New York Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
This is a great time to be an Empire State deer hunter. Not only was the 2013 harvest of 243,567 whitetails a 10-year high after a decade of gradually increasing harvests, it was also in the top six total kills of all time. Only the early 2000s produced more deer statewide. Even more exciting is that New York Department of Environmental Protection whitetail biologists insist that deer population totals are still too high, and DEC officials are looking for ways to increase the harvest of antlerless deer.
This is great news for the vast majority of New York's hunters, whose primary goal is to fill the freezer with tender steaks, burger and sausage. Last year some 129,000 antlerless deer were tagged by hunters across the state and more than half of the 114,716 bucks taken were less than 2.5 years old — all indications that many New York deer hunters are more than happy to pull the trigger on any deer that will fit into the crock pot or frying pan.
2013 HARVEST RESULTS
Calculated harvest statistics from last season revealed few changes in deer population numbers, densities and harvest totals. As usual, western and central New York produce the highest numbers of deer per square mile, with several Wildlife Management Units in the Finger Lakes region topping the charts with anywhere from 9 to 19 deer per square mile. These are incredible numbers considering that in some WMUs to the north and east support deer harvests of around 1 deer per square mile. Simple math suggests that more deer means more opportunities to score, and based solely on "the numbers," New York's western region is the place to be in 2014.
Leading the pack last year was WMU 9H with 11,749 total deer harvested, followed by WMU 7M (9,045), WMU 3M (8,367), WMU 8G (8,127) and 8F (8,121). WMUs 8H, 6G and 4F were close behind with over 7,000 total deer respectively.
Hunters planning their 2014 deer-hunting vacations should study the numbers as they consider their options. Although the attraction of hunting the famed "North Woods" region (the fabled Adirondacks) keeps hunters going back year after year, there is a price to pay for all that wilderness ambience. Last year, Northern Zone hunters tagged about 32,300 deer including 19,500 adult (with antlers over 3 inches long) bucks, but Southern Zone hunters took 208,300 deer, including 94,200 adult bucks. Deer hunting is never easy, but the odds for success certainly favor Southern Zone hunters.
The 2013 county-by-county harvest figures contain no new revelations. Steuben County topped the list again last year with 10,650 whitetails, followed by Chautauqua (9,162), Cattaraugus (8,248), Wyoming (8,230) and Jefferson (8,058). Other counties with deer harvests over 7,000 include Ontario (7,946), Allegheny (7,727), Cayuga (7,226), Erie (7,505) and Livingston (7,099). Several counties produced harvests in the 4,000 to 5,000 range, most of these also being in the western or central portions of the state.
WHY MORE DEER?
What is it that makes western and central New York the best places to be for numbers of whitetails? In a word: Habitat. Central and western portions of the state contain an excellent mix of forest, brushy cover, open fields and farmlands. Deer in this region have plenty of escape cover, bedding areas and forage, which allows them to thrive and survive the worst of winters. In the northern portion of the state habitat conditions worsen incrementally, with vast stands of mature forest, steep mountain slopes and comparatively few grassy openings. Routinely harsh winters mean tougher conditions for deer year-round, and these factors are largely to blame for the low whitetail population numbers and annual harvest figures from this region.
Meat hunters planning a 2014 deer excursion simply need to extrapolate all of this information, comparing WMU and county deer harvest numbers to local habitat conditions. Every county that produces high numbers of deer also has plenty of excellent habitat. The choices are many and varied within those parameters, but hunters can refine their search by zeroing in on the best public hunting areas in each county. Not every wildlife management area, state forest or park within a given county is overrun with deer or ideal habitat, but all have pockets of prime cover where some great deer hunting may be found.
The search can be simplified by selecting two or three top options through at-home research, but eventually the process comes down to boots on the ground. Acquire current maps of the public lands that are of the most interest and then pay a visit to the appropriate land manager or forester. Ask him to circle areas on the map where timber harvesting, clear-cutting, and bush-hogging or other habitat work has been conducted during the last three to five years. These areas will now be in the "early successional" (low brush and sapling) stage, providing top-quality food and cover for deer for several years to come.
Most WMAs and other state-owned lands in New York are about 80 percent mature forest, a habitat type that holds relatively few deer. But that 20 percent of early successional cover will attract and hold whitetails throughout the season.
Finding these pockets of prime habitat is the hunter's first and most difficult challenge. Research and scouting will reveal plenty of options; then it's a matter of choosing where to hunt on opening day. Keep in mind that competition is stiff in New York — someone is shooting those 240,000-plus deer and the odds are good that you will bump into more than one orange-clad hunter before the season ends. Maintain a list of potential hotspots so if other hunters are encountered in one place you can quickly switch gears and head to a new spot that you've already scouted.
With all this in mind, here is a look at some great destinations for Empire State meat hunters to consider in 2014.
It only makes sense to target the largest WMA in the county with the highest number of deer taken annually. Steuben County's Erwin Wildlife Management Area is a 2,490 acre upland tract in the town of Erwin, approximately five miles west of the city of Corning.
