The deer experts at Game & Fish have studied Boone and Crockett harvests in New York over the past five years and have found the best place to find a giant Empire State whitetail in 2019.
Deer researchers at Game & Fish Magazine have determined that when it comes to trophy buck hunting trends in New York, the best place to go for Boone and Crockett-quality bucks is the Finger Lakes region in western New York.
There were 13 B&C bucks taken in the state during the 2013-2017 deer seasons. Ten qualifiers came from western New York, primarily the Finger Lakes region. Others were downed in Jefferson, Delaware and Saratoga counties.
The most recent additions to New York’s Top 10 lists (for all categories) were both muzzleloader kills taken in Livingston and Steuben counties during the 2016 hunting season. The most recent addition to New York’s Top 10 all-time record list was a 183 7/8 typical Monroe County buck taken by a gun hunter in 2013.
The Finger Lakes region leads the state in overall buck kills year after year and that trend is expected to continue. “New York is known for producing giant bucks each year, with trophies that often crack the 200-inch mark,” said Jeff Brown, president of the Northeast Big Buck Club (NBBC), which has been scoring New York’s top bucks since the late 1990s. “New York typically dominates the annual Top 10 list for bucks taken in the Northeast each season.”
Five B&C bucks have been taken in the past five years in a core area that includes Onondaga, Madison, Cortland, Tompkins and Broome counties. Each county has produced at least one B&C buck annually since 2013.
Eighty-five percent of New York is privately-owned and over 90 percent of all hunters will hunt on private lands. However, many state-owned or managed lands including wildlife management areas, state forests, forest preserves, and state parks are open for hunting. For example, Rattlesnake Hill WMA is a 5,100-acre upland tract approximately eight miles west of Dansville. Roughly two-thirds of the area lies in southern Livingston County, while the remaining third lies in northern Allegany County.
Also, in New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 8, Erwin WMA is a 2,490-acre upland tract approximately 5 miles west of the city of Corning. There are over 20 additional WMAs in Region 8 (the western Finger Lakes region) where deer hunting is open to the public. In Region 7, or the eastern Finger Lakes region, also contains more than a dozen WMAs where deer hunting is allowed.
The largest WMA in the state, Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA), is managed specifically for wildlife, wildlife habitat and wildlife-dependent recreation. This WMA covers 11,237 acres. It is part of the Appalachian Highlands, which is distinctive high, rugged land with elevations reaching 2,000 feet. Its diverse habitat includes streams and ponds, mature forests with American beech, maple and hemlock and open meadows.Another large public hunting areas in Region 7 is Happy Valley WMA, which covers 8,898 acres. It features generally flat terrain ranging in elevation between 600 to 700 feet above sea level. Due to the area’s close proximity to Lake Ontario, snow depths average about 125 inches annually. Reforestation and farming activities have created new habitat in much of the area. Fields in all stages of succession exist, along with northern hardwoods such as sugar maple, beech and yellow birch and softwoods such as hemlock, white pine and spruce.
Also, in Region 7, the Little John Wildlife Management Area offers hunters another 7,918 acres of public hunting opportunity in the Finger Lakes region. About 60 percent of the WMA consists of mature forest with about 200 acres in open water or grass and brushy fields.
Little John WMA lies on the northwest slope of the Tug Hill Plateau. Most of the area lies between 1,400 and 1,500 feet above sea level and features continuous, gently rolling topography transected by long, narrow, serpentine swampy areas and numerous small depressions. Log onto dec.ny.gov for a complete listing and descriptions of New York’s Finger Lakes region wildlife management areas.
ACCESS: STATE FORESTS
Many other properties in Region 7 are managed by the DEC, including forests, multiple-use areas, unique areas and wildlife management areas that are open to public hunting. A few parks are managed by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
In Broome County there are several state forests that are open to deer hunting. Most cover 500 to 1,000 acres and include a variety of habitat including mature forest, clear-cuts, grassy openings and waterways that include lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands. A partial list of options includes Cat Hollow State Forest, Beaver Flow State Forest, Cascade Valley State Forest and Skyline Drive State Forest.
In Cortland County there are over 20 state forests and multiple-use areas that are open to hunting under the general rule. Most state forests in Cortland County are less than 1,000 acres and include hiking trails and other amenities for multiple-use visitors.
However, there are several state forests in the county that cover 4,000 to 5,000 acres and offer plenty of room for “serious” deer hunting with few trails or improvements to attract casual users. These include Cuyler Hill SF, Kennedy SF and Morgan Hill SF.
In Onondaga County, close to Syracuse and Cortland, Morgan Hill State Forest spans 5,284 acres and includes Morgan Hill State Forest Multiple Use Trail System, which was designed to offer a variety of opportunities for hunters, hikers and other users. The trail system provides a good means of access for hunters seeking the most remote portions of the forest.
The Cicero Swamp WMA dominates the northeastern portion of Onondaga County. The terrain is generally low and wet with upland islands scattered throughout its 4,991 acres. Most of the wetland complex is dominated by sphagnum moss and rich soils supporting coniferous species such as black spruce, tamarack and white pine.
In Tompkins County hunters have a unique opportunity in Cliffside State Forest, which encompasses just over 900 acres. There are no formal trail networks within the forest, and as its name suggests, much of Cliffside State Forest is on the side of a fairly steep cliff. However, the forest is part of a block of nearly 14,000 acres of public open space owned and managed by the DEC. Cornell University owns and manages 4,000 additional acres adjacent to Cliffside SF, giving hunters plenty of room to roam in their quest for a trophy-sized buck.
Another good option in Tompkins County is Newfield State Forest, which encompasses 1,552 acres. The advantage to hunters is that the Newfield SF is connected to the DEC-managed Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, which covers more than 11,000 acres. A few minutes of map study combined with boots-on-the-ground scouting on these two areas should give hunters plenty of options for finding good, secluded places to ambush a big buck in 2019.
Check out this video to learn how to manage your small track of land to bag your trophy buck.
There are many state parks in the Finger Lakes region that are open to hunting. Finding a place to go will require some research because not all state parks in all counties are open to hunting. Also, some parks are open only during daylight hours which means hunters will have to adjust their schedules accordingly.
Generally, New York’s state parks are small, confined areas that cater mostly to day users such as swimmers, hikers, picnickers and the like. There is still plenty of room to hunt for sportsmen who are willing to do their homework and find the densest, heaviest cover within the park’s boundaries.In most cases the best hunting will be away from developed areas of the park, most often near wetlands bordered by mature forest or adjacent private lands. State park hunters quickly become masters of logistics due to the wide variety of rules, regulations, fragmented habitat and access challenges. However, some exceptional deer are taken on New York’s state parks each year.
The best way to begin a search for a state park that is open to hunting is to log onto parks.ny.gov/parks. Call (518) 474-0456 for detailed information about each park plus maps and current regulations.
For more information about New York’s Finger Lakes public hunting lands, 2019 hunting regulations, downloadable maps and other details concerning public hunting opportunities in the region, log onto dec.ny.gov.