New England's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Hunting

New England's whitetail experts are predicting another banner year for hunters, with more opportunities, increasing deer herds and extended seasons in most states. (October 2007)

Photo by Mark Werner.

New England offers a wide variety of contrasting hunting opportunities, from suburban bowhunting in coastal Rhode Island to roaming the big woods during rifle season in northern Maine.

New England's deer herds appear to be in relatively good shape. Northern New England saw a significant decline in overall harvest numbers between 2002 and 2003, but there has been somewhat of a rebound in past three seasons, with all three states posting better numbers in 2006.

Southern New England deer harvests had been above 10-year averages through 2005, but all three states tailed off in 2006.

Relatively mild wintering conditions throughout most of the region, coupled with expanded hunting opportunities in parts of the region, offer the potential of a banner year for New England's deer hunters in 2007.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire's 2006 harvest results approached record levels. In fact, this state's hunters posted an 11-percent harvest increase in 2006, after 5- to 7-percent increases in each of the previous two years.

According to Kent A. Gustafson, New Hampshire's Deer Project Leader, the statewide total harvest in 2006 was 11,766 deer, up significantly (11 percent) from the 10,595 whitetails harvested in 2005.

This is the highest total since 1997. It appears that many WMUs are at or near management levels desired by the state.

When planning for 2007, you may want to look at deer-per-square-mile harvest numbers as a gauge for hunting success. Rockingham County led the pack in 2006 at 2.64, about the same as the last two years, and was well above the statewide average of 1.27 deer per square mile.

Strafford County was second at 2.31 deer killed per square mile, well up from 1.89 in 2005. Hillsborough County was a distant third at 1.62, also up from 1.47 the previous year.

In terms of totals, Rockingham County also produced the largest overall harvest at 1,922 deer, virtually equal to 2005.

Based on harvest figures for the last five seasons, hunters would do well to hunt the wildlife management units bordering Massachusetts in the south, including WMUs K, L, M and J2.

For hunters who prefer the big-woods feel of northern New Hampshire, WMU D (west of Route 3 to the Vermont border) and the northernmost WMU A are the best choices, having consistently produced the best harvest totals in that region.

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 log onto info@wildlife.state.nh.us.

MAINE

While the Pine Tree State will forever be associated with the legendary big-bodied bucks of its north woods, hunters are experiencing success across the state. Recent years show healthy increases in both archery and muzzleloader harvests.

Each year, gun hunters take the majority of deer in this state.

Last fall, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Information Center, deer hunters killed 29,918 deer, or about 6 percent more than 2005's total of 28,148 deer.

Last year's total harvest was above the 20-year average of 28,700 deer.

More deer were killed in Penobscot County (3,509) last year than in any other county. Other counties where more than 2,000 deer were killed include Somerset (3,472), Kennebec (2,920), Cumberland (2,677), York (2,580) and Oxford (2,240).

Hunters in these counties have consistently done well in the past several years, and should continue to produce the state's highest totals.

Resident hunters account for 71 percent of the harvest. According to the MDIFW, estimates of success vary. Resident (including landowner) any-deer permit holders have a 26.8-percent success rate overall, versus 22 percent for non-resident hunters.

In general, buck hunters lacking an any-deer permit harvested bucks at an estimated 10- to 12-percent success rate.

Maine's statewide post-hunt deer population was estimated at 218,700, or 7.6 deer per square mile. In 2007, deer population-management efforts will continue to focus on increasing the numbers of deer in the northern and Down East regions.

Thanks to relatively moderate winters in 2006 and 2007, doe harvests will likely continue at present levels to stabilize deer populations and maintain short-term population objectives within most central and southern wildlife management districts.

For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta, ME 04333. Call (207) 287-8000, or access the MDIFW's Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.

VERMONT

Vermont's 2006 deer harvests increased significantly over 2005 -- a season that saw the biggest change in Vermont deer seasons in more than 100 years. In 2004, the Vermont General Assembly delegated to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board full authority to manage deer.

This authority was delegated for an experimental period, with a sunset date of June 30, 2008. The board immediately enacted sweeping changes in its deer regulations.

For the first time in more than 100 years, spike-horn bucks (which had averaged 35 percent of the total harvest in most years) were not included in the definition of a "legal" buck.

Instead, the board re-defined a legal buck as any deer having at least one antler with two or more points that are one inch or greater in length.

At the same time, the board reduced the annual bag limit from three deer to two, and halted antlerless deer harvest by archers in some wildlife management units (WMUs).

The board also banned the practices of baiting and feeding of deer.

These changes were made in order to attempt to address declining deer numbers in some WMUs, hunters' desire for larger numbers of older-age bucks -- and

to reduce the risk of spreading disease and parasites by feeding and baiting deer.

The results were dramatic. Harvest reductions occurred in 2005, and then there was a dramatic rebound in 2006. The total deer harvest increased 48 percent, from 8,546 in 2005 to 12,682 in 2006 (compared to 11,925 in 2004).

