New England's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Finest Hunting Opportunities

New England's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Finest Hunting Opportunities

New England's deer-hunting opportunities are all but limitless, thanks to longer seasons, increased bag limits and better access to private lands. Our expert has the story. (October 2008)

New England's 2007 deer-hunting season produced pockets of good news and in some states, improved results. But when compared to previous years, other areas showed significant harvest declines.

Northern New England's tough winter during early 2008 may affect the upcoming season. But the results of the 2007 season may help hunters discover how to best plan their deer- season vacation in 2008.

Here's a state-by-state look at northern New England, and then a review of what's going on in the southern New England states:

NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND
The news from the north was generally good in 2007. Vermont showed continuing signs of improvement, while Maine experienced a slight decline in harvest numbers. At this point, New Hampshire appears to be the shining star of the North Country, setting a new harvest record in 2007.

Harsh winters in parts of the north may aid hunters' strategies for putting venison in the freezer this fall.

Here's the state-by-state recap of 2007 and the outlook for 2008:

NEW HAMPSHIRE
During the 2007 season, the Granite State experienced outstanding results. The estimated 2007 statewide harvest of 13,559 deer represents a whopping 15 percent increase over 2006's total of 11,766.

According to Kent Gustafson, Deer Project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2007 is the fourth year in a row that the harvest has gone up.

The increased kill reflects recent mild winters and widespread late-season snowfalls, which made it easier for hunters to track and see deer.

New Hampshire has an estimated deer population of about 90,000. The 2007 fall harvest of about 15 percent of the herd is in line with objectives outlined in the state's 10-year Big Game Management Plan, according to Gustafson.

Unless adjustments are made to these numbers, the estimated 2007 harvest is the highest in recent years and likely will result in the highest official kill since 1967, when 14,204 deer were taken.

Archers, muzzleloader and firearms hunters experienced significant increases, while youth hunters maintained their pace, Youth hunters killed 642 whitetails, about the same as 2006, which take was up 100 percent over the previous two years (326 deer in 2005 and 312 in 2004).

Archery hunters killed 3,808 deer, a number up significantly over 2006's total of 2,978 deer, and nearly 100 percent higher than the 1,971 deer killed in 2005.

Muzzleloader hunters shot 2,787 deer, up 300 (or about a 10 percent gain) over the previous season.

Firearms hunters continue to post good numbers, with 6,322 deer taken last year -- as compared to 5,636 deer in 2006.

Based on harvest figures for the last five seasons, hunters should consider those WMUs that border Massachusetts, including wildlife management units K, L, M and J2.

These units include some of the most developed areas of southeastern New Hampshire, although small woodlots and farms abound.

For hunters who prefer the big woods of northern New Hampshire, WMU D1 and D2 and the northernmost WMU A are the best choices.

Hunters planning on visiting New Hampshire are encouraged to contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301. Call (603) 271-3421 or log on to info@wildlife.state.nh.us to receive a free packet on visiting and hunting in the Granite State.

MAINE
This state will forever be associated with stealthy rifle hunters tracking big-bodied, big-racked bucks of the North Woods. But in recent years, both archery and muzzleloader hunters enjoyed healthy increases in harvests across the state.

Gun hunters continue to take the majority of the deer each year in the Pine Tree State. Last fall, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Information Center, hunters killed 28,884 deer -- for a total harvest right on the 20-year average of 28,700 deer.

The antlerless kill in 2007 was 12,822, compared to 13,798 in 2006. The adult buck harvest was up at 16,103, compared to 16,081 the previous year. Archers did well, taking a total of 2,236 deer, which was down slightly from 2,494 the previous year.

Muzzleloaders had outstanding conditions and took 1,964 deer -- well up from the 1,307 they took in 2006 and 994 in 2005.

In 2006, youth hunters had their best day ever with 1,216 successful young hunters, but last year, that number decreased to 1,065.

That's still well above the total of 672 deer taken in 2005. Gun hunters accounted for the rest of the harvest -- more than 23,500 deer, or about a 5 percent decrease from 2006.

In terms of deer killed per square mile, the top-producing WMUs were 24, 22, 21 and 29. Hunters in York, Penobscot, Somerset, Kennebec and Cumberland counties have consistently done well in past years, and should continue to produce the state's highest totals.

Maine's 2007 statewide post-hunt whitetail population was estimated at 247,100, or 8.6 deer per square mile.

In 2008, deer management will continue to focus on protecting the female segment of the population.

This will be done through decreasing the any-deer permit allocations to compensate for higher winter mortality last year.

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

VERMONT
Hunters enjoyed increased success in 2007, pointing to continued improvement in the deer population, now that the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board has taken control of the deer herd from the State Legislature.

Sweeping changes in 2004 included new antler restrictions, reduced antlerless deer harvests and restrictions on baiting. These changes were made to attempt to address declining deer numbers in some WMUs, hunters' demand for higher numbers of older bucks, and to reduce the risk of spreading disease and parasites by feeding and baiting deer.

After dramatic harvest reductions in 2005, there was a rebound in 2006. The 2007 season showed continued improvement. The total deer harvest increased 14 percent, from 12,682 in 2006 to 14,516 in 2007, or about equal to the 30-year average of just over 14,000 deer. The antlered deer harvest in all seasons increased 15 percent from 7,805 in 2006 to 8,955.

