Each year, many of the Garden State's state forests, wildlife management areas and even national wildlife refuges are open to limited hunting. Here are the best of the best hunts on public lands! (September 2008)
In the last decade or so, whitetail hunting in the Garden State has undergone many changes -- some for the better, others for the worse.
In short, New Jersey is a picture of contrast. The state's deer population has been growing in leaps and bounds, while hunting lands have been disappearing at an alarming rate.
But on the other hand, public lands being opened to hunting have actually increased.
New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) now has close to 350,000 acres of land managed as wildlife management areas (WMAs).
In the last decade, this land has increased by better than 100,000 acres as a result of land donated under the open-space initiatives that have taken place in New Jersey.
Because of budgetary constraints brought on mostly by inept governance, the number of DFW personnel has dropped to an all-time low of 165.
Meanwhile, over the last 10 years, their responsibilities have more than doubled. Even with this serious lack of personnel, the DFW still manages to produce a quality whitetail program for hunters.
Despite all of these obstacles, sportsmen now have federal lands that have been opened up to hunting to control the damage that too many deer cause to forestlands.
In recent years, the managers of Federal Wildlife Refuges have recognized how very effective limited hunts are in controlling deer populations -- and how much these hunts benefit local economies as well.
Another positive development has contributed to still more land where hunters can access deer: Towns and other municipalities have opened up areas to archery, including state and county parks.
Through the United Bowhunters and other similar organizations, bowhunters are now being used to control deer populations in densely populated areas, thus providing hunters with new opportunities.
These hunts have produced successes that help to show hunting in a whole new light in many areas where hunting was once looked down upon as a deer-management tool.
Here are some top choices from the state's various public lands:
GREAT SWAMP NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The two largest hunts on federal lands take place on the Great Swamp and Edwin B. Forsythe NWRs.
The Great Swamp NWR was established by an act of Congress on Nov. 3, 1960. The refuge began with 3,000 acres of land, and additional acres have been added to the original tract over the years.
The refuge now consists of 7,870 acres. In 1966, it was designated a Registered National Natural landmark. Then in 1968, Congress designated the eastern half of the refuge as a Wilderness Area.
Great Swamp NWR is a pristine wilderness area located in Morris County, just west of Chatham.
This area's diverse ecosystem supports myriad wildlife populations, as well as all types of vegetation.
With too many deer for the available habitat, a controlled hunt was needed to bring the population back under control.
The hunt -- which draws protests from anti-hunting forces each season -- has been going on for several years now. The hunt has made a big difference and has been deemed very successful.
The refuge is Deer Management Zone 38, a DMZ all to itself. And during the 2007, season a total of 81 deer were downed, 18 by muzzleloaders and 63 by shotguns. The hunt is conducted by lottery each year and requires a Zone 38 permit.
EDWIN B. FORSYTHE NWR
The second hunt on federal land takes place on the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. This refuge consists of 40,000 acres in northeastern Atlantic County in South Jersey, but was originally two distinct refuges: Forsythe Refuge's Brigantine and Barnegat divisions, established in 1939 and 1967 respectively.
In 1984 they were combined into the present refuge named after Edwin B. Forsythe, a late Garden State conservation-minded congressman. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) administers the refuge.
Almost 90 percent of the refuge is tidal salt meadow and marsh, interspersed with shallow coves and bays. These areas provide important resting and feeding habitat for waterfowl.
Its tidal waters serve as nurseries for shellfish, and spawning and feeding grounds for fish, all of which are important in the diets of many wildlife species. More than 6,000 acres of the refuge are designated as a Wilderness Area, of which 3,000 acres are woodlands dominated by pitch pine, oaks, and white cedar.
As with the wildlife refuge mentioned earlier, Forsythe began to have problems in the 1980s with its growing deer populations in the Wilderness Area.
That's when the USFWS first opened the refuge area to hunting.
The Forsythe NWR consists of three DMZs: 56, 57 and 58. Though all are regulated by lottery, the hunting is managed differently in each of the three zones.
DMZ 56 is open to hunters during the shotgun season only.
DMZ 57 is open during the permit bow, muzzleloader and shotgun seasons.
DMZ 58 is open during the fall bow, permit bow, muzzleloader and shotgun seasons.
During the 2007 season, DMZ 56 produced a total of 16 deer during the one-day shotgun season. DMZ 57 served up 26 deer, three during the permit bow season, four taken by muzzleloaders and 19 deer taken by shotgun hunters. Hunters in DMZ 58 accounted for 16 deer, one during fall bow season, four during the permit bow season, one during muzzleloader season and 10 during shotgun season.
While these numbers of deer taken might seem small when compared to other zones, you must remember that only a limited number of hunters can participate in the hunt. Also, only a limited number are allowed to hunt at any one time, making for a quality hunting experience.
Another parcel of federal land that's open to deer hunters on a limited basis is the Fort Dix Reservat
ion -- a sprawling military reservation within Burlington and Ocean counties in the South Jersey Pine Barrens.
At one time, Dix was a major facility for Army basic training. However, the base is no longer used for basic training. In the last decade or more, Dix has seen a renovation of sorts and is now used for a variety of military activities. Because of its closeness to McGuire Air Force Base, a good portion of these activities involves the staging of equipment and supplies for overseas use.
Because it is a military reservation, only a portion of it is open to hunting. Likewise, due to security reasons such as a heightened state of terror alert, a hunt can be cancelled or shut down without notice.
The hunting terrain is typical Pine Barrens land and is filled with scrub pine, underbrush and sandy soil. Since the area contains mostly small trees in a lowland type of terrain, most hunting is done by foot and not from tree stands.
