New York's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Deer Hunting

Deer harvests continue to increase in most areas of the state, and New York's top biologists are predicting another banner year in 2009. Here's a look at what it all means to hunters this season. (October 2009)

New York's deer hunters produced a third straight year of increased deer harvests across this diverse state in 2008, a 2 percent increase over the previous year. After a record-breaking harvest in 2002 of over 300,000 deer, New York's annual harvest dropped significantly during the next three years, but was in line with what state biologists expected. In 2006, the harvest increased slightly, taking a larger jump forward in 2007, and continued a slower rebound in 2008.

Here's a look at what happened across the state last year, and what 2009 may bring for Empire State deer hunters:

2008 HARVEST

Hunters harvested approximately 223,000 deer in the 2008 season, a 2 percent increase over the previous season, according to Pete Grannis, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner.

Harvest numbers increased slightly in every category: bucks, antlerless deer, muzzleloading and bowhunting. However, the increases were smaller than the 5 to 10 percent increase the DEC projected, largely because of bad weather. (Continued)

Archery hunters took 32,366 deer, muzzleloaders took 17,838, and firearms hunters took the remaining 172,775.

New York's total 2008 deer take included 105,747 bucks and 117,232 antlerless deer (adult females and fawns).

The majority of New York's deer harvest typically occurs during the first week of the Southern Zone regular season. Because of wet, windy and snowy conditions, the opening week harvest was down about 30 percent from 2007. Conditions improved through the season, eventually allowing hunters to surpass the 2007 totals, despite the earlier bad weather.

The goal of the DEC's deer management program is to maintain deer numbers at levels that meet local interests and habitat conditions, while also providing quality hunting opportunities for the state's 500,000 deer hunters.

TOP FIVE IN 2008

Steuben County returned to the top spot in 2008 with 13,572 deer, followed by Allegheny County with 9,355. Cattaragus County had the highest deer take back in 2006, but came in third last year with 9,284. Chautauqua (7,664) and Orange counties (7,371) rounded out the top five.

These five counties are typically among the top counties year after year, and that makes them a great bet for 2009 as well.

The DEC breaks the state into nine regions, each consisting of multiple wildlife management units. The state manages deer and deer harvests by WMU.

Here's what our regional biologists had to say about last fall's results and prospects for the coming season:

WESTERN NEW YORK

Western New York includes regions 7, 8 and 9 (and their corresponding WMUs). Deer hunting during the 2004 and 2005 seasons saw significant reductions in almost all counties and WMUs, but demonstrated a very slight increase in 2006 and then a better rebound in 2007. These WMUs boast some of the highest deer densities and buck densities in the state.

Western New York hunters killed 132,928 deer, or about 60 percent of the statewide count.

Region 9's Cattaraugus and Allegany each produced roughly 9,300 deer each, and were among the top three harvest counties in the state.

Region 9 wildlife managers generally recommend wildlife management units 9H, 9P and 9J, which traditionally have the highest harvests in the region. Units 9M and 9Y typically have the highest deer kill per square mile in the region.

This region accounts for four of the top 10 counties in the state in total deer harvest.

Public hunting areas in the region include the Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area in WMU 9P, which stretches across the border between Allegany and Livingston counties west of Dansville, the Keaney Swamp WMA in the town of Birdsall, and nearly 29,000 acres of state forests.

REGION 8

Region 8 stretches from Lake Ontario south through the Finger Lakes to the Pennsylvania border.

This region boasts some of the best hunting in the state. Yates County typically has the highest deer kill per square mile, and Steuben County typically has the highest total harvest.

Throughout Region 8 last year, the deer kill added up to 53,299, slightly less than the 54,013 in 2007. This region holds three of the top 12 counties in the state in terms of total deer harvest (Steuben, Ontario, Livingston) and six of the top 20.

The best WMUs include 8G, H and N, all of which are among the best year after year. WMU 8P, in the northern part of the county, is always a good bet, especially the 998-acre Pigtail Hollow State Forest and 2,690-acre Urbana State Forest, both east of Stickney.

REGION 7

Region 7 includes Oswego, Cayuga, Onondaga, Madison, Tompkins, Cortland, Chenango, Tioga and Broome counties. The region had mediocre seasons in the recent past, but had four of the top 20 producing counties in the last three years.

The region-wide harvest of 39,133 was well up from 33,745 in 2007 and 31,877 in 2006. The recent improvement in these numbers points to an encouraging 2009 season.

Over the last three seasons Region 7's hottest deer-hunting areas were Chenango, Cayuga, Tioga and Tompkins counties. Hunters bagged 4,400 to 6,000 deer in each in 2008.

