Opportunities abound for New England's deer hunters. Long seasons and higher bag limits mean great hunting awaits sportsmen in 2009. (October 2009)
New England's 2008 deer season showed mixed results across the region. There were pockets of good news and improved results in some states, while others saw significant declines from previous years.
NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND
The news was mixed from the North Country in 2008. Vermont showed continuing signs of improvement with significantly improving harvest numbers in 2008, while Maine and New Hampshire both saw significant declines. Two tough winters in parts of the north may affect your strategy for putting venison in your freezer in 2009.
New Hampshire has an estimated population of about 90,000 deer.
The winter of 2007-08 turned out to be the worst since 2002-03, and that led to a significant deer harvest decline from 2007's record harvest of 13,559. The 2008 harvest of 10,918 deer was 19 percent less than the previous year, but still among the top 30 percent of the past 20 years of harvest data.
According to Kent Gustafson, Deer Project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the increase for 2007 was the fourth year in a row that the kill has gone up.
"Recent mild winters have been easier for deer to survive, and widespread late-season snow this year made it easier for hunters to find and see deer," he said.
In terms of total deer harvested, Rockingham and Grafton counties led the way with 1,990 and 1,780 deer respectively, followed by Hillsborough county with 1,564 deer. These three counties traditionally produce more deer than any others. Rockingham County produced 2.88 deer per square mile, compared with the statewide average of 1.22.
Based on harvest figures for the last five seasons, hunters would do well to focus on the wildlife management units 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, WMUs D1, D2 and A are the best choices, as they have consistently produced the highest harvest totals in that region.
For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301; call (603) 271-3421 or log onto firstname.lastname@example.org.
The winter of 2008 was one of the worst for Maine's deer population. Preliminary harvest numbers of 21,062 deer represent a 27 percent decrease in harvest from 2007 and the lowest deer harvest since the beginning of the any-deer permit system in 1986.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 2008's numbers are well down from 28,884 deer in 2007, and fewer than the 29,918 deer in 2006. The total harvest in 2007 was also well below the 20-year average of 28,700 deer.
The antlerless kill in 2008 was 7,486, compared with 12,822 in 2007. The adult buck harvest was down 13,956 compared with more than 16,000 in each of the two previous years.
Youth hunters harvested 510 deer, down 52 percent from 1,065 in 2007 (the second best youth harvest day ever). October archers harvested 834 deer and expanded archers harvested 921. Last year's archery total was 2,236. October archery was up 18 percent despite new restrictions on October archers in bucks-only wildlife management districts.
Blackpowder enthusiasts harvested 1,137 deer, a 42 percent decrease from a record-setting harvest of 1,964 deer in 2007. Modern firearms users harvested 17,652 deer, down 25 percent from 23,537 in 2007.
The top producing WMUs (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.
Maine residents accounted for 91 percent of the total statewide deer harvest, with Piscataquis County having the highest harvest by non-residents (26 percent) of all counties. Most counties (10 out of 16) had a deer harvest by residents greater than 90 percent.
"The harsh winter of 2007-08 and its effects on Maine's deer herd will be felt for a long time," said a MDIFW spokesman. "The current winter of 2008-09 so far looks very similar to last year 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 further reductions in any-deer permits as well as a reduced harvest in 2009."
For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State Street, Augusta, ME 04333; call (207) 287-8000, or access the MDIFW's Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.
Hunting conditions in Vermont were pretty good overall last season. Apples were abundant, and hard mast was also present in many places. Weather was seasonable during archery season, and where hunting over apple trees was not predictable, many bowhunters found success near cultivated food plots. Opening weekend of rifle season was stormy, but the rut had begun and bucks were moving.
Rifle hunters enjoyed good success early in the season. By Thanksgiving, most of the state had tracking snow that persisted and was frequently refreshed through the nine-day December hunt ending on the 14th.
Overall, Vermont's total deer harvest increased 17 percent, from 14,516 in 2007 to 17,046 in 2008. The antlered buck harvest increased 7 percent, from 8,955 in 2007 to 9,539 in 2008. The adult doe harvest increased 35 percent from 4,484 in 2007 to 6,073 in 2008.
Archers took 3,714 deer, up from 2,832 deer in 2007. Youth hunters continued their great success with 1,863 deer, about the same as the previous two years. Muzzleloader hunters took 4,166 deer, a big jump over 3,011 deer in 2007.