A hunt did take place in 2007, and sportsmen accounted for 248 deer -- 62 during the fall bow season, 54 during the permit bow season, 19 during the six-day firearms season and 90 by muzzleloaders, one during the one-day shotgun season and 22 deer by winter bowhunters.
STATE PARK HUNTS
Another place where the lottery system is used to choose hunters for limited-participation hunts is in state parks. As in other portions of the state, hunting is not permitted in most state parks, which has allowed growing deer numbers to cause problems with habitat. As a result, the lottery system has been employed to select participants for hunts of short duration -- hunts which have been very successful in bringing down the numbers of deer in parks where deer are literally eating themselves, and other wildlife, out of house and home.
One park that has just recently begun opening for limited hunts is Monmouth Battlefield State Park. Located in Monmouth County on the site of the Revolutionary War battle of Monmouth, the park is opened only for the six-day firearms season and a one-day shotgun hunt.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park is mostly open fields and wooded forest on flatlands.
During the 2007 season, a total of 36 deer were downed -- 12 during the six-day firearms seasons and 24 during the one-day shotgun season.
A trio of state parks and forests of interest to muzzleloaders include High Point State Park (DMZ 67), Stokes State Forest (DMZ 1) and Worthington State Park (DMZ 3) -- all three of them located in the mountainous northwestern portion of the state.
Of the three, High Point State Park is the only one that is a lottery hunt, and also the only one that is a DMZ all to itself. High Point lies in the northwesternmost portion of the state and borders New York. It is a rugged area of mountains, interspersed with fields and open areas ideal for the tree-stand hunter.
The 2007 season saw a total harvest of 139 deer, all taken during the muzzleloader season, the only season this park is opened for hunting.
Stokes State Forest possesses the same type of terrain as High Point. Stokes lies completely in Zone 1 in the state's far northwestern corner and is a prime area for muzzleloader hunting. During the 2007 season, Zone 1 hunters accounted for a total of 547 deer. In addition, youth hunters took 20 deer during the one-day youth hunt. Many of these deer were taken from the Stokes State Forest section of the zone.
The third prime muzzleloader area is Worthington State Forest and, like the previous two areas, it is a mountainous region. Worthington is located in Zone 3, farther south than the other two areas.
It borders the Delaware River. Worthington is part of the Water Gap National Recreation Area, but is managed by the state.
Like Stokes, Worthington is only part of Zone 3; however, a large number of the 576 deer taken in the zone were taken by hunters on the state forest.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS (WMAs)
With the price of gas at all-time highs, many hunters are looking for places to hunt deer closer to home. One of the best values is the 350,000-plus acres that the DFW oversees.
Tracts of land measuring from a few acres to thousands of acres are available to hunters at no cost other than their hunting license.
One of the most popular WMAs in the south-central part of the state is Colliers Mills WMA. Colliers Mills contains 12,662 acres of scrub pine, briars and swamps located in Ocean County. One of the oldest WMAs in the system, it produces deer consistently every season.
Because of its low trees and flat terrain, most of the hunting is on foot.
Many of the Garden State's hunting clubs are located in the Pine Barrens, and quite a few of these clubs are close to Colliers Mills.
As a result, it's not unusual to see deer drives taking place on this WMA during the six-day firearms season and the one-day shotgun hunt.
Colliers WMA is located partially in zones 17 and 18, which accounted for 958 and 416 deer respectively.
A good number of the deer bagged in Zone 17 were taken on drives in Colliers. At Colliers Mills, hunting with a firearm is the way to go.
In the northern portion of the state, Whittingham WMA's 1,930 acres are located in Sussex County in Zone 5.
For whitetail hunters, this WMA is an excellent choice. Hilly, wooded terrain and fields give hunters the option of hunting on foot or from portable tree stands.
Zone 5 is traditionally one of the state's best deer zones -- and for good reason. Much of the land accessible to hunters is surrounded by farms, where deer generally have an excellent food supply.
Zone 5 produced 3,786 deer in the 2007 season, which means that Whittingham WMA is the top public-land area in the state.
The zone also recorded 1,564 antlered deer, which was also the highest number in the state.
Being a WMA in the middle of the best deer-producing zone in the state speaks for itself.
Assunpink is another WMA that receives a lion's share of attention from whitetail hunters.
Located in Monmouth County, Assunpink's 6,298 acres are partly located in two top-quality deer-management zones, namely 14 and 15. Two reasons why Assunpink gets so much attention from hunters are its accessibility and its closeness to large suburban areas.
One thing that makes this WMA so productive is its location, right on the edge of the Pine Barrens.
When it comes to produc
tivity, Zone 14 produced a total of 1,504 deer last season, while Zone 15 accounted for 1,102 deer. What's nice about these two zones is that both bowhunters and firearms hunters saw comparatively equal success.
Bowhunters downed 667 deer in Zone 14 and 443 deer in Zone 15, while firearms hunters took 820 deer in Zone 14 and harvested 654 deer in Zone 15.
This balance in the way the deer are harvested in these zones attests to the diversity of the terrain, and in turn the diversity of the methods used in hunting deer.
It's not uncommon to see hunters up in tree stands during the bow seasons, as well as the muzzleloader season, as well as hunting from foot.
Likewise, the six-day season and the one-day shotgun hunt see deer drives and hunters hunting in stands or on foot.
As you can see, there is plenty of public land hunting available to the whitetail hunter in the Garden State.
As the state's huntable areas shrink due to development, these public lands will become more important to hunters.
Not only does the state offer over 350,000 acres of land under the wildlife management area system, but hunts also take place on federal land, in state parks and forests and county parks. So if you're hunting in the Garden State this coming season, it's a good bet that you'll be doing so on public land.
You can get information on the lottery system used in the previously mentioned areas, as well as permit applications at the DFW's Web site.