New England's 2010 Deer Outlook -- Part 1

Across the region, deer harvest numbers declined -- but there is still good hunting in every state if you know where to look.

People (and deer) can weather some pretty tough winters, but back-to-back years of deep snow and biting cold stretches led to poor results across the region during the 2009 hunting seasons. Most New England states saw significant declines from previous years, but there are a few pockets of good news if you search hard enough.

Let's look at Northern New England on a state-by-state basis, and then do the same for the Southern New England states.

The news was mostly bad from the North in 2009. Three years of tough winters in parts of the North have reduced deer harvests drastically in some areas, and may play into your strategy for putting venison in your freezer in 2010. Here is the state-by-state recap of 2009, and some information about your 2010 hunt opportunities:

New Hampshire
After a record-breaking harvest in 2007 of 13,559 deer, the devastating winter of 2007-08 turned out to be the worst since back in 2002/03. That led to a significant deer harvest decline in 2008, with just 10,918 deer taken. Another bad winter followed the 2008 season, and in 2009 the harvest declined again to just 10,384 deer. The 2008 and 2009 harvest declines were probably inevitable, according to state wildlife biologists, given that the state had two straight bad winters. New Hampshire has an estimated population of about 90,000 deer.

Here is how the season segments broke down. Archers and youth hunters saw slight improvements, while muzzleloaders and firearms hunters experienced reduced harvests. Archery hunters killed 2,678 deer, up a little from 2,635 deer in 2008, but a far cry from the 3,808 deer in 2007. Muzzleloaders shot 2,398 deer, down from 2,740 deer in 2008. Firearms hunters continue to take the largest number of deer, with 4,945 deer, down from 5,200 in 2008, and down significantly from 6,322 deer in 2007. Overall there is little good news here.

In total deer harvested, Rockingham and Grafton counties have often led the way in recent seasons, followed by Hillsborough County. Rockingham County generally produces nearly 3 deer killed per square mile, compared to the state-wide average of 1.2 deer per square mile.

Wildlife Management Unit harvest figures for the last five seasons suggest hunters would do well to hunt the WMU's that border Massachusetts in the south, including wildlife management units K, L, M and J2. These units include some of the most developed areas of southeastern New Hampshire, but small wood lots and farms abound.

For hunters who prefer the big woods of northern New Hampshire, WMU D1 & D2 and the northernmost WMU A are your best choices, as they have consistently produced the best harvest totals in that region.

The deer harvest continued its dramatic decline in 2009, with mostly bad news again from this state. The winter of 2007-08 resulted in a 27 percent decrease in harvest from 2007 to 2008 and the lowest deer harvest since 1986. That is, until 2009 when the harvest numbers plummeted another 14 percent to 18,092.

The deer harvest by season showed an overall drop in success rates across most methods. Youth hunters harvested 330 deer, down from 510 deer in 2008 and 1,065 in 2007 (the second best youth harvest day ever). Blackpowder hunters killed 1,111 deer, about the same as 2008's 1,137 deer, but well down from a record-setting harvest of 1,964 deer in 2007. Modern firearms users harvested 14,838, down significantly from 17,652 in 2008 and 23,537 in 2007. Archers represented the only bright spot for the state, with 1,813 deer taken, more than double the previous season.

The top-producing WMU's (in terms of deer killed per square mile) are typically 24, 22, 21 and 29. Penobscot, Somerset, Kennebec, Cumberland and York counties have consistently done well in the past several years, and should continue to produce the state's highest totals.

"The harsh winter of 2007-08 and its effects on Maine's deer herd will be felt for a long time," according to The Department. "The winter of 2008-09 was very similar and will exert additional pressure on the state's deer herd. If this winter results in conditions similar to last year, we will need to brace ourselves for a further decrease in any-deer permits as well as a reduced harvest in 2010."

Less than favorable hunting conditions after a difficult winter combined to compress the state's overall harvest in 2009, after significant rebounds in 2007 and 2008. While the total deer harvest decreased from the prior year, it was in line with the VT Fish & Wildlife Department's expectations after the very large harvest in 2008. The 2009 total harvest was 15,237, down from 17,046 in 2008, but up from 14,516 in 2007. The antlered buck harvest was 6,016, well down from 9,539 in 2008.

Archers took 3,032 deer compared to 3,714 in 2008, a decline of 18 percent. Youth hunters' take declined 8 percent, from 1,896 to 1,708. Blowing rain and 60-degree temperatures during early rifle season suppressed activities of deer and deer hunters.

Snow was minimal during rifle season. As a result, the rifle buck harvest was down more than expected. The rifle buck harvest dropped 18 percent from 7,295 in 2008 to 6,016 in 2009. Weather conditions improved in time for the 2009 December muzzleloader season and so did the harvest rate. Muzzleloader hunters took 4,480 deer compared to 4,166 in 2008. This made 2009 the second most successful muzzleloader season on record.

Statewide, about 80 bucks were officially weighed in at more 200 lbs dressed weight, most during the rifle season. The heaviest buck in 2009 was 236 pounds from Shoreham.

