New York's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks

New York's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 2: Where To Find Our Biggest Bucks

New York has all the ingredients for producing trophy-class bucks. Here's where to go for odds-on hunting for record-book whitetails in the Empire State. (November 2009)

A combination of age, nutrition and genetics is required for bucks to grow to record size. Big-buck hunters know that locating areas where deer have multiple food sources, great cover and limited hunting pressure is the key to finding trophy bucks. In a state the size of New York, there are plenty of areas capable of growing such bucks, and the 2008 season produced plenty of them!

Here's our best advice on where to look for trophy bucks based on past success, as well as some insight about what's in store for hunters in 2009. (Note that all references to antler scores come from the Northeast Big Buck Club records, and represent the gross Boone and Crockett score.)

2008 SEASON REVIEW

Among the more than 105,000 bucks that Empire State hunters bagged last fall were some truly impressive trophies. According to the Northeast Big Buck Club (covering New York, Pennsylvania and New England), some impressive bucks fell in almost every county, including many that scored between 150 and 180 gross B&C.

According to Pete Grannis, New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner, the 2008 take included 105,747 adult bucks out of 222,979 total deer harvested. The buck take was up slightly from 104,451 in 2007, and well above 2006 (96,569) and 2005 (89,015) takes, suggesting that deer populations in many portions of New York are continuing to grow.

The perennial leader in buck take -- Steuben County -- retained its top position with a buck kill of 5,657 in 2007 and again in 2008 with 5,326.

The density of buck harvest reveals a more accurate picture of buck availability. By this calculation, the top counties for buck harvest density were: Yates (4.6 bucks per square mile), Allegany (4.2), Orange (3.8), Wyoming (3.7) and Steuben (3.7).

But huge bucks came from just about every corner of the state.

The largest buck of the 2007 season -- a new muzzleloader state record -- was killed in Niagara County by Keith LeVick and scored an amazing 231 2/8 gross and 221 0/8 net B&C as a 22-point non-typical. The largest gross-scoring buck of 2008 was a bow kill from Ontario County. Jon Aldrich took a massive non-typical 16-pointer scoring 179 5/8 gross and 173 3/8 net Pope and Young points.

Over the last three years, bucks scoring from 185 to 195 gross B&C points have been recorded in Wayne, Chautauqua, Oneida and Chemung counties, according to the NBBC.

Here's a look at what you might expect throughout the state in the upcoming season:

WESTERN NEW YORK

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

In 2008, hunters took 55,577 bucks in western New York, compared with 2007 when hunters downed 57,140 bucks in all. The 2008 totals broke down as follows, with 2007 totals in parentheses: 17,407 (19,147) bucks in DEC Region 9's six counties; 20,620 (21,253) in the 11 counties of Region 8; and 17,500 (16,740) in the nine-county Region 7.

Only Region 7 showed improvement over the previous year. Steuben County was the buck harvest leader in the region and in the state at 5,657, or four bucks per square mile. Hunters traditionally do well in Allegheny, Cattaraugus, Chenango, Erie or Chautauqua counties, which typically are among the regions' leaders year after year.

Region 9 produced three of the top 10 buck harvests in the state in 2008 (Cattaraugus, Allegany, Chautauqua counties). Allegany County produced the most bucks per square mile in this region (4.2).

In 2007, Niagara County produced the state's new record muzzleloader buck (Keith LeVick's 231 2/8 gross non-typical), and Chautauqua County produced a 192 6/8 gross B&C non-typical 16-pointer for Ron Madison during the firearms season. These are two of that year's best.

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 the 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 acres 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, and number one again in 2008 in terms of overall state harvest.

In 2007, it produced a 178 6/8-inch non-typical 14-pointer for Jamie Wolcott during the firearms season, and in 2008 produced the state's best gross scoring archery typical -- a 167 6/8 11-pointer for Steve Calderwood.

Biologists look forward to great numbers this fall in this section of Region 8. If you want to hunt public land, try the 2,500-acre Erwin Wildlife Management Area west of Painted Post off Beartown Road.

Livingston County has really come on in recent years, finishing second in Region 8 for total bucks in 2006 (2,207), and third in 2007 with 2,246 bucks, and third again in 2008 (2,172).

Other Region 8 standouts in 2008 include Ontario County (2,218 bucks in 2008) and Monroe County (1,762 bucks). Yates has led the state in bucks killed per square mile for five of the last seven years, coming in at 4.6 during the 2008 season. A good bet in Region 8 is northern Livingston and southern Monroe counties, where great little pockets of cover create opportunities for mature farmland and suburban bucks.

