily identifiable landmarks. Various regulations sets are formulated each year to tailor deer hunting regulations to specific deer management areas. Last season, there were eight regulations sets.

A variety of hunts last season provided the total harvest of 58,564 deer. This includes 13,128 deer taken during the fall bowhunt, 709 during the youth hunt, and 8,340 from the permit bowhunt and 7,895 from the six-day firearms hunt. The permit muzzleloader hunt produced 10,359 deer. Another 16,950 deer were bagged by means of the permit shotgun hunt. The winter bow season added another 1,183 deer to the total. The 2004 season bag consisted of 17,965 antlered deer and 40,599 antlerless.

Hunterdon County experienced the highest deer kill last season. The various hunts provided harvests of: fall bow, 2862; permit bow, 1,820; six-day firearms, 1,474; permit muzzleloader, 1,514; permit shotgun, 3,226; winter bow, 163. The youth day hunt added an additional 79 deer. Other top counties from last season's hunt include Sussex, Warren, Somerset and Burlington. All of these counties had harvests in excess of 5,000 animals with the exception of Burlington, which had a total take of 4,937.

Top deer management zones last season included DMZ 12 (5,032 deer taken), DMZ 8 (4,996), DMZ 5 (3,687), DMZ 10 (3,676) and DMZ 2 (2,470). These DMZs are located, for the most part, in the northern section of the state. Some DMZs in New Jersey fall within Earn-A-Buck regulations. In these zones, before they can take a buck, hunters must first harvest an antlered deer. Deer harvests tend to be higher in Earn-A-Buck zones. Earn-A-Buck regulations tend to be applied to areas with high levels of development or with lots of agricultural land. Such land use often necessitates the lowering of whitetail numbers.

Biologist Kandoth notes the state's deer researchers review harvest numbers each year to determine if it's necessary to make regulation changes to adjust the harvest. She doesn't see any significant changes on the immediate horizon.

"In general, we still want to reduce deer numbers in about 64 percent of the state," she said. "But we are planning on letting the regulations ride out for awhile, rather than making significant annual changes. That way, we can get a better handle on how things are playing out."

One change Kandoth did note relates to the Earn-A-Buck zones. This season, bowhunters will be able to participate in a Bank-A-Doe program, earning a deer to be used toward harvesting a buck. Consult this year's digest of deer hunting regulations for specific details regarding the Bank-a-Doe program.

According to the DFW, successful deer hunters are required to bring their deer to a mandatory check station where information is gathered on the date and location of the kill, sex of the deer and number of antler points. On busy days of the deer-hunting season (usually the opening day of the six-day firearms and permit shotgun seasons), DFW employees staff the deer check stations and gather biological information, such as the ages and weights of the deer and diameters of antlers.

Supplemental or bonus tags are offered to deer hunters at the check station during most deer seasons. This supplemental tag program was initially initiated to encourage hunters to report the first deer taken. It now provides additional recreation time to successful hunters and provides the possibility for harvesting additional antlerless deer without detrimentally affecting the deer herd.

MARYLAND'S 2004 TOP 10 COUNTIES
CountyHarvest
Washington10,149
Frederick7,492
Baltimore5,663
Montgomery4,969
Allegany4,958
Garrett4,954
Carroll4,932
Worchester4,166
Queen Annes3,721
Charles3,691
Total Harvest98,868

Kandoth noted that all of New Jersey's public lands provide huntable populations of white-tailed deer. Nearly 300,000 acres are managed as state wildlife management areas (WMAs). Public areas do see more intense hunting pressure than do private areas, generally speaking.

Be sure to consult your digest of hunting regulations for the exact set of deer hunting regulations that apply to the deer zones you plan to hunt this fall.

MARYLAND

The 2004 hunting seasons witnessed Free State hunters again taking an impressive number of deer. During the various bow and firearm seasons, hunters in Maryland bagged a total of 93,868 deer. This included both white-tailed deer and sika deer.

