New England's 2006 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks
September 30, 2010
New England's top trophy bucks rank with the best in the East. Here's where you can find the biggest buck of your life this season. (Nov 2006)
During the 2005 hunting season, New England's deer hunters took three new state-record archery bucks. More than 50 deer scored 150 or better. In fact, hunters have taken some 225 trophy-class bucks during the last three seasons in New England!
According to the Northeast Big Buck Club -- the regional whitetail scoring and record keeping organization -- great bucks can be taken in every part of New England, from southern Connecticut to the vast upper regions of Aroostook County in northern Maine.
Here's a look at the potential in all six states in New England by analyzing recent trophy harvests and pinpointing those areas and methods in each state that are most likely to produce that buck of a lifetime.
The Bay State has recently gained a reputation as one of the region's top whitetail trophy-producing states. Over the last four seasons, the Bay State has produced more NBBC record-book bucks than any other New England state, with more than 500 new entries to the NBBC record book. In fact, this state produced three bucks that gross over 200 inches during that time frame, not to mention 125 bucks that score over 150.
Although there were no 200-class bucks taken by hunters in 2004 or 2005, Massachusetts continued to crank out a host of 150- to 190-inch bucks, and they fell to archery, shotgun and muzzleloader hunters all across the state.
In 2005, in fact, according to NBBC records, nearly 25 bucks were harvested that scored between 150 and 197, including a new state-record archery non-typical (178 0/8).
There has been a noticeable shift in hunting pressure from west to east as more eastern-region hunters are finding better luck in their back yards.
But at this point, defining any trend is a challenge. For instance, the top 10 bucks from 2005 came from as far west as Franklin County and as far east as Barnstable County on Cape Cod!
In the center of the state, Worcester County (deer management zones 8, 9 and 10) perennially produces more trophy bucks each year than any other county in southern New England. In 2005, this county produced the new state record-archery buck -- a 178-inch 14-point non-typical for Larry Berestka.
Zones 8 and 9 are always hotspots, and hunters who gain access in the northern Zone 10 (Essex County) may also expect a shot at a trophy. Meanwhile, in southeastern Zone 11 (Plymouth and Bristol counties), bowhunters may have better luck gaining access to small, private lands. And it's interesting to note that Norfolk County (near Boston) was the site of a 210-inch road-kill buck in October 2004!
To the west, a host of 170- to 200-inch bucks have been taken in this area in the last three years. And experienced trackers continue to find great bucks roaming the mountains of Berkshire County. Franklin County produced the largest gross-scoring buck of 2005 -- a 196 7/8-inch monster 16-point non-typical for teen hunter Mary May Pratt.
For more information about big bucks in the Bay State, contact the Northeast Big Buck Club, 390 Marshall Street, Paxton, MA 016123; call (508) 752-8762, or visit the club's Web site at www.bigbuckclub.com.
Extended early and late archery seasons sandwiched around a peak-rut gun season and an early December muzzleloader season, along with liberal bag limits, mean some great trophy-hunting opportunities, especially for hunters who have access to private land.
Several outstanding non-typical Nutmeg State bucks defined the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Northeast Big Buck Club records show that more than 200 bucks from the 2004 and 2005 seasons combined have been scored and entered in the NBBC record books.
In all harvest categories (including bow, gun and muzzleloader), Connecticut hunters took 35 bucks with gross B&C scores of 150 or better during the two-year span. And, the top three bucks were non-typicals that scored over 180.
So where do we find deer like that in this state?
State biologist Howard Kilpatrick generally recommends the northeastern and northwestern regions as trophy hotspots (Litchfield and Windham counties). This region has some of the state's largest public lands.
A closer look at the NBBC's records indicates that big bucks literally come from every county. During the past two seasons, the largest bucks came from New London County In 2004, the biggest archery buck (181 4/8) came from Middlesex County. Other counties that produced giant bucks in 2005 include Tolland (central), Fairfield (south western) and New Haven (central) counties. Obviously, good bucks can be found just about anywhere.
For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; or call (203) 424-3011.
Although great bucks are now taken throughout all of New England, Maine hunters continue to harvest many of the biggest deer in the region. The overall deer harvest was down 14 percent from 2004, and the buck harvest was down as well. In 2005, fewer than 15,000 bucks were harvested, compared to over 17,400 in 2004 and 16,100 in 2003. As recently as 2002, the buck harvest was over 20,000 deer, so the 2005 total represents a continued decline.
