New York's 2006 Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks

Some of the finest trophy bucks in the Northeast were taken in New York last season. Here's a look at where to your buck of a lifetime this season. (Nov 2006)

It's no secret: The best way to consistently encounter trophy bucks is to find places where deer have time to grow to record size. In a state the size of New York, there are plenty of places capable of growing such bucks. And as we will show you, the 2005 season produced a lot of them!

(Note that all references to antler scores come from the Northeast Big Buck Club's records and represent the gross Boone and Crockett score.)

LOOKING BACK AT 2005

Among the 88,733 adult bucks Empire State hunters bagged last fall were some truly impressive trophies. According to the seven-state Northeast Big Buck Club (covering New York and all of New England) bucks gross-scoring at least 170 inches came from seven different counties in 2005, and they were taken by archers, muzzleloaders and gun hunters.

Although the overall buck harvest was down 17 percent from the previous year, 2005's trophy buck production was impressive nonetheless.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Denise Sheehan, Steuben County had 4,571 bucks harvested. Cattaraugus County had the second highest buck take (3,921), followed by Allegany County, with 3,880. St. Lawrence (3,385 bucks) and Chautauqua counties (2,814 bucks) rounded out the top five counties in the state. The overall deer harvest was down substantially in all five counties, but the buck take remained relatively consistent, compared to 2004 totals.

These counties produced the most deer and the most bucks, and in some cases, the biggest bucks. But huge bucks came from every corner of the state. The largest one of the 2005 season was a great non-typical taken by Rex Taft in Steuben County. This huge 21-point non-typical buck, taken during the archery season, had a gross B&C score of 203 7/8.

Andy Hall in Ontario County took the second-best buck of the year. Hall's buck, taken during the firearms season, scored a whopping 201 6/8 as a 17-point non-typical. The best muzzleloader buck of the season was a massive 12-pointer scoring 162 7/8, taken by Larry Jenson in Chenango County.

In the previous two seasons, 190-class bucks fell to Scott Soterion in Dutchess County, Sam Thaw in Wyoming County, and teenager Tom Bouvia in Clinton County.

Not all of New York's bucks can grow this big, however. In the Adirondacks, where there's an average of only one buck per square mile, trophy bucks reach maturity more regularly simply by avoiding hunters. In western New York, where deer populations are high, hunting pressure is offset by good genetics and nutrition.

In the Southern Zone, fewer bucks means that they can avoid gun hunters long enough to see their second year. So while many bucks are taken, most have small racks.

While any part of the state can produce trophy bucks, habitat and hunting conditions impact the probability of harvesting a trophy buck. New York's whitetail herd, currently estimated at over 1 million deer, is well distributed throughout this varied habitat. Given the reduced harvests in the past few seasons, local experts are encouraged about this fall's buck-hunting prospects.

Here's a look at what hunters can expect throughout the state in the upcoming season.

WESTERN NEW YORK

Western New York includes regions 7, 8 and 9 (and their corresponding WMUs), which stretch from the Interstate Route 81 corridor west to the shores of Lake Erie and the Niagara River.

In 2005, western-region hunters downed 48,741 bucks, or 55 percent of the statewide total -- about the same percentage as the previous two years. A total of 16,004 bucks were taken in Region 9's six counties, another 18,318 in the 11 counties of Region 8; and an additional 14,419 in the nine counties of Region 7.

This section of New York produced eight of the 10 best bucks shot last season. Steuben County was again the leader at 4,541, or 3.2 bucks per square mile. Hunters should do well in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chenango, Erie or Chautauqua counties, which round out the regions' leaders.

In Region 9, Allegany produced the most bucks per square mile (3.8). Erie County produced one of the state's top bucks of 2004, a 182 4/8-inch, 15-pointer for Michael Osinski.

Buck hunters should have no problems gaining access to potential hotspots. Counties along the Pennsylvania border have more than 160,000 acres of public hunting grounds among them. In addition to 65,000-acre Allegany State Park, where hunters must obtain a free permit from the park office before going afield, sportsmen have access to 17,200 acres of state forestlands in Chautauqua County, 33,600 acres in Cattaraugus County and 46,300 in Allegany County. A map showing all of these parcels is available by calling (716) 372-0645.

Region 8 is defined by the perennial success of Steuben County, arguably the best trophy-hunting county in the state over the last 10 seasons. Although its buck harvest continues to lead the state, it was significantly down from the more than 8,000 bucks taken as recently as 2002.

Aside from leading the statewide buck kill for all counties last year, Steuben County also produced more than twice the total number of bucks as Ontario, the second leading county in Region 8, with 2,082 bucks.

