New Jersey's Booming Bow Season

If last year's any indication, Garden State stick-and-stringers will enjoy another good season of seeking whitetails. Here are several top DMZs to try. (September 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

"Where are you taking that doe?" I asked.

"To the bank," the bowhunter replied.

The hunter meant that he was taking the antlerless deer to a check station where he would "bank" the doe for the coming permit archery season, thus enabling him to take a buck.

Last year, New Jersey archers operated under a new system called the Bank-A-Doe plan, which negated the old -- and often unpopular -- Earn-A-Buck program. This may be at least one of the reasons why archers tallied a 2.5-percent increase in whitetail harvests compared to the previous year's fall bow season. But there are some welcome changes in the wind pertaining to the Earn-A-Buck and Bank-A-Doe programs.

Regulations aside, the bow season is nearly upon us. In some instances, where the Division of Fish and Wildlife's (DFW) has implemented its community-based Deer Management Plan, it may be only days away.

Consequently, if you're seeking a Deer Management Zone (DMZ) to hunt, read on to find out where the largest harvests these days are coming from, and why.

For starters, the change referred to as "Bank-A-Doe" merely means that hunters utilizing the traditional, or now defunct, Earn-A-Buck program can lawfully take two antlerless deer during the fall bow season. Once they've registered at a check station, hunters may now take an antlered buck first during the permit bow season, which immediately follows the fall season.

At press time, this is only a proposal. But according to my sources, the chances of that proposal becoming a permanent regulation are exceptionally good, and "good" is the key word here.

The proposed change would revert back to the Earn-A-Buck program, but that program would be in play during only the first three weeks of the fall archery season. After that -- and during the following seasons, including the permit bow and winter archery season -- bowhunters will be able to take that "once in a lifetime buck" when it ambles past their stand, without having to arrow a doe first.

Incidentally, the same regulation would apply to the various firearm seasons.

Hunters are strongly urged to carefully check the deer regulations in the 2007 hunting edition of the DFW's Wildlife Digest. It's anticipated that doing away with the Earn-A-Buck (except as noted), as well as the Bank-A-Doe programs will be overwhelmingly approved. But just to be safe, check the Wildlife Digest.

As to last year's bow season, New Jersey archers should understand that hunters achieved a 2.5-percent increase during the traditional fall bow season for the 2006 harvest, as opposed to the 2005 harvest.

The tally wasn't as promising during the permit season, according to Carol Kandoth, principal biologist and deer project leader for the DFW's Deer Research Project.

"Though we did, indeed, have a fairly good fall bow season, the overall season (fall and permit seasons combined) wasn't much different than most other seasons.

"That's especially true when you consider that the permit season was down by 13.2 percent, which translates into about 1,000 fewer deer than the previous year. Conversely," said Kandoth, "the fall season's 2-1/2 percent increase translates into about 378 more deer than last year.

Ups and downs aside, she said that bowhunters who wish to increase their odds this year should look to the agricultural areas, or the DMZs that have Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) within those agricultural areas.

"We (in New Jersey) have an exceptional deer density, coupled with equally exceptionally good habitat in those (agricultural) DMZs. There's no doubt, in my opinion, that bow hunters utilizing these areas will have a definite edge," Kandoth said.

Starting with the top harvest DMZs last year, bowhunters should take a serious look at DMZ 8. Last year, archers downed 1,373 whitetails during the fall bow season in that area, and another 691 during the permit season. DMZ 8 is one of those so-called agricultural areas to which Kandoth referred.

But what about archers who do not live nearby and thus, do not know where or which WMAs are in a proscribed DMZ?

As to DMZ 8, it's located primarily, but not exclusively, in Morris and Hunterdon counties and contains a total of five WMAs that are certainly worth trying. If one includes some of the special-regs areas such as state parks and preserves, the total number of public land areas in DMZ 8 comes to 13. At least for my money, tops in this DMZ would be Black River WMA. Also, Ken Lockwood Gorge, though somewhat smaller than traditional WMAs, still holds a rather substantial deer herd. Finally, for DMZ 8, don't overlook the Pequest WMA.

As an aside, if you need directions to any of the mentioned DMZs, you need only visit the DFW's Web site at, then in the search engine, type in "Wildlife Management Areas."

Once that screen appears, there's a selection of sites to choose from. Click on the WMA you want, then click on "Maps" and you will see a complete description of the location of that WMA, including waterways, roadways and delineation lines for the boundaries. The same applies to all WMAs mentioned below, and should you wish to take a map with you, each one can be printed out.

Next in line is DMZ 12, where archers felled 1,344 deer during the fall season, in addition to another 593 during the permit season. Located nearly squarely in the center of the state, sandwiched between state Route (SR) 206 on the east and SR 31 on the west (primarily in Somerset, Mercer and Hunterdon counties), DMZ 12 falls within the parameters of an agricultural area. And it's loaded with deer.

For bow season, DMZ 12 contains several good bets. But my personal choice would be the Round Valley recreation area, and a fairly recent acquisition called the South Branch WMA.

The South Branch land, purchased about two years ago, is a fairly small WMA at about 400 acres. This WMA runs primarily along secondary Route 513, as you head out (west) of Long Valley in Morris County and travel toward Califon in Hunter

don County.

This WMA is loaded with whitetails -- which I can say for certain, since I drive that road often.

DMZ 10 is another good bet. The stats show just how good this area can be and has been in the past. Last year, archers took 951 deer during the fall season and an additional 442 during the permit season.

Located south of its border with Interstate 78, and west of SR 31, DMZ 10 contains the Musconetcong River WMA in addition to four other areas that are hotspots for archers. The Musconetcong WMA lies primarily in Hunterdon County and comprises more than 1,300 acres.

Finally, DMZ 14 rounds out our list of good bets for fall archers. That's where bowhunters took 596 deer during last year's fall season, in addition to another 326 during the permit bow season.

DMZ 14 lies to the west of I-95 and to the east of SR 206. Within its borders is Assunpink WMA. To those who are familiar with the region, nothing more need be said. But if you're a first-timer here, Assunpink offers some of the finest deer hunting in the entire state, especially for archers who are "first" in the woods. This WMA is really worth the effort of at least a visit from those who have yet to hunt its lands.

Incidentally, Assunpink WMA is actually divided into two parts within the parameters of DMZs. In DMZ 14, lies the Washington Township portion of Assunpink WMA, and the remainder of that same WMA is located in DMZ 15. I mention this in case you may be applying for permits -- so check the Wildlife Digest carefully before doing so.

Why are so many archers successful during the fall and permit season in these DMZs? It's anyone's guess, but Kandoth thinks one of the factors is that bowhunters get the first crack at deer each year.

"Bowhunters are the ones who get first shot at many of the state's substantial deer herds," she said.

"Bowhunters are not nearly as conspicuous as gun hunters. First, there is not that telltale 'Boom!' as during the firearm season. But of even more importance is the stealth with which most bowhunters pursue their quarry. They are quiet, camouflaged. Most are experienced enough that they know what they are doing concerning wind direction for scent, along with a host of other factors that goes into just being a good, or experienced bowhunter," said Kandoth.

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