Late-Season Deer Hunts In Our States

Here's a look at where to find some great late-season deer hunting in New England. (January 2006)

Photo by Michael H. Francis

For the most part, deer hunting seasons have wrapped up across much of New England by now. However, for die-hard archery and muzzleloader enthusiasts, some late-season hunting opportunities still exist in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Despite being so late in the year, the next few weeks can be a prime time for hunting whitetails. Weather conditions might be less than perfect with cold temperatures and the likelihood of snow, but such conditions will get deer moving early and keep them going throughout much of the day. Snow also makes finding bedding and feeding areas and primary runs a lot easier. Best of all, most hunters will have hung up their gear for the season, so state lands will be far less crowded.

While weekends might see more activity, hunters getting away mid-week are apt to have an entire management area or state forest pretty much to themselves.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Granite State's archery season opened back on Sept. 15 and remains open through Dec. 15.

New Hampshire's deer population is doing well, according to Kent Gustafson, a biologist and Deer Project leader with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. During the past couple of hunting seasons, archers have done pretty well, harvesting 1,841 deer in 2003 and 2,158 deer in 2004, an increase of 17 percent.

While many archers prefer to bowhunt in September and October when hunting conditions are more enjoyable, the last few weeks of the season can bring some prime hunting opportunities, especially south of the White Mountains, where late-season weather conditions are often less severe.

With over 200,000 acres of public land in the form of wildlife management areas and state forests, there is plenty of room to roam, especially now with fewer hunters out there.

Kearsarge WMA

This 1,080-acre public-hunting area in Andover offers mixed hardwoods and softwoods with hardwoods predominating on the ridges. Some timber harvesting took place back in 2000, primarily trees heavily damaged during the 1998 ice storm. The cutting has regenerated new growth that attracts deer. The WMA abuts 4,965-acre Kearsarge State Forest to the south and west, creating more than 6,000 acres open to hunting. Access to the area is easy. From Route 11 west of Andover, take Cilleyville Road to Kearsarge Mountain Road to Leadmine Road and then proceed for about two miles to the WMA, which is on both sides of the road that ends at the Andover-Salisbury town line.

Jones Brook WMA

Another area worth considering is the Jones Brook WMA in Brookfield, Middleton and Durham. It covers over 1,490 acres, making it one of the largest WMAs in the state.

Featuring upland forest with hardwoods and various softwoods of various age and size, Jones Brook WMA is home to several important deer wintering areas. The terrain is hilly, steep in places (three mountains are within its borders) and while there are no clearly marked trails, hunters willing to explore and bushwhack should be able to find deer. The area abuts Kings Highway along the Middleton and New Durham town line, and hunters will find a small parking area that connects with a gated road that leads to Jones Pond. There is also public access in Brookfield. From Route 109, take Governor's Road and then Mountain Road to its end.

Enfield WMA

In Enfield and Grantham, this WMA covers over 3,060 acres. It is mostly forested with mixed hardwoods and stands of fir and spruce, but there are also marshes, beaver flowages and several ponds.

This is one of the largest WMAs in the state, offering plenty of room and habitat diversity while being home to a good deer population.

The WMA is between Route 4A and Interstate Route 89 and borders both highways. From south of Enfield Center on Route 4A, take Bog Road south at George Pond. About two miles farther on there will be a sign, parking area and trail on the west side of the road. Access to the west side of the WMA is possible from Exit 14 off I-89. Go under the interstate and immediately turn south over a small bridge.

Archers are allowed to take deer of either sex and Sunday hunting is allowed.

For more information on the deer- hunting opportunities available in the Granite State, as well as information on the state's WMAs and other public hunting grounds, contact the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game at (603) 271-3421; or visit the agency's Web site at

www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

MASSACHUSETTS

Muzzleloader hunting is allowed until Dec. 31 in the Commonwealth, and there is good reason to do so. With an estimated 85,000 to 95,000 whitetails statewide, according to John McDonald, MassWildlife's Deer Project leader, there are plenty of whitetails out there even after early archers and shotgunners have taken their share, which has been running less than 10,000 combined in recent years.

