Here's a look at trends in harvest levels and the most consistent counties in each region of the state.
New York's deer hunters experienced a very slight decline in deer harvests in 2009, although the decrease from the previous year was not statistically significant. After a record breaking harvest in 2002 of over 300,000 deer, the annual harvest had dropped significantly during the next three years, and then began a rebound in 2006. But the rebound has been slow, and the annual harvests are still nowhere near the record level. Let's look at what happened across the state last year, and see if that gives us a sense of what 2010 may bring.
RESULTS IN 2009
Hunters harvested approximately 222,798 deer in the 2009 season, just slightly below the 222,979 from the previous season, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Harvest numbers increased slightly during the muzzleloading and bowhunting segments.
The seasons broke down as follows: archery hunters took 34,546 deer (a 7 percent increase over the 32,366 deer taken in 2008); muzzleloaders took 18,773 deer (5 percent better than the 17,838 taken in 2008), and firearms hunters took the remaining 168,479 deer, a figure which was down slightly from the 172,775 deer killed in the previous year. In total, 102,057 bucks were taken, down about 3.5 percent from 2008. The antlerless take (adult females and fawns of both sexes) was 120,741, up about 3 percent from 117,232 antlerless deer in 2008, and continuing the upward trend from 114,690 in 2007 and 92,539 in 2006.
Although fewer DMP's were issued in 2009, the success rate was up from 15.5 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2009. Bucks with antlers less than 3 inches long are not considered legally antlered deer and may be taken using a DMP or DMAP permit.
Deer populations vary considerably throughout New York, with some of the WMU deer populations above desired levels, and still many of the units with lower than desired deer populations.
Top Five County Harvests In 2009
Steuben County held the top spot in 2009 once again with 11,917 deer registered, but the kill was down significantly from the 2008 total of 13,572 deer taken. Cattaragus County moved from third in 2008 to second in 2009 with 9,576 deer, followed by Allegheny County with with 9,098. Orange County (8,793) and Chautauqua (7,881) rounded out the top five. These five counties are typically among the top counties year after year, and that makes them a great bet for 2010 as well.
But where are the most deer taken per square mile (psm)? In terms of total deer-harvest densities the top five counties for 2009 were Yates (13.4 deer taken psm), Wyoming (11.2), Orange (10.2), Genessee (9.7) and Ontario (9.6). In 2008 Yates was also number one (12.7) followed by Steuben (9.5), Genesee (9.4), Livingston (9.1), and Allegany (9.0). Importantly, total harvest is strongly impacted by the number of Deer Management Permits (DMPs) available in an area, which directly affects the harvest of antlerless deer.
Western New York
Western New York includes regions 7, 8 & 9 (and their corresponding WMU's). In 2009 hunters maintained harvest numbers similar to the previous two years, rebounding from very poor showings in 2004 and 2005. Hunters in counties in this part of the state consistently take more deer than hunters in most other counties, and these WMU's boast some of the highest deer densities and buck densities in the state. Western New York hunters took 134,335 deer last season, or about 60 percent of the statewide harvest (consistent with the 132,928 deer in 2008 and 134,284 in 2007).
Region 9 includes Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Erie, Wyoming and Niagara counties. Cattaraugus, Allegany and Chautauqua each produced enough deer to be among the top five harvest counties in the state. Erie and Wyoming finished in the top 10.
The Region 9 wildlife manager generally recommends wildlife management units 9H, 9P and 9J, which traditionally account for the highest harvests in the region, and in fact also produced the most deer in 2009. Units 9M and 9Y typically have the highest deer kill per square mile in the region, and in 2009 they maintained that trend, followed by 9H and 9N. Public hunting areas in the region include the Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area in WMU 9P, which stretches across the border between Allegany and Livingston counties west of Dansville, the Keaney Swamp WMA in the town of Birdsall, and nearly 29,000 acres of state forests.
Region 8 holds some of the best hunting in the state. In fact Yates County typically has the highest deer-kill-per-square mile, and Steuben typically has the highest total harvest -- a feat both accomplished again in 2009. Throughout Region 8, the kill added up to 53,258 in 2009, almost exactly the same as 2008 (53,299), and just slightly less than the 54,013 in 2007. This region holds seven of the top 20 counties in the state in terms of total 2009 deer harvest, in the following order: Steuben (1), Ontario (12), Livingston (13), Wayne (16), Genesee (18), Yates (19), Monroe (20).
According to local biologists the best WMU's include 8F, G, H, in terms of total harvest. WMU 8P, in the northern part of the county, is always a good bet, and includes the 998-acre Pigtail Hollow State Forest and 2,690-acre Urbana State Forest, both east of Stickney.
DEC Region 7 includes Oswego, Cayuga, Onondaga, Madison, Tompkins, Cortland, Chenango, Tioga and Broome counties. The region had three of the top 20 counties last year. The region-wide harvest of 38,482 was a little off from 2008 (39,133) but well up from 33,745 in 2007 and 31,877 in 2006.