"We are relatively pleased with how things have progressed in terms of deer harvest," said Doug Hotton, deer project leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Division. "On a large-scale basis, the deer population is not growing. In the Baltimore and Washington areas, the story is different, of course. Urban deer management continues to be a challenge."

Maryland is divided into two deer management regions. The western Maryland counties of Garrett and Allegany comprise Region A. Region B is made up of the remainder of the state.

Last year's harvest included a record 59,229 antlerless deer. Biologist Hotton sees this number as being perhaps the most significant of last season's hunts. By contrast, 33,740 bucks were bagged. The buck harvest represents an 8.1 percent decline from the prior year. An increase in the antlerless take coupled with a reduction in buck harvest is likely to lead to a healthier deer population, one with a more balanced buck-to-doe ratio.

"This is great news because we know that increasing the antlerless deer harvest is the most important step toward balancing our deer population," said Wildlife and Heritage Service Director Paul A. Peditto. "The new record harvest demonstrates that hunters are embracing this management strategy and helping us move toward our desired goal."

Like many areas of the northeastern United States, a better balanced, more natural deer population is one of the objectives of Maryland deer managers. Recent harvest trends indicate the agency, thanks to the hunting public, is making progress.

"The decrease in buck harvest, combined with an increase in antlerless harvest, suggests we have been successful in implementing our deer harvest strategies," Peditto added.

"The outcome of this effort over the long term will be a healthier, higher-quality deer population, which is balanced with its environment and human neighbors. We've got a long way to go, but this data demonstrates that we're on the right track."

In Region A, deer numbers have dropped below the level deer managers desire. During last year's seasons, deer harvests dropped significantly in Region A. The antlered harvest in Region A was 4,659 bucks, 25 percent lower than the previous year, in which the antlered harvest was 5,253, a reduction of 12.5 percent.

According to the DNR, the state's deer management plan is geared toward stabilizing white-tailed deer numbers at levels close to the level of the 1997-98 time frame. Last season's harvest numbers indicate Allegany and Garrett counties' deer population has exceeded that deer plan goal. As such, this year's hunt will see a reduction in the number of either-sex deer hunting days. Consult your 2005 Summary of Hunting Regulations for exact details on this.

NEW JERSEY'S 2004 TOP 10 COUNTIES
CountyHarvest
Hunterdon11,138
Sussex5,775
Warren5,320
Somerset5,069
Burlington4,937
Monmouh4,146
Morris3,822
Salem3,079
Cumberland2,798
Ocean2,766
Total Harvest58,564

Biologist Hotton noted a variety of factors might affect deer harvests. Perhaps the most significant is weather. Antlerless harvests can suffer when the weather is inclement and hunting pressure slacks off.

Top harvest counties in Maryland last season include Washington with 10,149, Frederick at 7,492 and Baltimore with 5,663. Other top harvest areas include Montgomery, Allegany and Garrett.

Washington County WMAs include Indian Springs and Sideling Hill, both of which boast several thousand acres. Public lands can be found in Frederick County at the Frederick City Watershed and the Monocacy National Resources Management Area. Liberty and Prettyboy reservoirs provide the most significant public land in Baltimore County, and are limited to bowhunting only.

Hotton notes that the Chesapeake Forest Lands provides a significant addition to public hunting land in Maryland, and is not yet being used to its full advantage. These lands first became available to the hunting public in 2003.

"The Chesapeake Forest was previously owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Company (CFPC) and was purchased jointly by the state of Maryland and the Conservation Fund in 1999 with the help of the Richard King Mellon Foundation," explained Mike Scofield of the Maryland DNR.

"The 58,000-acre forest is composed predominately of young pine plantations, as the management goals of the previous owners were to produce wood fiber. The CFPC also maintained private hunting clubs on 100 percent of

the land. The goals and management styles have changed dramatically since state ownership."

In addition to adding impressive areas of land for public hunting, the Chesapeake Forest Lands also provides diverse habitat for the hunter. Information on this area is included in the current booklet on hunting and trapping regulations supplied with your license. Hunters can find maps, directions and descriptions of the public hunting areas on the DNR's Web site at

www.dnr.maryland.gov/forests. Click on "Forestry Programs."

