New York's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 2
April 12, 2011
Based on historical harvests and some insight into what this season has in store for hunters, here is a look at where the best bucks in the state come from.
The combination of age, nutrition and genetics is required for bucks to grow to record size. Big buck hunters know that locating areas where deer have multiple food sources, great cover, and limited hunting pressure is the key to finding those trophy bucks. In a state the size of New York, there are plenty of places capable of growing such bucks. And as we will show you, the 2009 season produced a lot of them, including a buck that grossed over 210 inches under the Boone & Crockett (B&C) scoring system. And just three years ago a new state record for muzzleloader-killed buck was set when a 231-inch gross B&C non-typical was killed in Niagara County.
Here's our best advice on where to look for trophy bucks based on past success, as well as some insight about what's in store for hunters in 2010. Note that all references to antler scores come from the Northeast Big Buck Club records, and represent the gross Boone & Crockett score.
LOOKING BACK AT 2009
Among the more than 102,500 bucks that Empire State hunters bagged last fall were some truly impressive trophies. According to the Northeast Big Buck Club some truly impressive bucks fell in almost every county, including many that grossed between 150 and 210 inches B&C. And they were taken by archers, muzzleloaders and gun hunters during the seasons that run from September all through way through January in parts of this large and diverse hunting habitat.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner, Pete Grannis, the 2009 take included 102,507 adult bucks out of 222,798 total deer harvested. The buck take was down slightly from 2008 and 2007, but well above 2006 (96,569) and 2005 (89,015), suggesting that deer populations in many portions of New York are continuing to grow. The perennial leader in buck take -- Steuben County -- which surprisingly fell to third place in 2006, but has been in the number one position since then -- provided hunters with 5,126 bucks in 2009 (hunters here took 5,657 in 2007 and 5,326 in 2008).
Last year Cattaraugus County was second with 4,369 bucks, followed by Allegany (4,128) and St. Lawrence (3,959). Delaware (3,867) rounded out the top five counties.
A more accurate picture of buck densities is revealed by the density of buck harvest -- the number of bucks killed per square mile, a measure which allows a better comparison of the quality of hunting in large and small counties. By this calculation, the top counties for buck harvest density were: Wyoming and Yates at 4.6 bucks per square mile, Allegany (4.0), Orange (4.0), Cayuga (3.7) and Steuben (3.6).
These counties produced the most deer and the most bucks, and in some cases they produced "the biggest" bucks. But as you will see, huge bucks came from just about every corner of the state. Varied habitat and hunting conditions impact the probability of harvesting a trophy buck. New York's whitetail herd, currently estimated at over 1 million deer, is distributed throughout this varied habitat. Many local experts are encouraged about this fall's buck-hunting prospects. Here's a look at what you might expect throughout the state in the upcoming season.
WESTERN NEW YORK
Western New York includes regions 7, 8 & 9 (and their corresponding WMU's) which stretch from the Interstate 81 corridor west to the shores of Lake Erie and the Niagara River. This is a great place to get your buck.
In 2009 hunters took 55,881 bucks in western NY, compared to 2008 when hunters downed 55,577 bucks in all. 2009's totals broke down as follows, with 2008 totals in parentheses: 18,381 (vs. 17,407) bucks in DEC Region 9's six counties; 19,823 (vs. 20,620) in the 11 counties of Region 8; and 17,677 (vs. 17,500) in the nine-county Region 7. Steuben County was the buck harvest leader in the region and in the state. Hunters traditionally do well in Allegheny, Cattaraugus, Chenango, Erie and Chautauqua counties, which typically are among the region's leaders year after year.
Region 9 produced four of the top 10 buck harvests in the state in 2009 (Cattaraugus, Allegany, Chautauqua and Erie counties). Wyoming County produced the most bucks per square mile in this region (4.6). Many monster bucks have been killed in this region's six counties recently. In 2007 Niagara County produced the state's new record muzzleloader buck (the Keith LeVick's buck, a 221 0/8 net nontypical, the state muzzleloader record) and Chautauqua County produced a 192 6/8-inch gross B&C non-typical 16-point for Ron Madison during the firearms season. In 2009 Cattaraugus County produced three bucks that grossed over 180 B&C.
Buck hunters should have no problems getting access to potential hotspots. Counties along the Pennsylvania border have more than 160,000 acres of public hunting grounds among them. In addition to the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park, where hunters must obtain a free permit from the park office before going afield, sportsmen have access to 17,200 acres of state forestlands in Chautauqua County, 33,600 acres in Cattaraugus County and 46,300 acres in Allegany County.
Region 8 is defined by the perennial success of Steuben County, arguably the best trophy hunting county in the state over the last 10 seasons, and number 1 again in 2009 in terms of overall state harvest. In 2007 it produced a 178 6/8-inch non-typical 14-point for Jamie Wolcott during the firearms season, and in 2008 produced the state's best gross scoring archery typical -- a 167 6/8-inch 11-point for Steve Calderwood. Biologists look forward to great numbers this fall in this section of Region 8. If you want to hunt public land, try the action at the 2,500-acre Erwin Wildlife Management Area, west of Painted Post off Beartown Road.
Livingston County has really come on in recent years, finishing 2nd or 3rd in region 8 for total bucks each year since 2006, including 2,063 bucks in 2009. Other Region 8 standouts include Ontario County (2,049 bucks in 2009) and Yates County, which has led the entire state in bucks killed per square mile for five of the last seven years, coming in at 4.6 during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
A good bet in Region 8 is northern Livingston and southern Monroe counties, where great little pockets of cover create habitat that produces mature farmland and suburban bucks. Excellent state land hunting is available in places like Letchworth State Park along the Genesee River in Livingston County, but be sure to get your park stamp for your license before hunting those lands.