The state's largest non-typical archery buck of 2005 came from Steuben County -- a 203 7/8 monster shot by Rex Taft.

Other Region 8 standouts include Livingston County (1,900 bucks in 2005), Monroe County (1,593) and Wayne County (1,555). For the last four years, Yates County has led the state in bucks killed per square mile, coming in at 4.4 during the 2005 season.

A good bet in Region 8 is northern Livingston and southern Monroe counties, where great little pockets of cover create opportunities for mature bucks.

In fact, the state's largest archery typical buck in recent years came from Livingston County -- an amazing 10-pointer taken by Lance Wolfanger in 2004 that grossed 172 7/8. Livingston County also produced a very impressive 171 7/8 gun non-typical in 2005 for Arthur Gilbert.

Chenango County is the best bet for bucks in DEC Region 7. This county had the highest buck kill in the region last year, with 2,365 bucks in 2005. Tioga had been No. 1 for the previous three seasons, but finished second in 2005 with 1,906 bucks. It's also outstanding in terms of buck

densities, with 3.6 bucks killed per square mile in 2005. Tompkins also did well with 3.7 bucks killed per square mile, the best in the region.

Chenango County produced a fantastic 162 7/8-inch 12-pointer during the muzzleloader season for Larry Jenson, the state's best with a smokepole in 2005!

NORTHERN NEW YORK

Northern New York includes regions 6 and 5, and is the perfect place for hunters who aren't afraid to use a compass and follow a track for miles on fresh snow.

According to DEC biologist Ed Reed, Region 5 typically produces a higher percentage of mature bucks (3.5 years and older) than any other region in the state, even though the overall deer population is lower.

Typically good hunting is found in the Lake Champlain Valley in Clinton and Essex Counties (WMU 5G) where the deer herd the deer are big and healthy. Another area to pay attention to is the southern Adirondacks' foothills in Saratoga and Fulton counties (WMU 5J), where the deer population is also growing and healthy.

Across most of the Northern Zone, deer densities are relatively low, with reported hunter kills of fewer than two bucks per mile in a majority of management units.

In 2005, this region produced 18,468 bucks, or 21 percent of the statewide harvest -- about the same as in 2004. Good trophy areas include St. Lawrence County, which produced the most bucks in 2005 in the region (3,385).

Biologists point to Essex County as a place with good trophy-hunting prospects, plus lots of huntable land. The county has hundreds of thousands of forest-preserve acres open to hunting, and much of that land is accessible via trailheads that begin at the edge of major highways.

In recent years, some of the better bucks taken in the area include Kane Sprague's 2005 10-point gun buck scoring 163 4/8, and K. James Monroe's 170-inch 11-pointer from 2004.

SOUTHEASTERN NEW YORK

This area includes counties in regions 1, 3 and 4. Typically, the Catskills, Hudson Valley and Long Island combine for about 25 percent of the buck kill statewide.

Orange, Otsego and Delaware counties ranked tops in the regional buck-kill standings for the 2005 season. Orange County's final count of 2,655 bucks was the state's seventh best, while statewide, Otsego County was ranked ninth (with 2,402 bucks) and Delaware County ranked 10th (with 2,355).

Sullivan and Dutchess counties ranked 11th and 13th statewide, with a very strong buck harvest presence for this region in 2005. In fact, most counties in this region produced better buck harvests in 2005 than they did in 2004.

Columbia and Orange counties had the region's best bucks-per-square-mile ratios, at 2.6 and 3.2, respectively. Delaware County produced a relatively large number of bucks, but produced only 1.6 bucks per square mile in 2005, well down from 3.1 just a few years ago.

Here, the prime public hunting areas include the 7,400-acre Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area north of Shinhopple, via Trout Brook Road.

During the 2003 season, Dutchess County produced the state's best buck in the entire state -- a 197 5/8-inch, 20-point non-typical for gun hunter Scott Soterion; and in 2005, a 162 7/8 archery buck for Peter Cilione.

In southern New York, Westchester County remains a great option for bowhunters, who last year took 587 bucks, down from 638 in 2004. Open to archers only, the county has produced more bow trophies than any other in the state. Westchester County has no public hunting land, so archers must seek permission from landowners.

Long Island's Suffolk County has an archery-only hunt that usually runs from the beginning of November through Dec. 31, followed by a brief shotgun hunt in mid-January.

To participate in the island hunt, write to the DEC's Region 1 office, SUNY Bldg. 40, Room 226, Stony Brook, NY 11790-2356.

For more information about trophy hunting in New York, contact the Northeast Big Buck Club, 390 Marshall St., Paxton, MA 01612. The club offers a list of trained measurers in New York, who are anxious to score your best bucks, regardless of size.

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