Rifle hunters tagged 7,295 deer, up from 6,838 in 2007 and well up from 5,959 in 2006.
The heaviest buck reported in 2008 weighted 226 pounds, and the heaviest doe weighed 181 pounds!
For the seventh year in a row, Franklin County topped the state harvest with more than 2,280 deer, followed by Rutland, Windsor and Orange counties.
Grand Isle County annually records the highest deer-per-square-mile ratio, typically more than eight per square mile!
For more information, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main St., Waterbury, VT 05671-0501; call (802) 241-3700.
A copy of the state's annual deer report is available online at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND
Two of the three southern New England states posted harvest increases in 2008, while the other saw only a slight decline.
According to Sonja Christensen, Deer Project leader for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), Bay State hunters saw a slight decline in 2008 with a total of 11,217 deer taken in 2008, down from 11,251 deer taken in 2007, but higher than the 10,596 deer tagged in 2006. However, the total was less than recent years, over 12,000 each season from 2002-05.
The all-time record harvest was 12,417, posted in 2002.
Season segment results were varied. Archers bagged a statewide total of 3,521 deer, up from 3,223 whitetails in 2007, and better than the previous record set in 2006 with 3,385 deer.
Shotgun hunters accounted for about one-half the total harvest, with a statewide total of 5,793 deer, up slightly from 5,745 deer in 2007 and about the same as the 5,603 deer taken in 2006.
Muzzleloader hunters took 1,895 deer, down from 2,157 deer in 2007, but a significant increase over the 1,482 whitetails taken in 2006.
In addition, Quabbin Reservoir hunters took 80 deer on that special hunt, bringing the statewide total to 11,297.
Christensen said that the best odds to harvest a deer are in the central and eastern portions of the state. Even though 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 led the state, followed by DMZs 10, 8 and 9.
In the western part of the state, DMZ 3 is typically the best bet, offering higher deer densities and a higher success rate than the rest of the western zones.
Doe permit applications are attached to traditional hunting and sporting licenses and must be submitted prior to July. Doe permits are available by lottery and often over the counter at MassWildlife for the undersubscribed DMZs.
Hunters purchasing licenses online at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors may apply for an antlerless permit electronically.
For more information, contact the MassWildlife, Field Headquarters, Westboro, MA 01581; call (508) 792-7220; or visit the agency's Web site at www.mass.gov/massoutdoors.
Nutmeg State hunters saw an increase in the total harvest during 2008, reversing a downward trend from recent years.
Howard Kilpatrick, a biologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), reports that preliminary tallies include 12,858 deer during Connecticut's 2008 hunting seasons. If that number stands up after review, the total would be well above the 11,062 deer taken in 2007, and the best harvest since 2004 (13,535).
Harvest rates decreased during the archery and firearm seasons, but increased slightly for muzzleloaders.
There are many reasons to consider deer management zones 11 (Southwestern Connecticut) and 12 (the coastal 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. These increases are attributed to implementation of new hunting strategies to increase deer harvest rates. 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.
Check out the public land in the northeastern corner of the state for some very good bowhunting. The state land map provided by the DEP includes access information to 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.
For more details, consult the Connecticut 2009 Hunting and Trapping Guide, available from town clerks and at DEP offices, or visit the DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.ct.us.
For more information, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; or call (203) 424-3011.
This little state had banner years in 2004 and 2005, but deer harvests tailed off in 2006.
However, 2007 showed a bit of a rebound, and 2008 followed suit with another modest increase. The Department of Environmental Management's Division of Fish and Wildlife reports preliminary numbers of 2,811 deer taken in 2008, up 220 from the previous season.
According to Lori Gibson, the DEM's supervising wildlife biologist, the state had a good season overall with good participation and harvests in each season that matched the division's goals.
She noted that interest in the Tillinghast Management Area was also high. The Arcadia Management Area produced more total deer by far, with Big River coming in a distant second.
In terms of private land, the towns of Exeter, Foster, Gloucester, West Greenwich and Burrillville tend to produce the most deer year after year.
A final report on the 2008-09 deer season will be available on the DEM's Web site at www.dem.ri.gov.
For more information, contact Lori Gibson at (401) 789-0281.