DELAWARE

According to Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Ken Reynolds, hunters harvested a total of 14,438 deer in the state last year. This is an increase of 24 percent from the previous year. The harvest is also 19 percent higher than the prior record that was set in 2001. These high harvest numbers racked up over the past few years indicate a strong deer herd in the First State, though the available habitat is ever changing.

"We are still having problems in some areas," Reynolds noted, when asked the general balance of the deer herd in comparison to the suitable cover. "The problem (human/deer conflict) is never going to completely end, not without eliminating the deer herd, which is obviously not our intent. But we are losing our open spaces. Deer are plentiful, but they are more concentrated. It's a fine line we walk, trying to maintain healthy, huntable populations of deer, while keeping the numbers of deer problems down. It's difficult trying to keep everyone happy."

Like New Jersey, Delaware manages its deer population on a deer management area basis, rather than a county one. During last season's hunts four of the state's 17 deer management areas experienced a harvest in excess of 1,000 deer. These included deer management areas 7, 11, 12 and 16. Area 7 is located in southwest Kent County. Area 11 is found in central Sussex County. East- central Sussex County is home of Deer Management Area 12. Area 16 is located in south Sussex County.

Reynolds said it was the DFW's objective last season to have the deer harvest composed of 60 percent does.

A look at a bar graph showing Delaware's deer harvest during the past 20 years looks pretty much like a set of escalating steps. Increases in harvest have occurred nearly every year. Only in 2002 was there much of a drop in deer harvest. Back in 1984 and '85, deer harvests ran just over 2,000. By 1997, over 10,000 deer were being bagged in the state. Recent harvest trends have also shown an increase in the percentage of does in the harvest. During each of the past four years, the doe harvest has eclipsed the 50 percent mark.

As one might expect, the bulk of the Delaware deer harvest occurs during the November shotgun season. During the past two seasons, the shotgun season has provided harvests ranging around 6,000 animals. The October muzzleloader also makes a significant contribution to the annual deer take, with about 2,000 deer being bagged in each of the past two years. Bowhunters have been adding about 1,000 more deer to the total harvest in each of the past two years.

2004 NEW JERSEY DEER HARVEST*
SeasonHarvest TotalsNotes
Fall Bow Season13,1286th Best on Record
Permit Bow Season8,3406th Best on Record
Fall Bow Season13,1286th Best on Record
6-Day Firearms Season 7,89525th Best on Record
Muzzleloader Season10,3595th Best on Record
Permit Shotgun Season16,95010th Best on Record
Winter Bow Season1,1839th Best on Record
Total58,5649th Best on Record
* These are the latest figures at press time

Reynolds said the outlook is a bright one again for hunters this season.

"I expect another good deer season. A lot depends on the weather. Hunters are less apt to participate if it's cold or wet, particularly during the later seasons. Other than the variable of the weather, I feel we should have a very good hunt."

The deer manager said hunters would not find any major changes in deer-hunting regulations this season, though a couple minor ones have been put into place. One recent change involves extra antlerless tags, which previously had to be purchased. Two such tags will be available at no added cost this season. Also, one day has been added to the October muzzleloader season and eight extra days to the antlerless October shotgun season. Check your 2005 Delaware Hunting and Trapping Guide for the exact details.

For its modest size, Delaware boasts a considerable amount of public land, about 100,000 acres total. Much of it, though, is wetland, which is of more interest to waterfowlers. Surrounding uplands often play host to public deer-hunting opportunities, though the competition can be keen. In some instances, a lottery system is used to determine the lucky hunters. In general, biologist Reynolds said hunting pressure could be rather heavy on public lands, particularly during the more popular seasons.

The harvest history of the Mid-Atlantic states should give you a good idea of how to plan your deer-hunting trips this fall, particularly if your objective is to simply take a deer. Next month, we'll take a look at how to increase your chances of taking an exceptional buck in Part 2 of our annual deer forecast.

Next Month:

FINDING TROPHY BUCKS

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