Archers took 2,832 deer during the 32-day split season, an increase over 2006. Youth hunters set a new record in 2006 with 1,861 deer, and followed that up with 1,834 whitetails in 2007.

Muzzleloader hunters took 3,011 deer -- 30 percent more than in 2006 -- and rifle hunters tagged 6,838 deer compared to 5,959 the previous year.

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

A printable copy of the annual deer report is available on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Web site at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

Under "Hunting and Trapping," click on "Big Game" and then look for the 2007 Vermont White-tailed Deer Harvest Report.

SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND
Massachusetts and Rhode Island posted modest harvest increases in 2007, while Connecticut had declining harvest numbers. Here's the state-by-state recap of last season:

MASSACHUSETTS
Bay State hunters took 11,251 deer in 2007, compared to 10,596 in 2006. However, the total was still less than recent years and well below the all-time record of 12,417 posted in 2002.

Archers statewide bagged a total of 3,223 deer, compared to the record harvest of 3,385 in 2006. The shotgun season accounted for about half the total harvest, with 5,745 deer -- up from 5,603 the year before.

Muzzleloader hunters took 2,157 deer, a significant increase over the 1,482 whitetails taken in 2006.

2007 NEW ENGLAND DEER HARVEST TOTALS COMPARED WITH 2006
SEASON20062007
MAINE
ARCHERY2,4942,296
MUZZLELOADER1,3071,964
FIREARMS24,90123,619
YOUTH1,2161,065
TOTALS29,91828,884
NEW HAMPSHIRE
ARCHERY2,9793,908
MUZZLELOADER2,4942,797
FIREARMS5,6366,322
YOUTH669642
TOTALS11,76613,559
VERMONT
ARCHERY2,5532,932
MUZZLELOADER2,3093,011
FIREARMS5,9596,839
YOUTH1,8611,934
TOTALS12,68214,516
MASSACHUSETTS
ARCHERY3,3853,223
MUZZLELOADER1,4822,157
FIREARMS5,6045,745
OTHER125126
TOTALS10,59611.251
CONNECTICUT
ARCHERY3,1572,924
MUZZLELOADER697725
FIREARMS6,7786,437
OTHER969976
TOTALS11,59111,062
RHODE ISLAND
ARCHERY352515
MUZZLELOADER1,2111,379
FIREARMS585693
YOUTH167N/A
TOTALS2,3152,586

Your best odds to harvest a deer are in the central and eastern portions of the state, even though the tracts of woods are smaller and the human populations are much higher.

For the last several years, Deer Management Zone 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.

Doe permit applications are attached to traditional hunting and sporting licenses and must be submitted prior to mid-July.

If hunters are buying licenses online at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors, they may apply for an antlerless permit electronically.

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

CONNECTICUT
The Nutmeg State had a reduction in its total deer harvest during 2007, continuing a downward trend.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that hunters harvested 11,062 deer during the 2007 hunting seasons, about 500 below the overall harvest in 2006 (11,591).

Harvest rates decreased for archery and firearm seasons, but increased slightly for muzzleloaders. Archery hunters took 2,924 deer during the extended season compared to 3,157 the previous year. The muzzleloader season harvest total went up from 697 deer in 2006 to 725 in 2007, but still stayed below the 781 taken in 2005.

Firearms hunters also saw another decrease with 6,437 deer, down from 6,778 in 2006 and well below the 7,626 deer in 2005.

The special landowner season produced 976 deer. Youth hunter numbers are included in the firearms segment total -- they took 51 deer last year.

As you make your plans for 2008, there are many reasons to consider deer management zones 11 (southwestern Connecticut) and 12 (the coastal region), where deer numbers are high. Harvest rates in these two zones continue to increase, and hunters may obtain an unlimited number of deer permits. Also, they can take advantage of harvest incentive programs and may even hunt over bait on private land.

Connecticut's Deer Management Program includes new strategies to reduce deer population growth in areas of the state where populations have increased.

For some good bowhunting opportunities, check out the state land in the northeastern corner of the state.

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

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

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

RHODE ISLAND
Our smallest state had banner years in 2004 and 2005, but the deer harvest tailed off in 2006. However, 2007 showed a bit of a rebound.

The Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish and Wildlife reports preliminary numbers of 2,586 deer taken in 2007, up 171 from the 2006's total harvest.

The season segments produced mixed results. A total of 1,378 deer were taken during the muzzleloader season -- a new single season record for that category.

Shotgunners took 693 bucks, up from 585 deer in 2006, but well below previous years. Archers took 515 deer, down slightly from 519 the previous year, and well below the 783 deer taken as recently as 2004.

Lori Gibson, supervising wildlife biologist, noted that more hunters took multiple deer last year than in past seasons. She also indicated that interest in the new Tillinghast Management Area was also high.

On state land, the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area produced the most total deer, with Big River WMA coming in a distant second. The towns of Exeter, Foster, Glocester, West Greenwich and Burrillville tend to produce the most deer each year.

A final report on the 2007-08 deer harvest data and deer-vehicle collisions will be available on the DEM's Web site at www.dem.ri.gov.

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

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