New York's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Hunting

New York's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Hunting

Over the last few years, most of New York's deer management regions have shown an increase in population and harvests. That means deer hunters have plenty to look forward to this year. Here's a closer look. (October 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr.

Though New York State boasts a current whitetail population of over 1 million deer, and though hunters enjoy a variety of seasons extending from early fall through December, deer harvests over the past few years had been on a decline.

After 2002's record-breaking harvest of over 300,000 deer, the annual kill dropped significantly during the next three years, but was still in line with what biologists expected. In 2006, the harvest increased slightly -- a sign that management practices may be producing positive results.


Carl Johnson, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's acting executive deputy commissioner, reported that during the 2006 season, hunters harvested more than 189,100 deer, including approximately 96,600 bucks and 92,500 antlerless deer. This slight increase from the 2005 deer harvest was expected because many wildlife management units (WMUs) had been below desired levels.



The 2006 harvest, almost 96,600 bucks, was an encouraging increase of 8 percent over the 89,200 bucks taken in 2005.

This suggests that deer populations are growing in many portions of the state and that recent management program changes are working.


Deer populations vary considerably throughout New York. Currently, about 25 percent of the WMUs have deer populations within 10 percent of desired levels. About 20 percent of the units have deer populations greater than desired, while the remaining 55 percent of the WMUs have populations lower than desired.


COUNTY HARVESTS

Cattaragus County had the highest deer take in 2006 with 8,492 deer, including 4,320 bucks.

Allegany County was second with 8,341 deer (4,438 bucks), followed by Chautauqua County with 6,810 deer (3,332 bucks). St. Lawrence and Steuben counties tied for fifth with 6,442 deer each.

Steuben County is typically the top producer, but dropped down to fifth for the first time in many years. However, these five are typically among the top counties year after year -- and that makes them a great bet for 2007 as well!

The DEC had divided the state into nine regions, with each region made up of multiple wildlife management units. Most regional wildlife managers anticipate some pockets of excellent hunting in 2007.

Here's what they had to say about last fall's results and prospects for 2007.

WESTERN NEW YORK

Western New York includes regions 7, 8 and 9 (and their corresponding WMUs).

Hunters accounted for 110,138 deer, or 58 percent of the statewide count (vs. 106,562 in 2005).

Region 9 counties each produced more than 8,300 deer apiece, and were the top counties in the state in term of total deer harvested.

The kill in this region has been declining for the past two years, driving down the statewide trend. Hunters took 35,692 deer, up from 33,035 deer in 2005. However, those numbers are still 50 percent below the 2002 kill of 72,021.

"Some of our management units are carrying populations of 35 to 40 deer per square mile," said Russ Biss, a Region 9 wildlife manager.

He recommends that hunters focus on wildlife management units 9H, 9P and 9J, which traditionally produce the highest harvests in the region. WMUs 9M and 9Y typically have the highest deer kill per square mile in the region. This region includes four of the top ten counties in the state in terms of total deer harvest.

Excellent 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. The 2,709-acre Phillips Creek State Forest and the 2,384-acre Vandermark Forest, north of Wellsville off county Route 10, are part of unit 9Y.

Region 8 stretches from Lake Ontario south through the Finger Lakes to the Pennsylvania border.

Yates County had the highest deer kill per square mile in 2006 (10.5), 2005 (12.4) and in 2004 (14.6). No other county in the state came close. Throughout Region 8, the kill added up to 42,569 in 2006, compared to 45,081 in 2005 and 50,650 in 2004. While numbers have been declining, it is still the best region in the state.

This region holds three of the state's top 10 counties in terms of total deer harvest, with Steuben the perennial leader until 2006. In this county, you can't go wrong on public or private land.

The best WMUs include 8G, H and N. In the northern part of the county, WMU 8P is always a good bet.

The DEC's Region 7 has produced mediocre seasons in the recent past, but had four of the top 20 counties in 2006, and three of the top 15 in 2005.

The region-wide harvest of 31,877 was well up from 26,808 deer in 2005 and 27,722 in 2004. These numbers are encouraging.

Region 7's hottest deer-hunting areas are Chenango, Cayuga, Tioga and Tompkins counties. Hunters bagged more than 4,270 deer in each county in 2006, and matched that in 2004 and 2005 in three of the four counties -- which also boast some of the better buck densities in the state.

Tioga County boasts 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.

NORTHERN NEW YORK

Northern New York includes regions 5 and 6.

Region 6 hunters accounted for 21,580 deer last year, compared with 22,774 deer in 2005, 23,968 in 2004 and 29,104 in 2003.

There has been a consistent year-to-year reduction in the harvest since 2002, when the kill was more than 34,000 deer.

