2017 New England Deer Forecast
September 15, 2017
New England's whitetail population is stable or growing throughout the six-state region. Harvest numbers show only slight increases or decreases caused primarily by poor weather conditions during the hunting season or reduced participation (minimal declines in hunting license sales).
Here's what New England states' whitetail managers are saying about the 2016 harvest and how things are shaping up for 2017.
According to MassWildlife deer project biologists, both archery and primitive firearms seasons produced record harvests in 2016. Total harvest was near record levels as well. The harvest was likely low in 2015 due to unseasonably warm weather, lack of snow, and an abundance of food, conditions that meant deer did not have to move as often or as far during legal hunting hours.
The increased harvest during the 2016 season was likely partly a result of the low harvest in 2015 — because fewer deer had been killed the year before, there were more for hunters last season. Another advantage for hunters last year was that weather was much more favorable for hunting.
While total harvest by zone can be informative, it doesn't provide the complete picture for monitoring trends in deer density because total harvest is influenced by antlerless deer permit allocations in each zone as well as annual changes in hunter effort, weather, etc.
The MassWildlife Deer Project Leader analyzes harvest, biological, and hunter effort data, along with hunter success rates, female versus male harvest, and other factors to manage deer populations in each zone. An analysis of this information is now underway for the annual deer management review.
According to Connecticut deer biologist Andrew Labonte, the harvest was up slightly from the harvest numbers in 2015.
"This was expected due to fewer deer being killed that year, a mild winter, and our acorn assessment showing slightly fewer acorns than the previous year," Labonte said. "Despite concerns by hunters of not seeing deer (due to so many acorns), the mild winters and record acorn abundances two years in a row suggest that the herd is still doing quite well. So far spring weather is looking good for acorn production again this year, but to have such high productivity three years in a row will be quite surprising.
"Our predator population (bears and bobcats) continues to grow," Labonte noted, "so a tag restriction (no more antlerless deer tags will be issued for the shotgun/rifle season) was implemented this past year in one of our deer management zones with the highest bear densities. This tag restriction will be in place this coming year and likely for years to come."
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Maine's 2016 total antlered deer harvest was within 5 percent of predictions with 17,070 bucks. Another 6,412 total antlerless deer were tagged statewide. The archery and muzzleloader harvests were slightly below average. The top 5 buck-producing WMDs (per sq. mi.) during 2016 were (in descending order) districts 29, 24, 22, 21 and 20. They are all in southern Maine.
Mark Latti, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's Outreach and Communications director, said that most parts of the state enjoyed a mild winter that was below average in severity, which means overwintering survival of deer likely increased.
"In parts of the state deer numbers likely improved," Latti said. "After reviewing data on winter severity, deer population trends and biological data from the harvest, wildlife division biologists recommended an increase in Any Deer Permit allocations. If good hunting conditions and hunter effort prevail, deer hunters should expect an increased harvest for 2017."
New Hampshire's 2016 deer season harvest was 10,675 deer, a decrease of 1 percent from 2015.
According to the New Hampshire deer harvest report, biological information was again collected during 2016 at select deer registration stations in order to monitor the physical condition of New Hampshire's deer and assess harvest age structure. In 2016, a total of 850 deer were checked (558 males, 292 females). Average yearling (age 1.5) antler beam diameter was 18.5 millimeters and yearling male field-dressed weight averaged 113 pounds. Average yearling antler beam diameter was above the recent 5-year average of 17.9 millimeters and the field dressed weight was slightly below the 5-year average of 114.4 pounds. Both suggest a population in good physical condition and below the biological carrying capacity of our deer habitat."
The harvest summary includes data from the N.H. Trophy Deer Program, run by the N.H. Antler and Skull Trophy Club, which annually recognizes hunters who take deer with a weight of 200 pounds or more by archery, muzzleloader and regular firearms. In 2016, the heaviest deer (265 pounds) was taken by Michael Merrill of Washington, Vt., using a muzzleloader.