New York's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Deer Hunting

New York's 2008 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Find Our Best Deer Hunting

Deer harvests have been increasing statewide, and New York's whitetail biologists are predicting more of the same for 2008. Here's where to go for some great deer-hunting action near you this season.

2007 marked the second straight year of increased deer harvests across the Empire State.

During the 2007 season, hunters harvested approximately 220,000 deer. That's a 16 percent increase over the previous year, according to Pete Grannis, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.

Last year, harvest numbers increased in every deer category that the DEC tracks, including bucks killed, antlerless deer killed and total harvests in the muzzleloading and bowhunting seasons.

Also, researchers detected no cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) during the season, despite having tested nearly 7,500 deer.

Overall, the 2007 season was very good for the state's hunters. The harvest included 104,451 bucks and 114,690 antlerless deer. The buck harvest grew 8 percent over 2006 (96,569) and 17 percent over 2005 (89,015), suggesting that deer populations in many portions of New York are continuing to increase.

Steuben County returned to the top spot in 2007 with 12,796 deer taken, followed by Allegheny County with 10,798. In 2006, Cattaraugus County had the highest deer take, with 8,492 deer, but came in third last year with 9,934. Rounding out the top five were Chautauqua (8,765) and St. Lawrence counties (7,051).

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

During the 2004 and 2005 seasons, deer hunters saw significant reductions in almost all counties and WMUs, but numbers rebounded in 2006 and improved again in 2007.

Hunters in this part of the state still took more deer than most other counties, and these WMUs boast some of the highest deer and buck densities in the state. Western New York produced 134,294 deer, or 61 percent of the statewide count (versus 113,852 in 2006, or 58 percent of the harvest).

Region 9 includes Allegany, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Wyoming and Niagara counties. Cattaraugus and Allegany each produced roughly 10,000 deer, and were among the state's top three harvest counties in terms of total deer killed.

Region 9 wildlife managers usually recommend wildlife management units 9H, 9P and 9J, which traditionally have the highest harvests in the region. Units 9M and 9Y typically have the region's highest deer kill per square mile. In terms of total deer harvest, this region contains four of the top 10 counties in the state.

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 forestlands.

Region 8 stretches from Lake Ontario south through the Finger Lakes to the Pennsylvania border. It includes the counties of Livingston, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Genesee, Seneca, Schuyler Chemung, Yates, Ontario and Steuben.

Throughout Region 8, the kill added up to 54,013 deer, as compared to 46,356 in 2006. This region holds three of the state's top 10 counties (Steuben, Ontario, Livingston) in terms of total deer harvest.

This region holds some of the best deer hunting in the state! In fact, Yates County typically produces the highest deer kill per square mile, and Steuben County typically produces the highest total deer harvest.

You can't go wrong on public or private land. The best WMUs include 8G, H and N, all of which are among the best, year after year.

In the northern part of the county, WMU 8P is always a good bet, including the 998-acre Pigtail Hollow State Forest and 2,690-acre Urbana State Forest, both east of Stickney.

In the recent past, the DEC's Region 7 has had relatively mediocre seasons, but had four of the top 20 deer-producing counties in 2007 and 2006.

Last year's region-wide harvest of 33,745 was up from 31,877 in 2006. The recent improvement in these numbers points to an encouraging 2008 season.

For the last two seasons, Region 7's hottest deer-hunting areas were Chenango, Cayuga, Tompkins and Tioga counties. Hunters bagged more than 4,600 deer in each in 2007.

These four counties also boast some of the better buck densities in the state.

Tioga County offers some good public hunting opportunities on 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 includes Regions 6 and 5. Region 6 includes St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Herkimer counties. Overall, this region accounted for 24,366 deer in 2007, compared to 21,580 whitetails the previous year.

While that's an improvement, numbers are still well below the total of 34,000 posted in 2002.

During the 1980s and '90s, deer herds expanded so rapidly in some parts of northern New York -- especially in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties -- that deer-car collisions soared, and farmers complained about deer-damaged crops.