In fact one of the state's largest archery bucks of 2007 came from Livingston County -- a 183-inch gross B&C 22-point for Marvin Yamonaco. This county also produced 2006's best muzzleloader buck for Frank Waltman -- a B&C caliber 10-point typical. Chemung County produced
several whoppers as well, including Nick Erway's 2008 gun kill grossing 185 2/8 inches.
Chenango County is your best bet for bucks in DEC Region 7. This county had the highest buck kill in the region for the last several years, with 2,786 last year. Cayuga (2,592) and Onondaga (2,165) finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in 2009. Cayuga and Tompkins counties are outstanding in terms buck density, with 3.7 and 3.5 bucks killed per square mile respectively in 2009.
Public hunting grounds in this region include the 1,118-acre Turkey Hill Reforestation Area in Tioga county; Michigan Hill State Forest, spanning 1,209 acres in Richford (also Tioga County); and the 11,000-acre Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area off Route 13 in the town of Newfield (Tompkins County).
The majority of New York's bucks are taken with guns and some are monsters, like this giant Cayuga County buck taken by Tim Cool in 2009. Photo by Jeff Brown.
NORTHERN NEW YORK
Northern New York is similar to northern New England. It is the perfect place for hunters who aren't afraid to use a compass and follow a track for miles through fresh snow, but deer densities and overall harvests tend to be a bit lower than the southern counterparts. This area includes the vast and remote areas of regions 5 and 6.
According to DEC Region 5 biologists, this Region typically produces a higher percentage of mature bucks (3.5 years and older) than any other region in the state, although the overall deer population is lower in this region.
Typically, good hunting is found in the Lake Champlain Valley in Clinton and Essex Counties (WMU 5G) where the deer herd is growing, but has not reached the carrying capacity of the habitat -- so the deer are big and healthy. Another area to pay attention to is the southern Adirondack foothills in Saratoga and Fulton Counties (WMU 5J), where the deer population is growing and healthy.
Across most of the Northern Zone, hunters kill fewer than two bucks per mile in a majority of management units, with the exception of Washington County (2.5) in region 6 and Jefferson County in region 5 (2.5). In 2009 regions 5 & 6 combined to produce 20,246 bucks, down from 23,792 in 2008. Typically these two regions account for about 20 percent of the statewide harvest.
Good trophy areas include St. Lawrence County, which produced by far the most bucks in 2008 in the region (3,959). This is deceiving however, in that the bucks-per-square mile ratio was a woeful 1.5. As mentioned earlier, Jefferson and Washington counties offer better success percentages, where buck kills are over 2 per square mile, compared to less than 1 buck per square mile in many other counties in this region.
Biologists point to Essex County as a place with good trophy-hunting prospects and lots of huntable land. The county has hundreds of thousands of forest preserve acres open to hunting, and much of that land is accessible via trailheads that begin at the edge of major highways.
Some of the better bucks taken in the area in the last few years include Jamie Warner's 178 1/8-inch Franklin County 16 point; James C. Doyle's Oneida County 17 point (181 6/8-inch gross, 176 7/8-inch net), and Charles Farney's Jefferson County 10-point typical (174 7/8-inch gross, 162 0/8 net).
SOUTHEASTERN NEW YORK
This area includes counties in regions 1, 3 and 4. These areas, referred to as the Catskills, Hudson Valley and Long Island, typically combine for about 25 percent of the statewide buck kill. In 2009 the 17 counties in the region produced a total of 25,930 bucks, about the same as 2008's total of 26,378.
Delaware, Orange and Otsego counties ranked one-two-three in the regional buck-kill standings for the last four hunting seasons, so they are your best bet. Delaware's final count of 3,867 bucks was the state's overall fifth best, while Orange County ranked sixth statewide (3,286 bucks). Let's take a look at what some of these counties have to offer.
Orange County led the region with more than 4 bucks per square mile. Columbia and Orange Counties typically do well also, at 2.9 and 3.7 bucks per square mile respectively. The trophy hunt at the 10,000-acre West Point Military Reservation in Orange County remains one of the most innovative in the state. To take advantage of West Point's thriving deer herd, hunters must possess a deer management permit for Wildlife Management Unit 3P. Before shooting a buck on the premises, the permit-holder must tag a local doe. The policy has paid off with a steady improvement in whitetail weights and antler beam dimensions. To learn more about the hunt, call the post wildlife manager Jim Beemer at (845) 938-2857.
The prime public hunting areas in Delaware County include the 7,400-acre Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area north of Shinhopple via Trout Brook Road. Dutchess and Sullivan counties produced several bucks over 170 inches in the last several years for bow and gun hunters.
In southern New York Westchester County remains a great option for bowhunters, who took 612 bucks last year, about the same as 2008 (609). Open to archers only, the county has produces great bow trophies. Westchester County has no public hunting land, so archers must seek permission from landowners.
Long Island's Suffolk County has an archery-only hunt that usually runs from the beginning of November through December 31, followed by a brief shotgun hunt in mid-January. Suffolk County produced a whopping 823 bucks in 2009, up from 805 in 2008. If you want to hunt the island, write to the DEC Region 1 office, SUNY Bldg. 40, Room 226, Stony Brook, NY 11790-2356, and request procedures for obtaining permits to hunt at the Rocky Point Management Area in Brookhaven and other public hunting grounds on Long Island.
Great archery bucks are taken consistently here. In fact, in 2009 it produced a 211-inch non-typical, and in 2006 a 208 5/8-inch non-typical. Those are amazing bucks.