For the last four seasons Region 7's hottest deer-hunting areas have been Chenango and Cayuga, with Onondaga putting in a very good showing in 2009 as well. Hunters bagged 5,000 to 6,300 deer in these counties in 2009. Tioga County contains about 8,000 acres of state land. One of the better spots is Michigan Hill State Forest, a 1,209-acre tract between Route 38 and Michigan Hill Road in the town of Richford.
In many areas of New York, total deer harvest is strongly influenced by the level of antlerless permits available and used. Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Northern New York
Northern New York includes Regions 5, and 6, and represents some of New York's
best tracking in the rugged mountain country, mixed with great farmland opportunities as well.
Region 6 includes the counties of Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Oneida and Herkimer. Overall the region accounted for 23,808 deer in 2009, down from 25,844 deer in 2008 and 24,366 deer the previous year. The numbers are also still well below the total of 34,000 posted in 2002.
St. Lawrence County and Jefferson County are typically your best bets in the region. In 2009 Jefferson led with 6,966 deer, down from 7,308 in 2008. St. Lawrence County hunters bagged 6,850 deer, down from 7,146 deer the previous season. St. Lawrence is a good example of the declined total harvest numbers. Despite being among the best counties to hunt in the state, the overall kill has decreased significantly from 2002's total of more than 11,000 deer.
The majority of deer taken by hunters in Region 6 come from private lands, but certainly some good public hunting opportunities exist at the Ashland Flats WMA in Jefferson County, the Upper and Lower Lakes WMA in St. Lawrence County and at the many state forest parcels scattered throughout the region.
Local experts suggest that deer hunters coming into this area should do some homework on paper before scouting. Public lands are scattered all over this part of the state. Adirondack and central Tug Hill units have lower deer numbers (and lower hunter numbers) while the areas along Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River have higher deer populations (and higher hunter numbers.) For more information call the DEC Watertown office at 315-785-2261.
Region 5 includes lands in the eastern half of New York's Northern Zone hunting area, including most of the Adirondacks and Champlain valley. Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Warren, Fulton, Saratoga and Washington counties make up this region. Hunters bagged 11,956 deer last year, down by 14 percent from 2008's total of 13,960 deer, and 13,743 deer in 2007.
The 2009 reduction stops a two-year increase in harvest for most WMU's in this region, with 5H leading the way. Tough winters in the last several years, particularly in the central Adirondacks, caused a rippling effect of harvest declines until recent seasons.
Rarely does any county in this region finish better than 25th in total harvest, out of 57 counties statewide. Washington County led the regional whitetail harvest for the last five seasons, with a total harvest of 3,450 deer last year, about the same as 2007 and just above the 3,285 deer in 2006, but well above the 2005 total of 2,598 deer. But in 2002 this county gave up more than 5,700 deer, so certainly there is good potential here.
Franklin and Saratoga counties are also good destinations, with harvests generally around 2,000 animals. Ed Reed, biologist for this region, said that there are over 3 million acres of state land in the North Country, so there are many options for hunters. He believes that generally the best deer populations are found below 3,000 feet in elevation, and close to agricultural lands or areas where there has been recent logging.
Southeastern New York
This area includes WMU's in regions 1, 3 and 4. Hunters in the lower Hudson valley, Catskills and Mohawk valley (DEC regions 3 and 4) and those in Suffolk county (region 1). In 2009 the harvest jumped to 52,700, a nice increase over the region total of just over 50,000 deer in 2008.
In Region 4 there was a mixed bag of results with respect to the 2009 totals vs. 2008 totals by county, with several up and several down, but generally trending positively. The total harvest for Region 4 was 25,487, vs. 23,275 in 2008, 22,440 in 2007 and 19,390 deer in 2006. So the trend overall is definitely up.
Delaware and Otsego counties were the best in terms of total harvest (with 6,464 and 5,374 deer respectively) while Columbia and Schoharie had the next highest harvest totals. These four counties are generally among the best in the region.
Region 3 includes Sullivan, Ulster, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. Orange county led the way with the fourth best harvest in the state in 2009, for a total of 8,793 deer, up from 7,371 in 2008, 6,653 deer in 2007 and 5,974 deer in 2006.
Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess finished next for the region (over 4,000 deer each). The 2009 season tallies for the region were 24,436, up from 23,256 deer in 2008, 22,139 in 2007 and 19,210 in 2006.
New York's pilot antler restriction program began in 2005 in WMUs 3C and 3J, located primarily in Ulster County, and was expanded in 2006 to include WMUs 3H and 3K, primarily in Sullivan County. The antler restriction stipulates that bucks taken in WMUs 3C, 3H, 3J and 3K have at least one antler with three points at least one inch in length to be legal.
The 7,100-acre Bear Spring Mountain WMA, southeast of Walton, is a good place to sample Delaware County's deer potential. Orange County hunters do well at Stewart State Forest near Newburgh and the 10,000-acre West Point Military Reservation.
Hunts are very carefully regulated on Long Island in Suffolk County, but hunters are often rewarded with nice deer. Last season's kill of 2,777 was up from 2,528 in 2008, and also up from the 2007 (2,159 deer) and 2006 (2,357 deer) totals. Most of the deer taken on Long Island fall to bowhunters during Suffolk County's extended archery season.. For details on Long Island hunting regulations, contact the DEC office at (631) 444-0280.