Our Best Late-Season Deer Hunts

Don't put your gun or bow away just yet. There is plenty of good deer hunting available in southern New England this month, including opportunities well into February! (December 2005)

Photo by Billkenney.com

For the most part, deer-hunting seasons for 2005 are coming to a close across the rooftop of New England, but along the southern edge of the region things are still going strong and there is still plenty of time and opportunity to fill the freezer.

Some deer-hunting seasons will continue through the end of December in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and through the end of January in Rhode Island.

By all accounts, deer populations are doing well in these states, so hunters can expect to see plenty of whitetails this month.

All things considered, there is no valid reason to put away your favorite gun or bow just yet.

MASSACHUSETTS

Bay State bowhunters have until Nov. 26 to fill their deer tags this year. Last year, archers tagged just over 3,000 whitetails statewide, the second highest harvest ever. Only shotgun hunters tagged more.

An archery stamp is required to hunt in any open zone in addition to the hunting or sporting license. Crossbows may be used during the archery season but only by permanently handicapped hunters and by special permit only.

For more details on current regulations and applications, contact the MassWildlife offices at (508) 792-7270.

The Massachusetts shotgun season runs into early December as well. In zones 1-11 and 14, the season closes Dec. 10, or Dec. 3 in zones 12 and 13, which includes Cape Cod and Dukes County.

The shotgun season is the most popular hunting season in the Commonwealth. Hunters tagged 6,682 deer in 2004.

The muzzleloading deer season will open Dec. 12 and end Dec. 31. Only shoulder-fired muzzleloaders from .44 caliber to .775 caliber with a barrel length of 18 inches or more with one barrel are allowed. In-line ignition systems are legal providing the rifle loads from the muzzle. Hinge action muzzleloaders are prohibited. Rifles must be loaded with a single projectile and sabot-loads, 209-type primers and scopes are permitted.

As in most states, a muzzleloader is considered unloaded in Massachusetts if the cap or pan powder has been removed.

An antlerless deer tag is required in order to take an antlerless deer during the muzzleloading season and a special stamp is required.

Despite its size and population of over six million people, finding a place to hunt in Massachusetts is not a problem. Starting in 1984 and again in 1988 and 1996, the state legislature approved bonds that provided funds for the acquisition of open space for public recreation, including hunting. In 1990, legislation was filed requiring all sportsmen and women to purchase a $5 Wildlands Conservation Stamp annually to augment the bond money. From this source about $1.5 million has been generated annually for land acquisitions.

Today, MassWildlife manages nearly 120,000 acres of public land open to hunting across the Commonwealth, and other environmental agencies hold nearly 500,000 acres of open space in outright public ownership or under publicly held conservation or agricultural restrictions. Nearly all of these lands are open to hunting, and represent over 11 percent of the state-owned land.

These designated wildlife management areas are a blessing for sportsmen in the state, considering obtaining access to private land is not always possible and most areas are getting more crowded each year.

Varying in size from over 10,000 acres, such as the Barre Falls WMA in Barre, Hubbardston and Rutland, to less than 100 acres, such as the Millers River WMA in Wendell and the Rochester WMA in Rochester, each offers public access and hunting opportunities at a time when open space is becoming increasingly difficult to find. With over 100 WMAs available, chances are there is one near you waiting to be explored and hunted.

Apart from restrictions on camping without special permission, the use of motorized vehicles except on roads and trails maintained and intended for their use, target practicing and a few other things that should have no impact on deer hunters, the state's wildlife management areas carry few regulations and are wide open.

For maps and information on each area, size, topography, access and other particulars, contact the MassWildlife district offices in Pittsfield at (413) 447-9789, Belchertown at (413) 323-7632, West Boylston at (508-835-3607, Acton at (978) 263-4347, Boston at (617) 626-1590, Buzzards Bay at (508) 759-3406 or the field headquarters in Westboro at (508) 792-7270. Information and maps are also available online at

www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/dfw_toc.htm.

And if this isn't enough, hunters should keep their eyes and ears open for other hunting opportunities that may become available. For example, a special February deer hunt was held on Nantucket last February, and another opportunity could be in February 2006.

The season was held in response to a request from the town of Nantucket to help reduce deer numbers, estimated at between 40 and 60 animals per square mile, and to help in the threat from deer ticks, which are capable of transmitting a variety of diseases, some of which can cause serious health problems in humans.