The DEC gradually reduced such problems by expanding early-season muzzleloading opportunities and also making antlerless deer permits available in some areas previously closed to doe hunting. However, this level of harvest reduction was not what was originally expected.

St. Lawrence County continued its reputation as a solid deer-hunting destination, finishing in the state's top five counties for total deer harvested, four years in a row.

In 2007, hunters bagged 7,051 deer, up from 6,442 in 2006. Despite being among the best counties in the state to hunt, the overall kill has decreased significantly from 2002's total of more than 11,000 deer.

In Region 6, Jefferson County is also a good bet, with the sixth-best harvest for all counties in

the state.

Hunters should be aware that the bucks harvested per square mile in both of these counties were much lower than the other top producers -- and the overall number of deer harvested per square mile is below the statewide average.

The majority of deer taken by hunters in Region 6 come from private lands, but 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 on 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. The Adirondack and central Tug Hill units have lower deer numbers (and lower hunter numbers), while 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.

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, Essex, Clinton, Fulton, Washington, Warren, and Saratoga counties make up this region.

Region 5 hunters bagged 13,743 deer last year, up from 12,716 deer in 2006. Over the last two years, most WMUs showed an improved harvest over 2005, with Unit 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.

The good news is that over the past few winters, conditions were much better, which should result in continued harvest increases for 2008.

Rarely does any county in this region finish better than 25th in total harvest out of the state's 57 counties. For the last five seasons, Washington County led the regional whitetail harvest with a total harvest of 3,404 deer in 2007 -- just above the 3,285 deer in 2006, but well above the 2005 total of 2,598 deer.

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

This area includes WMUs in regions 1, 3 and 4.

Hunters in DEC regions 3 and 4 experienced significant declines in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, these regions accounted for over 44,000 deer, up from 38,600 in 2006. But Region 1 experienced a decline, from 2,357 in 2006 to 2,159 last year.

The opening day of the Southern Zone Regular Deer Season was changed from Monday to Saturday, providing increased opportunities for young hunters who would normally have been in school for the opening day of the deer season -- and for hunters who could not afford to take a day off work to hunt.

New portions of the Southern Zone were opened for deer hunting with centerfire rifles. Many hunters may have used rifles in these areas, but there didn't appear to be any widespread shift away from hunting with shotguns. Perhaps the continued decline in 2006 points to some impact from these changes?

With respect to the 2007-06 harvest totals in Region 4, every county either improved or stayed about the same. In 2007, Region 4's total harvest was 22,440 compared to 19,390 deer in 2006. In terms of total harvests, Delaware and Otsego counties were the best (both over 4,600), while Columbia and Schoharie had the next-highest harvest totals.

These four counties are generally among the best in the region.

Region 3's Orange County led the way with the state's seventh-best harvest in 2007 -- a total of 6,653 deer, up from 5,974 deer in 2006.

St. Lawrence7,0516,442St. Lawrence4,1933,763

Sullivan and Dutchess counties finished second and third, with Ulster County a close fourth.

The 2007 season tallies for the region were 22,139 deer, up from 19,210 in 2006 and 19,574 in 2005.

New York's pilot antler-restriction program began in 2005 in WMUs 3C and 3J, primarily in Ulster County, and was expanded in 2006 to include WMUs 3H and 3K, primarily in Sullivan County. The antler restriction stipulates that to be legal, bucks taken in WMUs 3C, 3H, 3J and 3K must have at least one antler with three points at least one inch in length.

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 on the 10,000-acre West Point Military Reservation.

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

On Long Island's Suffolk County, hunts are very carefully regulated, but hunters are often rewarded with good bucks. For more details on Long Island's hunting regulations, contact the DEC office at (631) 444-0280.

The DEC has many maps and brochures of help to hunters in search of new places to hunt. Among them, look over State Forests of Southwestern New York, available from the Region 9 office in Allegany at (716) 372-0645; State Lands of Region 8, from the Avon office at (586) 226-2466; Region 7 State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas, from the DEC's Cortland office at (607) 753-3095; and Public Hunting Opportunities on Long Island, available from the Region 1 office in Stony Brook at (516) 444-0310.

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