New England's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks
September 30, 2010
Trophy deer are taken in every state in the Northeast, and not all of them are "wilderness" bucks. Here's where to find your trophy of a lifetime in your state this season. (November 2009)
Great bucks may be taken in every part of New England, from southern Connecticut to the wilds of northern Maine. Several new state records were recently set, and many Boone and Crockett bucks scoring over 200 gross were recorded.
In 2007 and 2008, bucks of 160 inches or better fell in Tolland, Hartford, New London, Windham, Middlesex and New Haven counties. The largest buck of 2007 was a 184 5/8-inch muzzleloader buck killed in Tolland County, while in 2008 it was a 190-class buck taken in Middlesex County.
Here's a look at the potential in all six states, pinpointing areas and methods in each state that are most likely to produce the trophy buck of your dreams!
Over the last five 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 2008 a 180-class muzzleloader buck came from Worcester County, and 170-class bow and shotgun bucks were taken in central and eastern parts of the state.
In 2007, a new state-record archery non-typical fell in the eastern part of the state (179 gross Pope and Young) a year after a new state record archery typical (185 7/8) fell in central Massachusetts. A new state-record muzzleloader non-typical (190 1/8) was taken in the Berkshires, and a giant shotgun buck (194 7/8) was taken in eastern Massachusetts.
There has been a noticeable shift in hunting pressure (and deer kills) from west to east. 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.
Zones 8 and 9 are always hotspots, and hunters who gain access in northern Zone 10 (Essex County) could also expect a shot at a trophy. In recent years, bowhunters have really cleaned up in southeastern Zone 11 (Plymouth and Bristol counties).
It is interesting to note that Norfolk County (near Boston) was responsible for this year's new state-record archery non-typical, as well as for a 210-inch road-killed buck that was found in October 2004.
To the west, towns in and around the Connecticut River Valley are showing signs of returning to their productive days. Several 170- to 200-inch bucks have been taken in this area in the last few years.
For more information about big bucks in the Bay State, contact the Northeast Big Buck Club, 390 Marshall Street, Paxton, MA 01612; call (508) 752-8762, or visit the club's Web site at www.bigbuckclub.com.
The Constitution State is New England's "sleeper state" for big bucks. It offers great trophy opportunities for deer hunters with extended early and late archery seasons sandwiched around a peak-rut gun season and an early December muzzleloader season. The state's liberal bag limits allows hunters to both fill the freezer and put a trophy on the wall, especially for hunters who obtain permission to hunt private land.
Several outstanding trophy bucks defined the past five seasons. While archers account for many of the state's best bucks each year, recent seasons have produced 170-class or better bucks in both the muzzleloader and firearms segments as well.
Nearly 500 bucks in the past five years have qualified for entry in the NBBC record books, and almost 100 of the bucks scored 150 or better. The top five bucks during that five-year span scored over 180.
So, where do we find deer like that in the Nutmeg State?
A close look at the NBBC's records indicates that big bucks literally come from every county. During the past five seasons, more 150-class or better bucks came from Tolland County than any other. Many other counties produced several 150-class bucks, including Middlesex County toward the center of the state, Fairfield (south western), Windham (eastern), Litchfield (western), Hartford (central) and New Haven (central) counties. That pretty much covers the entire state!
For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection at (203) 424-3011.
For many years, the Pine Tree State was the premier destination for trophy buck hunters the region. Great bucks are now taken throughout New England, but Maine hunters continue to harvest their share of the biggest racked, biggest bodied deer in the region.
The statewide harvest of antlered bucks (13,564) in 2008 was within 6 percent of the projected buck harvest.
The top five buck-producing WMDs (per sq. mi.) during 2008 were (in descending order) districts 24, 21, 29, 22 and 23, all in central and southern Maine. Among the 13,566 antlered bucks taken in 2008, roughly 5,019 (37 percent) were 1 1/2 year-olds (yearlings), while more than 3,392 (25 percent) were mature bucks (4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years old). Male fawns are reported as antlerless deer.
Maine's statewide post-hunt deer population was estimated at 199,600 animals or 6.9 deer per square mile.
According to Al Wentworth, president of the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club, great bucks come from all three regions in Maine (northern, central and southern). The question is not where to find a trophy buck, but rather, "What type of hunt do you want?"
The northern section of the state offers vast, unpopulated territories with limited numbers of deer, but if you cross paths with a buck it just could be one of those massive 200-pound bruisers.
The southern section of the state is more densely populated with deer and humans, and a higher number of hunters.
The central region, which includes everything from the Penobscot River to the Kennebec River, and from the lower sections of Somerset and Piscataquis counties to the northern sections of Penobscot County, offers a "best of both worlds" hunt with reasonably good deer densities and plenty of open land to hunt. Trophy bucks recorded between 2004 and 2007 support this assertion, with bucks scoring over 170 coming from all over the state.