Last year, the hunt was held from Feb. 7-12. Hunters needed a valid 2005 hunting or sporting license and were required to purchase a Nantucket Special Deer Permit and tags for $25. The permit includes five antlerless tags and one antlered tag, and did not include the general fall bag limit of two antlered deer. The permits could be purchased at any MassWildlife district office, as well as at the town clerk's office on Nantucket.

If the Nantucket hunt is held again, information on lodging and other services is available from the Nantucket Visitors Center Web site at

www.nantucketma.gov or by calling (508) 228-0925.

For information on ferries to the island, visit the Nantucket Steamship Authority Web site at

http://web1.steamshipauthority.com/ssa/.

There is also some deer hunting allowed at Camp Edwards, the Otis Air National Guard Base, the Cape Cod Air Station and others. Hunting has been allowed on the Camp Edwards s

ection since about 1956 through a permit system and controlled hunt managed by MassWildlife, and about 100 deer are harvested each year. Last year, season dates for archery hunting were Nov. 14-17. The shotgun season was Nov. 28 through Dec. 3 and the muzzleloader season was held Dec. 12-14.

Camp Edwards is in the towns of Bourne and Sandwich on Cape Cod. It is an active military training area and access is strictly controlled, but about 14,000 acres of the reservation were open to hunting. The hunt area is dominated by pitch pine and scrub oak and is separated into sections by marked dirt roads. Hunters are issued a daily permit, an area map, regulations and a vehicle pass.

Access is generally through Connery Avenue to the hunting areas off Frank Perkins Road. Pre-registration is required, and forms must be mailed or delivered to MassWildllife's Southeast District office in Buzzards Bay. Registration forms are usually available on the MassWildlife Web site.

For more information on deer hunting in Massachusetts, contact MassWildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd, Westboro, MA 01581, or call (508) 792-7270.

CONNECTICUT

Connecticut hunters have plenty of opportunities left this fall, too. The state land archery hunts that ended Nov. 15 commence again Dec. 21 and run to Dec. 31.

The season on archery-only areas on state lands runs to Dec. 31 as well. Some of the shotgun lottery hunts on state land continues to Dec. 6, as does the No Lottery, State Land "B" Season. The state land muzzleloader hunt runs from Dec. 7-20.

During the various archery seasons, a total of four deer may be taken including two of either sex and two antlerless. During the shotgun seasons, one deer of either sex may be taken on state lands, not including during special lottery hunts, and during the muzzleloader season on state lands, the limit is one deer of either sex.

Overall, Connecticut's deer population is doing well, with deer numbers estimated at around 75,000 animals. Though there are good hunting opportunities statewide, the southwest corner of the state and many of the shoreline communities provide some of the best hunting, especially for archery hunters.

Many wildlife management areas, state forests and parks and flood control areas offer good opportunities as well, and Connecticut has plenty of them. Some carry special regulations, for example, Beaver Brook State Park, Bigelow Hollow State Park, Camp Columbia State Park, Bishops Swamp Wildlife Management Area, Newgate WMA and the Bloomfield Flood Control Area are all designated bowhunting-only areas.

Beaver Brook State Park is in the towns of Windham, Willimantic, Scotland and Spring Hill. It covers a total of 348 acres with 303 acres open to hunting. It consists primarily of small hardwoods. Access and parking is available on Back Road in North Windham about 100 yards south of the junction of Parish Hill Road.

Bigelow Hollow State Park covers 513 acres in Union and is another bowhunting-only area. Nipmuck State Forest borders both sides of the state park, and the two areas offer over 9,000 acres of public hunting space. Nipmuck State Forest may be hunted during the archery and muzzleloading season. Both areas are heavily wooded with hardwoods and softwoods.

Access is easy from Interstate Route 84. Take exit 73 or 74, and then follow Route 190 north to Route 171 east. Additional information on the state park may be obtained by calling (860) 684-3430.


By all accounts, deer populations are doing well in these states, so hunters can expect to see plenty of whitetails this month.
 

Camp Columbia State Forest is in the town of Morris and offers a mixture of forests and fields. It covers 591 acres. Roadside parking is available along Munger Lane or Route 109.

Bishops Swamp WMA in Andover features 752 acres of mixed hardwoods and softwoods and wetlands. Access is off Jurovaty Road.

Newgate WMA is in East Granby and includes 429 acres of mixed hardwoods. Access is off Newgate Road.