From the north the area may be accessed from Smith Hill Road off the Coopers Plains exit off Route 17. From the south the area may be accessed from Weaver Hollow Road off the Gang Mills exit off Route 15.
Erwin WMA was purchased in 1928 by New York State. Since that time, management projects creating wildlife openings, marsh ponds, and tree and shrub plantations have enhanced wildlife habitat. Success of this management is evident in the abundant harvest of deer and other game from Erwin. Area vegetation is primarily second growth hardwoods with softwoods and other species intermixed. There was extensive logging on the site prior to the state's purchase of the land, and some of the ancient native hardwood species still remain.
Look for deer in brushy, swampy areas and where recent clear-cutting operations have created patches of early successional growth. Focus on thick cover bordering south-facing slopes where deer are likely to bed during the day.
Canadaway Creek WMA in Chautauqua County contains 2,080 acres of primarily upland habitat with plenty of hiking trails and parking lots. This WMA is in the town of Arkwright, four miles northeast of the village of Cassadaga and six miles southeast of the village of Fredonia. It borders county routes 312 (Bard Road) and 629 (Center Road).
The WMA is a broad and deeply dissected upland plateau, characteristic of the county's geography. The WMA's steep slopes are covered primarily with deciduous forest along with conifer plantations. Canadaway Creek runs through the property.
From the early 1940s through the mid-1950s numerous conifer plantations were established. Since then, some of these plantations have been cut and thinned. Also, other activities such as hardwood cutting and thinning, mowing of abandoned pasture and cultivated fields, planting of grain and legumes, establishment of food-producing shrubs, conifer seedlings and development of marshes, potholes and ponds has taken place.
The primary management objective for the area is to maintain high quality habitat for ruffed grouse through a regulated timber management plan. White-tailed deer and other wildlife species that utilize the area benefit from these practices. Secondary management objectives are to provide wildlife related recreation use opportunities and to protect and maintain special wildlife habitats that exist on the area.
Allegheny Reservoir WMA covers 1,100 acres in the town of South Valley along the west shore of Allegheny Reservoir. There are two managed parcels located along Bone Run Road and State Line Road which intersect off of Onoville Road (West Perimeter Road). Onoville Road can be accessed from the south from Exit 17 (Steamburg) off the Route 17 expressway.
Allegheny Reservoir WMA was part of the lands acquired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to create the Allegheny Reservoir, which was done through the construction of the Kinzua Dam, which is located 9.7 miles upstream from Warren, Pennsylvania. Since 1992, the property has been leased to the DEC and is managed by that agency's Region 9 office. Half of the area is forested with mixed hardwoods and conifers and the remaining half is comprised of brush land and grassland, providing a good mix of habitat for whitetails during the hunting season.
The primary goals and objectives of the Allegheny Reservoir WMA are to provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Annual grassland mowing is done to keep open fields from reverting to brush and trees. These maintenance activities are carried out with funding derived from hunting license fees and federal taxes on sporting arms and ammunition.
In Wyoming County, the 2,580-acre Carlton Hill Multiple Use area is in the town of Middlebury three miles north of the village of Warsaw. It is situated east of Dale Road and borders Bank Road on both sides.
The area lies in the northwestern Cattaraugus Highlands portion of the Appalachian Plateau. This ecological zone is characterized by flat-topped uplands with deep intervening valleys. The area is comprised primarily of abandoned farmland interspersed with scattered small woodlots. Many farms were abandoned in the 1920s and 1930s because the region's poor soils and steep slopes made farming difficult and unproductive. Additional economic pressures created by the Great Depression led to many farms being abandoned in the area. The DEC began acquiring these properties in 1961 under the Park and Recreation Land Acquisition Bond Act of 1960.
The diversity of habitat types on the MUA provides good food and cover for a wide variety of wildlife species. Current development and management objectives for the area are to provide habitat for a variety of resident and migratory species and to permit compatible wildlife related recreational use. An annual system of grassland mowing is conducted to keep open fields from reverting to brush and trees. These activities are carried out with monies derived mainly from hunting license fees and federal taxes on sporting arms and ammunition. Hunting dog field trials are conducted on a portion of the area as well as the leasing of fields for production of agricultural crops.
In Jefferson County, deer hunters may want to try Perch River WMA, which covers 7,862 with a variety of upland and wetland habitat. To get there from Watertown, take Interstate Route 81 north to Exit 47. Turn left onto Route 12 north and continue six miles to the WMA parking areas.
Perch River WMA is dominated by wetland and open water habitats but also offers woodland, early successional and grassland habitats that attract and hold whitetails during the fall hunting seasons. The WMA's grasslands are mowed periodically in late summer to inhibit brush growth and maintain the diversity of habitat that makes Perch River so attractive to wildlife.
These are just a few of the public areas that are open to deer hunting in New York's top-producing counties. For more information, maps and a complete listing of New York's wildlife management areas, multiple use areas, state forests, parks and other lands where hunting is allowed, log onto www.dec.ny.gov or call the DEC's main office at (518) 402-8013.