Deer densities are anywhere from 50 per square mile in parts of the eastern half of the state to 10 per square mile in the west, so the chances of seeing a deer are quite good. There are also fewer muzzleloader hunters, so there won't be as many folks in the woods.

The number of deer taken by frontloader enthusiasts has also been on the rise, from 1,350 in 2002 to 2,147 in 2004. Each year's total has been the highest since the first muzzleloader season took place back in 1973.

Finding a place to hunt in Massachusetts is easy, too. MassWildlife manages over 100,000 acres of wildlife management areas, and all are open to public hunting. In addition to that, the state Division of Forests and Parks manages over 100 state forests covering more than 280,00 acres.

While hunting is highly restricted or prohibited in state parks, hunting is allowed in most state forests.

Freetown State Forest

One prime example of a state forest open to hunting is Freetown State Forest near New Bedford. It covers more than 5,600 acres and offers over 50 miles of unpaved roads and trails. While there is a day-use area near the main entrance complete with picnic area and restrooms, most of the forest is undeveloped. The exciting thing is the forest is located in a part of the state known for big deer, and the forest has its share.

To get there, take Route 24 south to Exit 10, and then take South Main Street to Route 79 north. Finally, turn onto Slab B

ridge Road and follow the signs to the forest.

For more information, maps and hunting restrictions in the forest, call (508) 644-5522.

Douglas State Forest

Another state forest open to hunting is Douglas State Forest on the border with Connecticut and Rhode Island in Douglas. The forest covers 4,640 acres in an area with a good deer population. It offers miles of trails into the interior of the forest and is easy to get to. From Exit 10 on I-90, take Route 396 south to Exit 2, and then Route 16 east five miles, turn right onto Cedar Street for one-half mile and then go straight on Wallum Lake Road for about one mile. For more information, including hunting restrictions, call (508) 476-7872.

Georgetown-Rowley State Forest

The Georgetown-Rowley State Forest is in Georgetown in the northeast part of the state. Deer densities are quite high and hunters should have little trouble seeing deer.

Although not as big as some other state forests, at 1,112 acres there is plenty of room here, and at this time of year hunters will encounter little other human activity.

To get there, take I-95 north to Route 97 at Exit 53B. For maps and more information, call (978) 887-5931.

The southeast region of Massachusetts is home to 25 wildlife management areas covering about 30,000 acres. The deer density in parts of that region is about 50 whitetails per square mile!

Hockomock WMA

The Hockomock WMA in Horton, Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Easton, Taunton and Raynham covers 4,453 acres in numerous parcels. Many areas consist of vegetated wetlands with islands of dry ground, (good spots for deer), while others consist of maple and cedar swamps and uplands with open farmland, such as on the Erwin Wilder section.

Only shoulder-fired muzzleloaders .44 to .775 caliber with a barrel at least 18 inches can be used during the muzzleloader season. In-line rifles, provided they are loaded from the muzzle, single projectiles, sabot loads, 209 primers and scopes are all legal. Propellants must be blackpowder or approved substitutes, and a special stamp is required.

For more information on hunting in Massachusetts and for information on the various WMAs, including maps, contact MassWildlife at (508) 792-7270, or visit their Web site at

www.mass.gov/masswildlife.

RHODE ISLAND

Ocean State archers may hunt on the mainland through Jan. 31. The season opened back on Oct. 1 and is the longest archery season in New England.

In addition, archery hunting continues on several islands, with the season closing on Prudence and Patience islands Jan. 8 and on Conanicut and Aquidneck islands Jan. 31.

On the mainland, archers are allowed a total of three deer, one of either sex and two antlerless. On the islands, the limit is two deer of either sex and one antlerless. The shotgun season on Conanicut and Aquidneck islands also runs through Dec. 18.

Rhode Island doesn't have a lot of public land open to hunting, but considering its size (just 1,214 square miles), the 46,000 acres of wildlife management areas where hunting is allowed make up about 7 percent of the land in the state. During the earlier hunting seasons, these areas are well utilized, but after the holidays, fewer sportsmen hit the woods, which means hunters won't have to share the woods with crowds of other hunters.

Burlingame WMA

The Burlingame WMA in the town of Charlestown bordered by Burlingame State Forest is worth considering this month. Covering 1,390 acres, it is one of the largest public-hunting areas along Block Island Sound. It consists of over 900 acres of deciduous forest, over 70 acres of softwood forest and about 14 acres of agricultural land under game management, and has a good population of whitetails.

