Mid-Atlantic Deer Section -- Part 1: Our Top Harvest Counties

Mid-Atlantic Deer Section -- Part 1: Our Top Harvest Counties

Here's the latest on our states' best counties for bagging a buck or doe this year. One or more of these counties is surely near you! (October 2008)

Hunting is an effective and cost-efficient way to manage our states' deer herds.
Photo by Tom Evans.

Amidst such challenges as expanding human populations and outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the Mid-Atlantic region provided yet another productive season last year.


Game managers from Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey expect the upcoming deer season to again be rewarding for the region's hunters.

Hunters must keep abreast of the ever-changing world of deer management in order to understand the rationale behind such changes -- but also to make the best of the many varied opportunities available.


Following is a look at each state's past harvests, what to expect this season, as well as changes that affect your prospect of putting venison in the freezer.


MARYLAND
"Last year's deer harvest was very similar to the year before," said Brian Eyler, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer Project Leader.

"We harvested 92,208 deer, which is less than 1 percent away from what we bagged the year before.

"Last year's seasons got off to a slow start. It was slow through early muzzleloader season, but rebounded during the firearms season."

Maryland's antlered deer harvest decreased by 2 percent, while the antlerless harvest increased by 3 percent.

The western Maryland counties of Allegany and Garrett, comprising Region A, witnessed a slight drop in overall harvest -- from 9,259 during 2007 to 9,004 last year. The harvest in the rest of the state varied.

The eastern counties of Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester featured Sunday hunting for the first time last year and experienced increases in deer harvest. In Calvert and Prince Georges counties, however, the harvest was down. An outbreak of hemorrhagic disease is thought to be at least part of the reason for the lower numbers in this area.

"We aren't exactly sure why the early part of last season got off so slow," he noted. "It may have been weather-related. But it was a funny year. The states around us experienced a similar thing."

Regulatory changes in Maryland are likely to affect this season's harvest. Highlighting such modifications are adjustments to allow the growth of the whitetail herd in portions of western Maryland's Region A.

"In Region A we've cut back the public-land bag limit," said Eyler.

"In the past, hunters have been able to take one antlerless and one antlered deer with each weapon. They'll still be able to do that. But no more than two antlerless deer may come off of public land. So if a hunter wants to take antlerless deer with each weapon, only two of them can come off public land.

"You'll have to choose which two weapons you want to do it with. It's a way of giving the public lands in Allegany and Garrett counties a boost.

"Another adjustment we've made in Region A for this year is to increase the antlerless portion of the firearms season to two days on private lands. For the past several years, antlerless deer could be harvested on only the final day of the season.

"Some private landowners in this area have commented that they could use extra help managing the deer on their properties. So now it's going to be the final Friday and Saturday, instead of just Saturday."

For several years, crossbows have been an integral part of the Maryland deer-hunting picture. The use of crossbows has gradually expanded, and for this year's hunt, more options are on the horizon.

"Crossbows will be allowed during the entire archery season in the suburban archery zone," continued Eyler.

"So from Sept. 15 until Jan. 31, you'll be able to use a crossbow in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties."

Another regulatory change made that will affect hunters this year is aimed at increasing opportunities for junior deer hunters.

"We've made the youth hunt day bag limits independent of the regular bag limits," said Eyler. "If a kid kills a deer during the junior youth hunt day, it won't go against his or her limit for the firearms season.

"The reason we did that is that if a youth goes out in Region A and kills a buck, he's out of the woods until the last day or two of the season, when he can go back after an antlerless deer. If he took a buck in Region B, he had to kill two does before he could go kill a second buck. So this will increase the opportunity youngsters have."

The final major change is one of safety -- more specifically, the use of ground blinds. While ground blinds are not used only for hunting deer, they have become increasingly popular in Maryland.

"We made an adjustment in regard to the use of hunter orange," Eyler said. "If you are hunting in a ground blind and would otherwise be required to wear orange if you weren't in such a blind, you'll have to display orange outside the blind."

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MARYLAND'S 2007 TOP COUNTIES

County Harvest
Washington 8,820
Frederick7,340
Baltimore5,790
Carroll5,019
Worcester 4,920
Montgomery 4,808
Garrett4,759
Allegany4,245
Charles3,953
Wicomico 3,575
TOTAL HARVEST 53,229

This new requirement calls for the display of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange outside of any blind that's less than 10 feet off the ground.