It should be noted that most bucks are killed during the firearms season. Muzzleloaders have done better in recent years, but archers take relatively few trophy-class bucks compared with the rest of New England.
Northern Maine has traditionally produced more 200-class mega-bucks, but recent difficult winters have significantly reduced the trophy deer population there. In fact, the Northeast Big Buck Club has reported a significant decline in the number of trophy bucks entered from Maine over the past two seasons.
Over the last five 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.
Of course, dressed weight is a big deal in this state. In 2008, the heaviest buck recorded was 270 pounds dressed, taken in Sinclair (Aroostook County). A 263-pounder came out of Albion (Kennebec County) and at least seven other bucks dressed over 250 pounds!
For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries at (207) 287-5248, or visit the MDIFW's Internet Web site at www.state.me.us.
Also, contact Al Wentworth of MASTC at (207) 564-7614.
What a difference a year makes! The Granite State was a bright spot in 2007, setting a record for buck kill. Then, in 2008, things took a turn for the worst.
While the 2007 statewide adult (1.5 years old or older) male kill was 7,667, the highest in New Hampshire's history, the 2008 buck kill was 6,390, a 17 percent decrease from the previous year.
Almost all WMUs exhibited at least modest decreases in adult buck harvest in the 2008 season, with northern and eastern WMUs showing more significant reductions.
The total male deer kill, including male fawns, was 7,194. By age, the 2008 harvest tallied 19 percent at 3.5 years, 7 percent at 4.5 years and 3 percent at 5.5-plus years old. Additionally, mature bucks at 4.5 years old averaged 179 pounds dressed weight with 8.4 points, while bucks 5.5-plus years old averaged 191 pounds with 8.5 points.
According to Roscoe Blaisdell, President of the New Hampshire Antler and Skull Trophy Club, the heaviest bucks tend to come out of the most northern portion of the state, particularly Coos County. In 2007, Belknap County produced the heaviest buck (255 pounds), while Grafton County held the honor in 2008 with a 250-pounder. The majority of the largest antlered bucks used to come from the Connecticut River Valley, but recently they seem to be coming from every portion of the state.
Based on harvest numbers, the best bets for killing a buck include opening days of the muzzleloader and firearms seasons and any Saturday.
Of course, the majority of the annual bucks are taken during the firearms seasons, with archers and muzzleloader hunters accounting for about 40 percent of the adult male harvest.
WMU J2 (near the southern border) tallied the most bucks for six consecutive years until 2008, when Unit M (at the southeastern-most corner of the state) produced 821 bucks compared with 749 for J2.
WMUs H2 and K finished third and fourth, respectively. A new state-record typical was killed by John Klucky in Merrimack County during the 2006 firearms season, scoring 199 5/8 inches gross and 187 2/8 net Boone and Crockett points.
Hunters are encouraged to contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3421 or visit the agency's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us to receive a free packet on visiting and hunting in the Granite State.
Information on trophy deer in New Hampshire is available from the New Hampshire Antler and Skull Trophy Club (NHASTC), 22 Scribner Road, Raymond, NH 03077.
The biggest change in Vermont deer seasons in more than 100 years occurred during 2005, when the Fish and Wildlife Board re-defined a "legal buck" to be "any deer having at least one antler having 2 or more points that are 1 inch or greater in length."
According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the antlered buck harvest in all seasons increased 58 percent from 4,956 in 2005 to 7,805 in 2006, and then another 15 percent in 2007 to 8,950. In 2008, the state took another jump of 7 percent, with a total antlered buck harvest of 9,539.
In the northwestern corner of the state, WMU A has a great bucks-per-square-mile ratio of 3.4 compared with a statewide average of 1.2 bucks per square mile.
WMU B typically accounts for the most bucks harvested with over 1,000 in each of the last several seasons.
WMUs K1, K2 and N along the New York border are always well above average. During the last few years, trophy-sized bucks have come from all across the state.
For maps, trophy deer records and more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05671-0501.
Also, check out the new Vermont Big Game Trophy Club at www. vermontbiggametrophyclub.com.
After a relatively poor trophy buck year in 2005, Little Rhody rebounded nicely over the next few seasons. In 2006, it produced a new state record for archery typicals that scored 172 7/8 gross and 166 6/8 net Pope and Young.
In 2007, an archer took the largest gross-scoring buck of the year -- a 160-class non-typical from Washington County. Last season, a 166-inch non-typical was taken by a gun hunter in Providence County.
Muzzleloaders hunters have a unique opportunity to hunt during the rut, and so Rhode Island produces more muzzleloader record-book entries than any other state in New England!
During the last three seasons, Washington and Providence counties produced the most trophy bucks, including several that scored over 160.
The largest bucks typically come from private land. Kent County did produce a 170-class buck for the NBBC records in 2008, but it was found dead (not killed by a hunter).
For more information, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife at (401) 789-0281, or log onto www.huntri.com.