In some parts of northern New York, especially in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, herds expanded so rapidly during the 1980s and '90s that deer-car collisions increased, and farmers complained of deer damage to their crops.

The DEC gradually reduced these problems by expanding early-season muzzleloading opportunities and making antlerless deer permits available in some areas that previously had been closed to doe hunting.

St. Lawrence County continued its reputation as a solid deer-hunting destination, finishing three years in a row in the state's top 5 counties for total deer harvested. Hunters bagged 6,442 deer in 2006, up from 5,951 deer in 2005.

Jefferson County is a good bet in Region 6, with the sixth-highest harvest for all counties in the state.

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.

The Adirondack and central Tug Hill units have lower deer numbers (and lower hunter numbers).

The areas along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River have higher deer populations -- and higher numbers of hunters.

For more information, call the DEC's Watertown office at (315) 785-2261 and ask for Region 6 biologist Jim Farquhar.

Hunters in Region 5 bagged 12,716 deer in 2006, well ahead of the 10,433 deer in 2005 and the 10,615 in 2004. Every WMU showed an improved harvest over 2005; and Unit 5H led the way with 2,705 deer.

The brutal winter following the Northern Zone 2002 season, particularly in the central Adirondacks, caused a ripple effect of harvest declines until last year.

The good news is that conditions were much better the past two winters. There's reason to be optimistic that the rebound in 2006 is the beginning of an upward trend.

Washington County led the regional whitetail harvest for the last four seasons, with a total harvest of 3,285 deer (2.4 per square mile) in 2006, well above 2005's total of 2,598 deer, or roughly 1.9 deer per square mile.

Franklin and Saratoga counties are also good destinations, with harvests generally around 2,000 animals.

Ed Reed, biologist for this region, was optimistic going into the 2006 season: "The past two winters were very easy on our deer, with little snow cover and average temperatures," he said.

"This should mean that this fall's deer season should be a good one, with a large number of young bucks entering the population."

SOUTHEASTERN NEW YORK

This area includes WMUs in regions 1, 3 and 4. The lower Hudson valley, Catskills and Mohawk valley (DEC regions 3 and 4) and Suffolk County (Region 1) saw reasonably good harvests in 2004.

The 2006 harvest, almost 96,600 bucks, was an encouraging increase of 8 percent over the 89,200 bucks taken in 2005.

Since then, regions 3 and 4 experienced significant declines in 2005 (to around 20,000 deer each). 2006 brought additional declines in the overall harvest (just over 19,000 deer each). Region 1 saw an increase, however -- from 2,076 deer in 2005 to 2,357 last year.

In Region 4, hunters had dramatically worse results in Columbia and Delaware counties. In 2004, Columbia County led the region with more than 5,800 deer. Yet in 2005, the harvest dropped 31 percent, to 4,024.

In 2006, the kill dwindled to 2,864 deer, or less than 50 percent of the 2004 total.

Delaware County dropped 36 percent, from 4,437 in 2004 to 2,838 in 2005. However, it rebounded to 3,323 in 2006.

Otsego County led the region with a harvest of 4,454 deer, about the same as the 2005 total of 4,420 whitetails.

These three counties have led the region's total take in each of the last five seasons. All experienced reduced similar harvests in 2006, except for Albany and Rensselaer, both of which were down by about 20 percent.

The total harvest for Region 4 was 19,390 deer, down from 20,449 deer in 2005 and 25,275 in 2004.

In Region 3, Orange County led the way with a total of 5,974 deer, the seventh-best harvest in the state in 2006, up from 5,822 in 2005.

Dutchess County was second in the region at 3,780, well down from 4,472 in 2005. Sullivan was third highest in the region, at 3,250 deer.

The 2006 season tallies for the region were 19,210 deer, down for 19,574 in 2005 and well down from 25,926 in 2004.

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 restriction stipulates that to be legal, bucks taken in WMUs 3C, 3H, 3J and 3K have at least one antler with three points at least one inch in length.

For more details, contact the Region 3 DEC office in New Paltz at (845) 256-3161; or Jim Beemer, West Point's wildlife manager, at (845) 938-3857.

Hunts are very carefully regulated on Long Island's Suffolk County, but hunters are often rewarded for their efforts. Last season's kill of 2,357 deer was up -- from 2,076 in 2005 and 2,014 in 2004.

Most of the deer taken on Long Island fall to bowhunters during Suffolk County's extended archery season, either on private lands or in one of the island's several state and county parks that are open to hunting on a daily or seasonal-permit basis.

Hunters may also take a crack at Suffolk County deer during a three-week, weekdays-only firearms season. For details on Long Island hunting regulations, contact the DEC's office at (631) 444-0280.

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