New York's Top December Archery Deer Hunts

Most of southern New York is still open for deer hunting this month, and these proven public lands are tailor-made for the late-season archer. (Dec 2006)

New York's whitetail herd has been under siege for the past couple of months, first by bowhunters, and then by firearms hunters, who by now have put a pretty big dent in the deer population. Most hunters get their fill of deer hunting after just a few days afield. But if you are the type who feels genuine anguish when the last day of the last season ends each year, there is still hope.

New York's late archery season in the Southern Zone starts Dec. 11 and continues through Dec. 19. (There is no late archery season in the Northern Zone.)

December archers generally have the woods virtually to themselves, and if they do encounter another deer hunter, it will be a kindred spirit, someone who speaks the language.

Scouting is the most vital component of a December archery hunt. Deer behavior has changed considerably since the early archery season ended. Deer movements related to feeding behavior is the most reliable means of getting close. Natural food sources have changed, and many deer bed on public lands but move onto surrounding private lands to feed.

The presence of mast crops can also have a big effect on deer movements. When many acorns remain on the ground, deer will congregate there to feed. Also, any apple tree that still holds apples will usually be visited frequently. The fewer the feeding options, the better any source of food will be as a location for your stand.

Spend some time scouting. And if you're lucky, there will be snow on the ground to make the task easier. Other public lands in the immediate vicinity should be checked, too. The more options there are, the better your chances of detecting a pattern.

December hunters can generally expect deer densities similar to last year. According to Jeremy Hurst, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation big game biologist, the state's deer population peaked about 2001-02, and has generally declined as a result of higher deer-management permit allocations and severe winters from 2001 through 2003.

Now the population has stabilized across most of the state, and deer management permits were reduced in 2004 and again last year.

"Because last winter was so mild, deer reproduction seems to have been real good," Hurst noted. "We should see the population growing again in most of the state."

The following is a look at some of the public lands where archers can expect some good hunting this month:

NORTH HARMONY STATE FOREST

Snowstorms coming off Lake Erie can make conditions very uncomfortable during December for both deer and hunters. When these lake-effect storms hit, deer seek thermal cover -- generally in steep ravines thick with hemlock trees. The steep slopes provide relief from the wind, while the hemlocks provide some cover from snow.

North Harmony State Forest covers an area of 2,561 acres in western Chautauqua County near Panama. From Panama, take county Road 76 north and then turn left onto Wall Street Road, which connects with other roads that provide access to the interior of the state forest.

In North Harmony State Forest, the varied habitat includes thick cover and mature timber. The terrain is generally rolling hills, but there are steep slopes in places. There are also wetlands and forested ridges.

WHALEN MEMORIAL STATE FOREST

Immediately to the north is Whalen Memorial State Forest. Follow Eggleston Hill Road from Wall Street Road. This unit has an area of 1,325 acres. The surrounding area is glaciated farmland and reverting farmland, with some of the best deer habitat in the state.

ALLEGHENY STATE PARK

Perhaps the best place in western New York to hunt for older big-woods bucks is at Allegany State Park. This big park gets a lot of hunting pressure, but the distance between roads leaves plenty of room for deer to escape hunters. In places, four miles separate roads, and few hunters wander more than one-half mile from access roads.

This is primarily hardwood forest. Mixed in are conifer plantations, overgrown farms, hemlock clusters and thick brush. Apple trees will attract deer as long as the apples are in good supply. (Deer will even dig down through snow to reach them.) In good mast years, look for oaks.

Veteran Allegany State Park deer hunters have been complaining about lower deer numbers. But this is the case just about everywhere in the state. A lot of big bucks are hidden in this 65,000-acre park.

Within the park is the highest land in western New York, and it gets some serious lake-effect snowstorms. Also, weather conditions are highly variable during the first half of December. Be prepared for temperatures well below those than in the surrounding region.