The Bloomfield Flood Control Area is in Bloomfield and offers 894 acres of agricultural fields and red maple swamps. A parking lot and access trail are on Woodland Avenue.

Other areas offer archery as well as muzzleloading opportunities. Housatonic State Forest covers over 10,700 acres in several blocks in five different towns, primarily Sharon, Canaan and Cornwall.

This is the largest state park in western Connecticut and contains a mix of forest cover, rolling hills and meadows. Access is possible off Route 44, the Mountain Road and Wangum Road, Route 7, off Route 63 taking the Music Mountain Road south to Yelping Hill Road, or from Route 128 and Cream Hill Road. Camping is available at Housatonic Meadows State Park near Cornwall Bridge. Information may be obtained by calling (860) 927-3238.

Another good archery and muzzleloader hunting area is Natchaug State Forest in Eastford, Pomfret, Chaplin and Ashford. One of the largest state forests in Connecticut, Natchaug has 13,311 acres with varied terrain, including ridges, meadows, steep slopes and swamps covered or bordered by hardwood and softwood forests. Access is possible from the east using Route 6 west onto Route 198 in Chaplin. Go north on Route 198 to the forest entrance in Eastford.

Access is also possible from the Hartford area by taking I-84 east. Take Exit 69, and turn right onto Route 74 east to the end. Take a left onto Route 44 east to Route 198 and head south for approximately 2.5 miles. The forest entrance is on the left.

Call (860) 928-6121 for additional information on Natchaug State Forest.

For more information on Connecticut's public-land hunting opportunities, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; call (203) 424-3011 or visit the Web site at

www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatur/wildlife.

For information on Connecticut's state parks and state forests, a good many of which are open to hunting, call (860) 424-3200, or visit the Web site at

www.dep.state.ct.us/stateparks.

RHODE ISLAND

Deer hunters in Rhode Island will have plenty of opportunities to fill their tags this month. The mainland either-sex shotgun season generally runs into early December, and the archery season usually runs until the end of January.

Hunters should keep in mind that last year all either-sex deer permits had to be purchased before the season, but antlerless permits could be purchased at any time. Also starting last year, shotguns could be used in all counties of the state, in

cluding Newport and Bristol, although local ordinances remain in effect.

New regulations were also put into effect concerning the use of crossbows by permanently handicapped hunters. These changes should remain in effect this year.

Hunting is not allowed in Rhode Island state parks. Compared with some other New England states, opportunities for public-land hunting are somewhat limited. However, Ocean State hunters will find 46,000 acres of wildlife management areas that offer the best public-land hunting in the state.

One example is the George Washington WMA in the towns of Burrillville and Glocester. Access to the area is north of Route 44 along a gravel road. This area contains 3,489 acres and is dominated by forest cover. About 2,500 acres consist of deciduous forest and about 400 acres are covered with evergreens. There are also some wetlands, two ponds and agricultural lands.

Another public hunting area is the Big River WMA in the towns of West Greenwich, Exeter, Coventry and east Greenwich.

It consists of more than 8,300 acres and is one of the largest public lands open to hunting in the state. It is composed primarily of forestland, but there are more than 1,200 acres of wetlands and agricultural areas. There are also some rivers and streams, including the Big River and Nooseneck, Congdon and Carr rivers.

Interstate 95 separates the WMA into north and south sections. In the south section, Nooseneck Hill Road (Route 3) and Division Street are major access points. Access to the northern section is possible along Harkney Hill Road.

At 13,817 acres and the largest WMA in the state, Arcadia WMA receives a lot of attention, but considering its size, there is plenty of room to go around. It is in the towns of West Greenwich, Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond. The area is dominated by forest cover, including various hardwoods and white pine. Arcadia is also home to swamps, shrub wetlands, marshes, several ponds and rivers, including the Woods River and Flat River. Because of its size and diverse habitats, the area offers some of the best public-land deer hunting in Rhode Island.

State Route 165 divides the WMA into north and south sections. The principal access point on the north parcel is east of the bridge at Wood River along Midway Trail, where there is a parking area.

To reach the south portion, use Old Nooseneck Road, the K-G Ranch Road or Summit Road. Numerous gated trails and roads enter the area, but motorized access is prohibited.

For more information on deer hunting in Rhode Island, as well as maps on these and other WMAs in the state, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 4808 Tower Hill Road, Wakefield, RI 02879; or call (401) 789-0281.

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