Al Wentworth, Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club president, said the question is not "Where do I find a trophy buck?" but rather "What type of hunt do I want?" The state's northern section offers vast, unpopulated territories with limited numbers of deer, but if you cross paths with a buck, it just could by one of those massive-racked 200-pound bruisers.
The southern portion of the state is more densely populated with both deer and humans. The central region, which includes everything between the Penobscot River to the Kennebec River, and the lower sections of Somerset and Piscataquis counties to the northern sections of Penobscot County, offers good deer densities and plenty of open land to hunt.
During the last several years, the top five buck-producing wildlife management districts (WMDs) tend to be districts 24, 23, 22, 21 and 17. All lie in central and southern Maine. However, to illustrate the trend of great bucks coming from all parts of the state, notice that the four largest-racked bucks of 2003 came from Penobscot, Piscataquis, Knox and Aroostook counties, and ranged in score from 184 to 238 inches gross B&C. In 2004, those same four counties produ
ced the top bucks, ranging in score from 171 to 183 inches.
In most seasons, rifle hunters take the majority of the monster bucks. In 2005, however, archer Bill Gardner took a 180 7/8-inch, 15-point non-typical with his bow in Cumberland County -- the new archery state-record non-typical buck, according to the NBBC.
For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta, ME 04333. Call (207) 287-5248, or visit the MDIFW's Web site at www.state.me.us.
The overall deer harvest was up 5 percent in 2005 (10,595) compared to 10,133 deer in 2004 and 9,492 in 2003. The adult male harvest was also up (6,127), an 11-percent increase from 5,537 in 2004 and from 5,858 the previous year. After the low 2004 total (the lowest since 1998), the increase in 2005 was attributed to limited either-sex deer permits and the relatively mild previous winter.
Your best bet for killing a buck in the Granite State includes opening day of the muzzleloader and firearms seasons and any Saturday. Of course, the majority of the bucks harvested are taken during the firearms season, with archers and muzzleloader hunters accounting for about 35 percent of the buck harvest. WMU J2 (near the southern Maine border) tallied the most bucks for the fourth consecutive year, at 842, followed by Unit M (761) at the southeastern most corner and Unit K (626) to the west.
It's interesting to note that the three WMUs that border Massachusetts are in the top five for buck kills.
New Hampshire's archers and muzzleloader hunters have seen outstanding success in recent years as well. In fact, during the 2003 season, muzzleloader hunters shot two outstanding Boone and Crockett typical bucks -- a 186 7/8-inch 10-pointer from Hillsborough County and a 178 5/8-inch 10-pointer from Rockingham County. During the 2004 season, a new state-record typical archery buck fell to Scot Chevalier in Rockingham County, scoring 183 0/8 as a 12-point typical.
Hunters planning on visiting New Hampshire are encouraged to contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301. Call (603) 271-3421, or visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
The biggest change in Vermont deer seasons in more than 100 years occurred during 2005, when spike-horn bucks were not included in the definition of a "legal buck." Spike bucks had averaged about 35 percent of the total buck harvest. The Fish and Wildlife Board re-defined a legal buck to be any deer with at least one antler having two or more points that are one inch or greater in length.
According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the total harvest was 8,546 deer in 2005 of which 4,956 (58 percent) were legal bucks, significantly below the 30-year average of 14,107. Of course, the buck harvest numbers match that decline. The drop in 2005 was a result of the new antler restrictions, but the intent is to produce more mature bucks in the future.
The NBBC has scored and recorded only four bucks with gross B&C scores of 150 inches or better for this state in the last four seasons.
According to the NBBC, three of the seven biggest-racked bucks taken during the last four years have fallen in Bennington County to archers and muzzleloader hunters, including 2005's new state-record archery buck (Ben Morse's 150 5/8-inch 10-pointer). Rifle hunters took the other four bucks in Caledonia, Essex and Windham counties.
For more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05671-0501.
Although Rhode Island's overall deer harvest was about the same in 2005 compared to the previous year, no bucks of 150 inches or better were killed in 2005. Overall entries to the NBBC records were well down in 2005 (less than 15), when the previous seasons produced 40 or more each year. Local biologists attribute the lack of antler growth to a very poor mast crop.
During the last three seasons, Washington and Providence counties produced most of the trophy bucks, including several that score over 160 inches. The largest bucks typically come from private land.
Little Rhody muzzleloader hunters have a unique opportunity to hunt during the rut (the season runs through most of November), and Rhode Island produces more muzzleloader record-book entries than any other state in New England!
For more information, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 4808 Tower Hill Road, Wakefield, RI 02879. You can also call (401) 789-0281, or check out www.HuntRI.com.