Access is off the north side of Buckeye Brook Road, which travels between Route 216 (Ross Hill Road) and Shumankanuc Road.

Great Swamp WMA

Another good spot is the Great Swamp WMA in South Kingstown and Richmond. The area covers over 3,300 acres and while much of it is wetland, nearly 1,000 acres of mixed forests and nearly 100 acres of agricultural land are earmarked for the management of wildlife.

Access is best off Liberty Road, which leads to the WMA off Great Neck Road.

Arcadia WMA

Rhode Island's largest WMA is Arcadia WMA in West Greenwich, Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond in the western part of the state. It covers over 13,800 acres, contains a mixture of hardwood and softwood forest, and has one of the largest deer herds of any wildlife management area in the state.

State Route 165 divides the area into north and south sections. Access to the north portion is east of the bridge at Wood River along the Midway Trail, where hunters will find a parking area. Access to the south section may be gained from Old Nooseneck Road, the K-G Road or Summit Road.

The area features miles of roads and trails in both sections that lead to some prime hunting ground, although nearly all roads are gated to prevent vehicular access.

Another big area is the Big River WMA in West Greenwich, Exeter, Coventry and East Greenwich. It covers 8,319 acres and has just about every type of cover and terrain the deer hunter could ask for, including some agricultural land specifically managed for wildlife.

Interstate 95 separates the area into north and south portions. To reach the south section, Route 3 and Division Street are best. The north section is accessible from Hackney Road.

Other Options

While these are some of the biggest public hunting areas in the state, they are by no means the only ones available. The George Washington WMA in West Gloucester covers 3,489 acres, while the Buck Hill-Black Hut WMA in the northwest corner of the state covers nearly 3,600 acres. There is also the Carolina WMA in Richmond, offering 2,359 acres of public hunting land.

A complete list of wildlife management areas along with current information and regulations are listed in the Rhode Island Hunting and Trapping Abstracts.

Island Hunts

Then there are the islands, such as Prudence and Patience islands in Narragansett Bay. Each island has a good population of deer. Certain restrictions are in force, so check with the Division of Fish and Wildlife for details.

Access to either island is by private watercraft or via the Prudence Island Ferry. Call (401) 253-9898 for scheduling details.

For more information on late-season deer hunting in Rhode Island, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife at (401) 789-0281.

CONNECTICUT

Archery hunters

in the Nutmeg State may hunt state land and state lands restricted to archery only until Dec. 31, and blackpowder enthusiasts may hunt state lands where muzzleloaders are allowed until Dec. 20. Archers may bag up to four deer annually, two of either sex and two antlerless. Muzzleloader hunters are allowed one deer of either sex on state lands.

With an estimated 35,000 deer in the state, according to Howard Kilpatrick, a Deer/Turkey Program biologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division, the state's deer population is doing well, and late-season hunters should have plenty of opportunities.

Hunting is allowed on wildlife management areas, state forests and some state parks, which means over 200,000 acres of woodland, wetland, farmland and coastal habitats are open to hunting. Hunters have a number of places to choose from. Areas open to fall archery and muzzleloader hunting include Algonquin State Forest in Colebrook, American Legion State Forest in Barkhamsted, Housatonic State Forest in Sharon (the largest chunk of public land in the state), 4,328-acre Mattatuck State Forest in Watertown, the nearly 3,000 acre Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted and Tunxis State Forest in Hartland that covers nearly 9,200 acres.

If you prefer a bowhunting-only area to end your season, try Newgate WMA in East Granby, Robbins Swamp WMA in Canaan, Roraback WMA in Harwinton, John Minetto State Park, Mount Riga State Park, Red Cedar Lake State Park or Bigelow Hollow State Park in Union. Some of these areas, as well as some of those mentioned previously, are in Litchfield and Fairfield counties, which have produced a high percentage of Connecticut's Pope and Young bucks.

A list of state lands open to hunting, as well as maps and general information on hunting in Connecticut, are available by calling the Connecticut Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011, or

http://www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife/wdhome.htm.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.