One of the attractions of an Allegany State Park deer hunt is staying in one of the park's many rental cabins. Reservations must be made well in advance during the most popular times to visit the park. For information, contact the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Allegany Region, Salamanca, NY 14779; or phone (716) 354-2182. For reservations, phone 1-800-456-2267.

Allegany State Park is in Cattaraugus County between Interstate Route 86 and the Pennsylvania border. Two exits into the park are well marked.

GREAT LAKES PLAIN

One area Hurst pointed out as still having more deer than desirable is the GreatLakes Plain, specifically the area from Niagara County eastward to Seneca County.

The Great Lakes Plain is flat to gently rolling terrain, with rich soils and plenty of agriculture. Hunters will find a large public block at the Tonawanda and Oak Orchard wildlife management areas, two state lands on either side of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Combined, these three public lands cover nearly 19,000 acres.

Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area is between Lockport and Batavia along state Route 11 in Niagara and Genesee counties. The area is about 5,600 acres.

Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area is north along state Route 9 from Oakfield in Genesee County. It covers about 2,500 acres.

The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge consists of 10,818 acres of freshwater marshes and hardwood swamps bordered by woods, forests, pastures and wet meadows. It features flat terrain surrounded by farmland.

To get there from I-90 (the Thruway), take Exit 48-A and then turn left (north) onto state Route 77 toward Medina and Indian Falls. Turn left onto Casey Road and watch for a green and white sign for the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge headquarters at the intersection. The refuge headquarters building is a mile ahead, on the right.

Special rules apply at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. For example, deer and small-game hunters must register and carry a special refuge-hunting permit while hunting. Permit cards must be picked up daily from self-service kiosks at various locations around the refuge. Portable tree stands may be used, but must be removed each day. Be sure to read the refuge's General Usage Guidelines and the General Hunting Guidelines.

Hunters can get more information from the agency's Web site at www.fws.gov/northeast/iroquois. Or contact the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Visitor Contact Station Headquarters, 1101 Casey Road, Basom, NY 14013; or call (585) 948-5445.

For information about accommodations and other area services, contact the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation, 345 Third Street, Suite 605, Niagara Falls, NY 14303. Call 1-877-325-5787, or log on to the agency's Web site, niagara-usa.com.

CONNECTICUT HILL WMA

It is hard to pass up the largest wildlife management area in New York, the 11,045-acre Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area. It straddles the border between Tompkins and Schuyler counties southwest on state Route 13 from Ithaca. Exit Route 13 from the south off state Route 17 between Elmira and Corning.

This highland area has poor soils, the main reason that farmers abandoned the area. But years of habitat management by the DEC has resulted in some good hunting.

NEWFIELD STATE FOREST

Newfield State Forest, a 1,552-acre tract that nudges the southeast corner of the Connecticut Hill WMA and Cliffside State Forest, a 973-acre tract, lies to the south. Route 13 runs between these three public lands. Take Connecticut Hill Road into Connecticut Hill WMA, Chaffee Road into Newfield S.F. To Cliffside S.F, take Cayuta Road, then Morrell Road. All of these areas have similar hilly, often steep terrain.

For help in finding accommodations and other services in this area, contact Finger Lakes Tourism, 309 Lake Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527; or call 1-800-548-4386.

PHARSALIA WMA

Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area is surrounded by more nearby state forests. Within a relatively small area in the northwest corner of Chenango County, at least a dozen state forests surround Pharsalia WMA. From a centralized location, hunters can have ready access to a great deal of public land.

Pharsalia WMA has an area of 4,625 acres. This is basically a highland forest surrounded by farmland. The forest is a mix of hardwoods and conifer plantations. Some of it is wetland, some denser cover.

Pharsalia WMA is about 10 miles northwest of Norwich along state Route 23. Maintenance roads from this route provide access.

With the state forests included, the total of state land holdings is more than 50,000 acres. Immediately to the west is Perkins Pond State Forest, with 1,870 acres in a mix of hardwood forest and conifer plantations.