In terms of public lands, Eyler said the Chesapeake Forest Lands continue to offer some of the best options in the eastern portion of the state.

"The Chesapeake properties still provide a lot of good opportunities," he noted. "In the central portion of the state, there's the Frederick City Watershed. There's still some pretty good hunting on our public lands.

"We've been hitting some of the public areas pretty hard, and deer numbers are down in such spots, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"But if you are willing to work a little bit and drive a little bit, there's still plenty of good opportunity on public lands."

The Maryland DNR's Web site at < dnr.state.md.us has a wealth of information for any hunter planning a deer hunt on public lands. From the "Hunting" page, click on "Public Hunting Lands." From there, it's a simple process of navigating to individual WMAs, which include descriptions of the each tract, and also detailed maps.

DELAWARE
"Last year we harvested 13,621 deer," noted Joe Rogerson, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) deer biologist. "This marked our fourth-highest all-time harvest. However, it was 780 fewer deer than the prior year, which produced our state's No. 2 harvest of all time.

"I attribute the reduction in harvest to an outbreak of EHD that we had last fall. So hunters reported seeing fewer deer out in the field, which from our season structure is a good thing, as we've been trying to reduce the deer population by targeting antlerless deer specifically.

"I think the combination of high female harvests the past couple of years, along with the EHD outbreak, is what led to the modest decline."

The years to come may bring changes to the state's program of deer management, but hunters should feel safe that they'll have ample opportunity in the upcoming seasons. Rogerson feels more work will be needed to bring deer numbers in balance with habitat and social needs.

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2007 NEW JERSEY'S DEER HARVEST*

Season Harvest Totals Notes
Fall Bow Season 9,99419th Best On Record
Permit Bow Season 6,08612th Best On Record
6-Day Firearms Season 8,24328th Best On Record
Muzzleloader Season 8,338 12th Best On Record
Permit Shotgun Season 12,39920th Best On Record
Winter Bow Season 1,2323th Best On Record
TOTAL 47,017 18th Best On Record
*These are the latest figures at press time.

"From a state of Delaware perspectiv

e, I think the overall deer population is stable or slightly declining," said Rogerson. "When we look at it on our zone level -- and there are 17 separate zones -- we have some where I think the deer population is still increasing. And even though things are stable or slightly declining in other zones, deer populations in some of them were well above our goals. We need several years of decline before we can bring those areas in line with what we want them to be. So we are making progress."

The agency is still in the process of formalizing its deer-management program. Since it's a work in progress, it will be 2009 at least before any significant changes occur. As such, Rogerson thinks next year will be similar to what's occurred the past season or two.

"I expect it to keep on going the way it's gone the past couple of years," he said. "There are no major changes on the near horizon.

We're now in the process of putting together the Delaware Deer Management Stakeholders Advisory Committee. It's comprised of stakeholders groups that will help us answer some deer-management questions that we have, especially concerning what the general public wants. The committee will be made up of deer hunters and non-deer hunters, agricultural producers and public-safety officials.

"The ultimate goal is to create a formal deer-management plan for the state, which will be the go-to guide for how and why deer are managed."

Rogerson said the state's deer harvest is tied directly to the success of the shotgun season -- which in turn is affected by the weather.

"What really drives our harvest here in Delaware is the November shotgun season," he noted.

"Fifty percent of our harvest occurs during that eight-day period. So if we have poor weather during those eight days, it really affects our harvest.

"It's hard to believe that of nearly 14,000 deer, and with five months of overall deer hunting opportunity, almost half of them are bagged during that eight-day period."

From the standpoint of public hunting, Rogerson said that of Delaware's three counties, Sussex has the most public lands.

"The various parcels of the Redden State Forest are significant," he noted. "But of the state's 17 deer zones, all have some public lands available to hunters.

"So whether you're from in or out-of-state, you don't have to go too far to find a place to hunt.