So where were the most deer taken? Rutland topped the list with 2,364 deer taken in 2009. Franklin was second, after leading all counties for seven straight years. Windsor and Orange counties are typically very good bets as well, and if you are hunting this state in 2010, any of those four counties are a good choice.

And don't forget about Grand Isle County, where typically hunters kill more than 8 deer per square mile, the highest rate in the state.

State biologists spent the past couple of years going through a public input process to help guide construction of a new 10-Year Big Game Plan for Vermont's four big game species (deer, moose, bear, and turkey). As of December 2009, the Plan is finalized and available in who

le or in parts from the department's website ( ). The Plan contains information about past, present, and future deer management in Vermont.

Like their northern neighbors, southern New England hunters saw declines in total harvest during the 2009 season. However, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island remain great hunting hotspots and have not been hit as hard by recent bad winters. Here is the state-by-state recap of 2009 and projections for 2010:

In much of New England, stronger herd numbers will depend on mild winters and early spring weather. Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

According to Deer Project Leaders from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), Bay State hunters saw a decline in 2009 with a total of 10,581 deer taken, down from 11,297 in 2008, and 11,251 in 2007. The total harvest was about the same as the 10,596 in 2006. However the total was significantly less than the seasons from 2002 to 2005, when hunters killed over 12,000 deer each year. The all-time record is 12,417, posted in 2002.

Season segment results were varied. Archers bagged a statewide total of 3,992 deer, up from 3,521 deer in 2008 and 3,223 deer in 2007. Shotgun season, during which 4,927 deer were killed, accounted for about half the state's total harvest, but was down significantly from 5,793 deer in 2008 and 5,745 deer in 2007. Muzzleloader hunters took 1,958 deer during the late December season, up slightly from 1,895 deer in 2008. In addition Quabbin (a special permit hunt) produced about 200 deer, up from 80 deer the previous season. So it was a mixed bag of results in 2009.

Biologists say that quality deer hunting can be found throughout Massachusetts, but according to the numbers your best odds to harvest a deer are in the central and eastern portions of the state. Even though the East holds smaller tracts of woods and the human populations are much higher, hunting pressure is lighter and deer densities are higher. For the last several years Deer Management Zone (DMZ) 11 has lead the state, followed by DMZ 10, 8 and 9. In the western part of the state, DMZ 3 is typically the best bet.

Doe Permit applications are attached to traditional hunting and sporting licenses and must be submitted prior to mid July. Doe permits are available via lottery, and often over the counter at MassWildlife for the undersubscribed DMZ's. There are also some special limited hunts in certain wildlife management areas in the eastern part of the state that can be very productive, but require special permits.

Connecticut's total harvest went up from 2007 to 2008, but dropped again in 2009. Howard Kilpatrick of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reports that preliminary tallies include 11,553 deer during Connecticut's 2009 hunting seasons, compared to 12,858 the previous season. That's a 13 percent decrease, but still above the 11,062 deer from 2007.

Harvest rates increased for archery and muzzleloader seasons, but decreased significantly for firearms hunters. Archery hunters took 4,718 deer, a 33 percent increase over the 3,559 deer taken in 2008, and well above the 2,924 in 2007.

The muzzleloader season harvest total was also up at 822 deer, vs. 683 the previous year and a total of 725 in 2007. That's the good news.

Firearms hunters, on the other hand, took a woeful 4,718 deer, compared to 7,440 deer in 2008 and 6,437 deer in 2007. The special landowner season produced 1,065, down 11 percent from 1,176 deer the year before.

As you make plans for 2010 there are many reasons to consider deer management zones 11 (Southwest CT) and 12 (shoreline towns) where deer populations are high. Although statewide harvest rates have fluctuated between 11,000 and 13,500 over the past five years, harvest rates in deer management zones 11 and 12 continue to increase or remain steady. In these two zones, hunters can typically obtain a higher number of deer permits, take advantage of harvest incentive programs, and hunt over bait on private land.

While most other areas of the state offer deer populations that are relatively stable at reasonable levels, access to private property is always a challenge in this state. And written permission is required prior to hunting private land. Finding a secluded pocket of state land to hunt is always a productive option, and this state offers some great state land hunting, particularly for bow hunters. The state land map provided by the DEP gives hunters access to information for these pieces of well-marked and lightly-hunted territory. Particular attention should be paid to the small chunks of state land along the Rhode Island border.

Rhode Island
The DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife in Rhode Island reports preliminary numbers of 2,422 deer taken in 2009, down from 2,811 deer taken in 2008. The season segments produced mixed results. A total of 1,225 deer were taken during the mainland muzzleloader season, vs. 1,390 in 2008. During the mainland shotgun season, hunters killed 595 deer, down from 650 the previous year. Mainland archery hunters took 602 deer, up from 575 deer in 2008. Notice that unlike any other state in New England, muzzleloader hunters take more 50 percent of the deer killed in the state.

If you want to hunt state land, the Arcadia Management Area produced the most total deer by far, with Big River coming in a distant second. In terms of private land, the towns of Exeter, Foster, Glocester, West Greenwich and Burrillville tend to produce the most deer year after year.

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