Excellent state land hunting is available in places like Letchworth State Park along the Genesee River in Livingston County, but be sure to get your park stamp for your license before hunting those lands.

In fact, one of the state's largest archery bucks of 2007 came from Livingston County, a 183-inch gross B&C 22-pointer for Marvin Yamonaco. This county also produced 2006's best muzzleloader buck for Frank Waltman, a 10-point typical. Wayne County produced several whoppers as well, including Eric DeWilde's 2008 bow kill grossing 169 1/8 points.

Chenango County is the best bet for bucks in DEC Region 7. This county had the highest buck kill in the region

for the last two years, with 2,769 in 2006, 2,815 in 2007 and 2,991 last year.

Tioga and Tompkins counties are outstanding in terms of buck density, with 3.4 and 3.7 bucks killed per square mile in 2008. Public hunting grounds in this region include the 1,118-acre Turkey Hill Reforestation Area in Tioga County, Michigan Hill State Forest, spanning 1,209 acres in Richford (also Tioga County) and the 11,000-acre Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area off Route 13 in the town of Newfield (Tompkins County).

NORTHERN NEW YORK

Northern New York is similar to northern New England. It is the perfect place for hunters who aren't afraid to use a compass and follow a track for miles through fresh snow, but deer densities and overall harvests tend to be a bit lower.

This area includes the vast and remote areas of DEC regions 5 and 6.

The character of the terrain, large forested tracts and few roads, means bucks can escape hunters more easily than in most other parts of the state, and therefore live longer.

According to DEC Region 5 biologists, this region typically produces a higher percentage of mature bucks (3.5 years and older) than any other region in the state, although the overall deer population is lower. Hunters in these areas do not see large numbers of deer, but they are able to hunt without much competition.

Typically good hunting is found in the Lake Champlain Valley in Clinton and Essex counties (WMU 5G), where the deer are big and healthy. Another area with good potential is the southern Adirondack foothills in Saratoga and Fulton counties (WMU 5J).

Across most of the Northern Zone, hunters kill fewer than two bucks per mile in a majority of management units, with the exception of Washington County (2.5) in Region 6 and Jefferson County in Region 5 (2.5). In 2008, regions 5 and 6 combined to produce about 20 percent of the statewide harvest. St. Lawrence County produced the most bucks in 2008 in the region (4,241). This is deceiving however, in that the bucks-per-square-mile ratio was a woeful 1.5.

Jefferson and Washington counties offer better success percentages, where buck kills are over two bucks per square mile, compared with less than one buck per square mile in many other counties in this region.

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

SOUTHEASTERN NEW YORK

This area includes counties in regions 1, 3 and 4. These areas, referred to as the Catskills, Hudson Valley and Long Island, typically combine for about 25 percent of the statewide buck kill.

In 2008, the 17 counties in the region produced a total of 26,378 bucks, about the same as 2007's total of 24,602. Delaware, Orange and Otsego counties ranked one, two, three in the regional buck-kill standings for the 2008 season, and each was in the top three in 2005 through 2007 as well. Columbia and Orange counties typically have the best bucks-per-square-mile ratio in the region, at 2.9 and 3.7, respectively.

The trophy hunt at the 10,000-acre West Point Military Reservation in Orange County remains one of the most innovative in the state.

To take advantage of West Point's thriving deer herd, hunters must possess a deer management permit for Wildlife Management Unit 3P. Before shooting a buck on the premises, the permit-holder must tag a doe.

To learn more about the hunt, call post wildlife manager Jim Beemer at (845) 938-2857.

Delaware County produced a relatively large number of bucks, but only produced 2.3 bucks per square mile in 2008. The prime public hunting areas here include the 7,400-acre Bear Spring Mountain Wildlife Management Area north of Shinhopple via Trout Brook Road.

In southern New York, Westchester County remains a great option for bowhunters, who took 609 bucks last year, down slightly from 2007. The county is open to archery hunting only.

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 Nov. through Dec. 31, followed by a brief shotgun hunt in mid-January.

Suffolk County produced a whopping 850 bucks in 2006, down slightly to 781 bucks in 2007, and back to 805 in 2008.

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

Great archery bucks are taken consistently here. In fact, in 2006, the best archery buck of the year fell in Suffolk County -- a 208 5/8 B&C 22-point non-typical killed by Richard Gates.

For more information about trophy hunting in New York, contact the Northeast Big Buck Club, 390 Marshall St., Paxton, MA 01612, or visit www.bigbuckclub.com.

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