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NEW JERSEY'S 2007 TOP COUNTIES

County Harvest
Hunterdon 7,348
Sussex 5,646
Warren4,929
Burlington3,984
Monmouth 3,336
Morris 3,326
Somerset3,143
Salem2,980
Cumberland2,395
Atlantic 2,037
TOTAL HARVEST 39,124

"Sussex County produces the most deer, but also has the most acreage and it attracts the most hunters.

"But a place like Woodland Beach WMA, one of our quality deer-management areas, is a good choice."

Rogerson noted that a couple of the exceptional bucks they found had apparently succumbed to EHD.

"One was a 180-inch-class buck that a bowhunter found while walking to his stand," reported Rogerson.

"Another was an 8-pointer a hunter discovered that had a 26-inch outside spread. Hunters hate to see that, or hear about that. But it's certainly evidence that deer of that caliber are here.

"It's tough hunting on tracts like Woodland Beach because it's primarily marsh. Lots of mosquitoes and biting flies are present early in the season. So it takes a special ambition to hunt in those circumstances."

Rogerson said that the large public land of Redden State Forest is made up of several tracts.

"It's not one large contiguous piece of land," he said. "It gives hunters a lot of freedom to move around into different types of habitat.

'It's located in our highest deer density area. If you want to hike off the road and get away from other hunters, you can do so."

Links to Redden State Forest are found at www.fw.delaware.gov, the Division of Fish and Wildlife's Web site. Maps can be downloaded from the Redden State Forest sites.

NEW JERSEY
Carole Kandoth, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife deer biologist, feels that the state's reduction in deer harvest last year was due in large part to significant changes made in the agency's "Earn a Buck" program.

Last season, Garden State hunters bagged a total of 47,017 deer, down from the 56,673 taken during the season before.

The Earn a Buck program, initiated in 1999, required a hunter to harvest an antlerless deer before taking a buck.

Since the agency felt satisfied that deer densities had been reduced sufficiently in areas to which hunters have access, Earn a Buck was eliminated for last year's hunts.

Last year, the DFW instituted its Bonus Buck Permit, which required the purchase of a separate permit -- in addition to the zone permit -- to hunt bucks during any of the permit deer seasons.

Two bucks can still be harvested with basic firearms or archery licenses.

Of significant interest to hunters is the prospect of crossbow hunts in the near future. As Kandoth explained, New Jersey works operates on a two-year cycle for any regulatory changes.

As of now, the use of crossbows is a proposal that will call for a period of public comments before the Council votes on it.

If the proposal passes, the use of crossbows will first become reality during the 2009 season.

Log on to the DFW's Web site at nj.gov/dep/fgw for the latest status on the crossbow issue.

Kandoth expects that in terms of deer harvest, the upcoming season will bring an outcome similar to this past season's.

"No management changes will take place for this year's hunt, so I would think harvest numbers will be quite similar to last season."

A rather complex plan is used to manage New Jersey's whitetail numbers. This includes various bow, muzzleloader and shotgun seasons.

At one time, the herd was managed on a county basis, but the state is now divided up into 67 Deer Management Zones.

According to the DFW, DMZs are areas with similar herd characteristics, hunting pressure and deer habitat. They are bounded by highways, rivers and other easily identifiable landmarks.

Each year, various sets of deer-hunting regulations are tailored to specific deer-management areas.

Be sure to consult your 2008 Summary of Regulations to determine what's up for the areas you plan to hunt.

With the majority of the state in private ownership, managing the deer herd is a significant challenge.

But if they are simply looking to put deer in the freezer, Kandoth felt that New Jersey hunters have plenty of opportunities.

"It's pretty easy to get multiple deer here," noted Kandoth.

"Two-thirds of the state has an unlimited antlerless bag limit. The highest harvest takes place in the northern portion of the state.

"Hunterdon County tends to have the highest harvest, year in and year out. There isn't a whole heck of a lot of public land up there, but there is some."

Hunterdon County's Clinton WMA provides around 2,000 acres of public hunting land.

"Our larger public lands are listed on our Web site," she added. "The agency continues to work to obtain additional public lands. My advice is to research the zones that have been most productive in terms of deer harvests. Then, by way of the Web site, look for public lands within those zones. DMZ 8 is traditionally where we have our highest deer harvest."

Next month's issue will cover trophy deer from last year, and will focus on the big buck aspects of the Mid-Atlantic region.

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