That's still well below the 30-year average of over 14,000 deer. But it seems that the department's policy change has allowed the harvest to remain high, while protecting young bucks.

The antlered buck harvest in all seasons increased by 58 percent, from 4,956 in 2005 to 7,805 in 2006.

Vermont hunters and game wardens reported seeing more deer in 2006 than in 2005, and scientific hunter-survey data also revealed an increase in deer sightings by hunters.

For the fifth year in a row, Franklin County topped the state harvest with 1,887 deer, followed by perennial front-runners Windsor County (1,348) and Rutland County (1,347). Orange County finished fourth, with 1,308 deer harvested.

Grand Isle County produced the second-lowest harvest total statewide, with only 401 deer taken. But it recorded the highest per-square-mile ratio, a whopping 8.8!

By way of comparison, the statewide per-square-mile average was 1.62 deer harvested.

For more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main St., Waterbury, VT 05671-0501; or call (802) 241-3700.

A printable copy of the state's annual deer report is available at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

MASSACHUSETTS

Bay State hunters harvested significantly fewer deer last year. Bill Woytek, MassWildlife Deer Project Leader, reported a total of 10,596 deer taken during all seasons, compared to 12,060 in 2005, 12,266 in 2004 and 12,025 in 2003.

The all-time record is 12,417, posted in 2002. The 2006 total was the first significant decline in five years.

Woytek noted that 2006 was another record year for archery hunters, with a 7-percent increase in all but two WMZs.

There was an overall decrease from 2005 during the shotgun and muzzleloader seasons, blamed on poor hunting conditions due to a lack of snow cover throughout the state during those seasons.

In addition, fewer antlerless deer permits were issued in 10 of the 15 wildlife management zones because deer densities in many of these WMZs meet MassWildlife's goals for those zones.

Archers took 3,385 deer, setting a new record. And muzzleloaders, who had previously established new records in 2004 (with 2,147 deer taken) and 2005 (2,325 deer) were down significantly -- to 1,482 in 2006.

Shotgunners took 5,603 deer, down from 6,449 in 2005 and 6,682 in 2004. Additionally, during the Quabbin controlled hunt in 2006, 117 deer were taken by firearms, the same number as 2005.

The best odds for success are in the central and eastern portions of the state, even though there are smaller tracts of woods and human populations are much higher.

For the last several years, Deer Management Zone (DMZ) 11 has led the state, followed by DMZs 10, 9 and 8.

In the western part of the state, DMZ 3 is typically your best bet, offering higher deer densities and a higher success rate than the rest of the western zones.

In 2004, the Vermont General Assembly delegated to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board full authority to manage deer.

"Deer hunters should remember that an antlerless deer permit is required to take antlerless deer in any deer season." Woytek said.

For more information, contact MassWildlife, Field Headquarters, Westboro, MA 01581. Call (508) 792-7220, or visit the agency's Web site at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors.

CONNECTICUT

During the 2006's hunting seasons, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that hunters harvested 11,591 deer. That total was about 9 percent below the overall harvest in 2005 (12,664) and well below 2004, when a total of a 13,535 deer were harvested.

"The decrease in the harvest can likely be attributed to poor weather conditions during the shorter firearms and muzzleloader hunting seasons, which reduced deer movement and hunter participation," said Howard Kilpatrick, a biologist for the DEP's Wildlife Division's Deer/Turkey Program. Most of the decline was attributed to poor weather on Thanksgiving Day, typically one of the top harvest days of the firearm season.

In 2007, hunters should consider deer management zones 11 (southwestern region) and 12 (shoreline towns) where deer populations are high.

Although statewide harvest rates have fluctuated between 11,000 and 13,500 over the past five years, the harvest rates in DMZs 11 and 12 continue to increase.

In these zones, hunters may obtain unlimited number of deer permits, utilize harvest incentive programs and hunt over bait on private land.

The DEP can provide hunters with access information to well-marked and lightly hunted public lands.

Pay particular attention to the small parcels of state land along the Rhode Island border.

For more information, consult the 2006 Connecticut Hunting and Trapping Guide, available at town clerks' and DEP offices, or on the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us.

Or contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; or call (203) 424-3011.

RHODE ISLAND

Rhode Island's deer hunters had banner years in 2004 and 2005, but the harvest tailed off in 2006.

The state Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish and Wildlife reported preliminary numbers of 2,315 deer taken in 2006, down 357 from 2005's total harvest.

Results of the mainland hunts showed mixed results. A total of 1,211 deer were taken during the muzzleloader season, compared to 1,204 in 2005.

Some 585 deer were taken during the shotgun season, a decrease of 100 deer from the total in 2005.

Mainland archery hunters took 352 deer in 2006, well below the total of 437 deer taken the previous season.

The DEM's final report containing 2006-07

deer harvest data and deer-vehicle collision statistics is available on its Web site, www.state.ri.us/dem.

For more information, contact Lori Gibson at (401) 789-0281.

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