Tioga County has about 8,000 acres of public land. One of the better spots is Michigan Hill State Forest, a 1,209-acre tract between Route 38 and Michigan Hill Road in the town of Richford.

NORTHERN NEW YORK

Northern New York includes regions 5 and 6.

Region 6 includes Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida and Herkimer counties. Overall, the region accounted for 25,844 deer in 2008, compared with 24,366 deer the previous year. While improving, those numbers are still well less than the 34,000 posted in 2002.

In some parts of northern New York, especially Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, deer herds expanded so rapidly during the 1980s and '90s that deer-car collisions soared, while farmers complained about deer-damaged crops. The DEC gradually reduced such problems by expanding early-s

eason muzzleloading opportunities and making antlerless deer permits available in some areas that were previously closed to doe hunting.

St. Lawrence County had been the leading county the previous four years, but it was replaced by Jefferson County in 2008 with 7,308 deer, compared with 6,700 the previous year. In 2008, St. Lawrence County hunters bagged 7,146 deer, up from 7,051 in 2007.

The majority of deer taken by hunters in Region 6 are taken on private lands, but some good public hunting opportunities exist at the Ashland Flats WMA in Jefferson County, the Upper and Lower Lakes WMA in St. Lawrence County and at the many state forest parcels scattered throughout the region.

Public lands in the Adirondack and central Tug Hill units have lower deer numbers (and lower hunter numbers), while the areas along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River have higher deer populations (and higher hunter numbers.)

For more information, call the DEC's Watertown office at (315) 785-2261.

REGION 5

Region 5 includes the eastern half of New York's Northern Zone hunting area including most of the Adirondacks and Champlain valley. Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Warren, Fulton, Saratoga and Washington counties make up this region.

Region 5 hunters bagged 13,960 deer last year, up slightly from 13,743 deer in 2007. Over the last three years, most WMUs showed an improved harvest, with 5H leading the way.

Tough winters in the last several years, particularly in the central Adirondacks, caused a ripple effect of harvest declines until recent seasons. The good news is that conditions were much better over the past few winters and that should show continued harvest increases for 2009.

Washington County has led the regional whitetail harvest for the last five seasons, with a total harvest of 3,450 deer last year. But in 2002, this county gave up more than 5,700 deer, so certainly there is good potential here!

Franklin and Saratoga counties are also good destinations, with harvests generally around 2,000 animals.

Ed Reed, DEC biologist for this region, said that there are over 3 million acres of public land in the North Country, so there are many options for hunters.

He said the best deer populations are found below 3,000 feet in elevation, and close to agricultural lands or areas where there has been recent logging.

REGIONS 1, 3 &4

Hunters in the lower Hudson valley, Catskills and Mohawk valley (DEC regions 3 and 4) and those in Suffolk County (region 1) accounted for over 48,000 deer in 2008.

Region 1 also rebounded last year with more than 2,500 deer (compared with 2,159 in 2007).

In Region 4, every county improved or stayed about the same with respect to 2008 totals compared with 2007.

The total harvest for Region 4 was 23,275 in 2008. Delaware and Otsego counties were the best in terms of total harvest (with 6,184 and 5,288 deer, respectively), while Columbia and Schoharie had the next highest harvest totals.

Region 3 includes Sullivan, Ulster, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. Orange County led the way with the fifth best harvest in the state in 2008 with 7,371 deer. Sullivan and Dutchess counties finished second and third (over 4,400 deer each), with Ulster finishing forth.

New York's pilot antler restriction program began in 2005 in WMUs 3C and 3J, primarily in Ulster County, and was expanded in 2006 to include WMUs 3H and 3K, primarily in Sullivan County. The restriction stipulates that bucks taken in WMUs 3C, 3H, 3J and 3K have at least one antler with 3 points at least 1 inch in length to be legal.

The 7,100-acre Bear Spring Mountain WMA southeast of Walton is a good place to sample Delaware County's deer potential. Orange County hunters do well at Stewart State Forest near Newburgh and the 10,000-acre West Point Military Reservation.

For details, contact the Region 3 DEC office in New Paltz at (845) 256-3161 and Jim Beemer, West Point's wildlife manager, at (845) 938-3857.

Hunts are very carefully regulated on Long Island in Suffolk County, but hunters are often rewarded with nice deer. Last season's kill of 2,528 was up over 2007 (2,159 deer) and 2006 (2,357 deer).

Most of the deer taken on Long Island fall to bowhunters during Suffolk County's extended archery season, either on private land or in one of several state and county parks on the island that are open to hunting on a daily or seasonal-permit basis.

Hunters may also take a crack at Suffolk County's whitetails during a three-week, weekdays-only firearms season provided they have the required special permits and written permission from property owners.

For details on Long Island's hunting regulations, contact the DEC office at (631) 444-0280.

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