To the south and sharing a small border, New Michigan State Forest has an area of 9,120 acres with a mix of hardwoods and conifer plantation. Otselic State Forest is a 1,043-acre tract a few miles to the north. Beaver Meadow State Forest, with 5,812 acres, is to the northeast.

ALBANY PINE BUSH

There are relatively few public lands open to hunting in the Albany area.

"They get hunted fairly heavily," Hurst said. "In late archery season, you can get some solitude."

One area he pointed out as a good place for December bowhunting is the Albany Pine Bush. This 3,010-acre area is an inland pine barrens ecosystem, one of the largest of only about 20 other inland pine barrens worldwide.

"We're definitely looking to harvest more deer off that property," Hurst noted.

The Albany Pine Bush is in Albany County on the western edge of Albany. It is managed in cooperation with the DEC by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. Deer may be hunted here by bowhunters only. And because other bowhunters do use it, sportsmen are asked to obey special rules including hunting only in designated areas. Bowhunters are even being asked to stay off trails while wearing face camouflage.

For a complete text of regulations pertaining to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, contact the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission. Call (518) 456-0655 or check their Web site at www.AlbanyPineBush.org. You can also phone the DEC's Region 4 office at (518) 357-2067, or check on the Web at www.DEC.state.NY.us.

BLACK CREEK MARSH WMA

Black Creek Marsh Wildlife Management Area is also worth scouting for deer during December. Primarily a waterfowl-hunting area, it has some hardwood forest along the edges. The area covers a relatively meager 359 acres, so some deer hunters may overlook it. It lies in Albany County north of state Route 156.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

"Westchester County is bowhunting-only through the end of December," Hurst pointed out. "Of course access is not good, but there are plenty of deer down there."

Deer-management permits are liberal because difficult access for hunters also makes deer control difficult in the southeast corner of the state.

"For bowhunters who live and hunt in Westchester County, the opportunities are practically unlimited," Hurst said.

The late archery season can offer some of the most relaxing deer hunting of the year. At no other time can hunters find so much room to themselves -- a particularly rare experience in this heavily populated region.

Because there is no archery season open in the North Zone at this time, the Catskills offer the only opportunity for a wilderness bowhunting adventure. Of course, there will generally be better deer hunting, based on numbers, at lower elevations, but hunting quality is based on personal values.

The Catskills' deer numbers are below target levels, so probably better opportunities for harvesting deer in Region 3 are on some of the public lands outside Catskill Park.

LONG ISLAND

Many who are unfamiliar with Long Island would be surprised that Suffolk County has a healthy deer population, enough to pose several problems. Here the archery season for deer runs continuously from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, and this is followed by a special firearms season.

One significant factor that enters into bowhunting on Long Island is that deer here react differently to humans. They are never too far out of contact with people

, so they do not turn tail and run every time they see, hear or smell a human. These whitetails have adapted to using thinner cover and holding tight. They pattern their behavior and movements to human patterns.

In order to hunt on state lands in Suffolk County, hunters will need a special permit available through the NYS DEC's sporting license office, SUNY Building 40, Stony Brook, NY 11790-2356; phone (631) 444-0273.

There is also good deer hunting available in some Suffolk County parks. For information, contact the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Conservation at (631) 854-4949.

A hunter-education course is required of all new hunters applying for a license. To hunt big game with bow and arrow, a special bowhunting course is required in addition to the basic hunter-education course.

Check with regional DEC offices for schedules. Most courses are held to meet demands before the May and October hunting seasons begin.

Other information about bowhunting in the Empire State is available from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Offices of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4750. Call (518) 402-8924; or e-mail your questions to fwwildlf@gw.DEC.state.NY.us

For New York travel information, visit www.ILoveNY.state.NY.us. To speak with a travel counselor, call the travel information center at 1-800-CALL-NYS during regular business hours (from the U.S., its territories and possessions and from Canada). From all other areas, you can call (518) 474-4116.

Find more about New York fishing and hunting at: NewYorkGameandFish.com

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