December 05, 2017
By Stephen D. Carpenteri
There are plenty of late-season deer hunting opportunities awaiting deer hunters on public land this month.
New England's deer hunters who failed to fill their tags in the regular October and November seasons will be glad to hear that they can continue to pursue whitetails for meat or antlers well into December and even January in some cases.
Most of the remaining deer seasons in the Northeast are open to blackpowder, archery or crossbows, which means hunters may be required to adjust their strategies and tactics for these comparatively short-range opportunities.
Modern blackpowder arms are accurate out to 175 yards or more, but compound bows and crossbows are generally most effective inside 40 yards.
Late-season hunting regulations vary widely throughout the region, especially when it comes to zones, season dates, weapons and bag limits.
For example, hunters who have already taken their season limit of bucks during the regular seasons may only tag antlerless deer during the late or extended seasons in certain states.
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Also, some areas or zones may be closed to hunting during the late season. Hunters are advised to study the current regulations governing the areas or zones they plan to hunt and to contact the appropriate regional deer biologist for questions regarding season dates, bag limits or restricted areas.
For persistent hunters, late primitive weapons seasons can be productive.
Late-season hunters are faced with a variety of additional challenges, including cold weather, the likelihood of snow, reduced habitat conditions, little or no rut activity and a substantially smaller deer herd because by December the bulk of the annual harvest has already been cut, wrapped and frozen.
Deer do not hibernate in winter but it often seems that way because their activity levels diminish considerably compared to the early season.
Whitetails do depend on their winter fat reserves to get them through the worst winter weather, but they also continue to feed through December and January, albeit sporadically and primarily during the hours of darkness.
This means hunters should focus their efforts on the early morning and late afternoon hours, when deer, including bucks, are most likely to be on the move in search of food or receptive second-rut does.
Late-season deer are generally subdued, reclusive and evasive, spending most of their time in the thickest cover they can find and moving about only to feed or avoid danger.
Hunters who understand the changes in deer behavior from season to season will have the best luck by patiently standing in known feeding or bedding cover or putting on short, quick drives (where legal) in an effort to push deer out of their comfort zones.
With all this in mind, here's a look at where to find some great late season deer hunting in New England.
Bay State deer hunters can pursue whitetails with shotguns statewide from Nov. 27 through Dec. 9. The statewide primitive firearms season runs from Dec. 11-30. Hunters may take two antlered deer plus additional antlerless deer by permit only.
Massachusetts' hunters can choose from dozens of state-owned or leased lands that are open to hunting during the late deer season.
To find out more about state lands that are available during the November and December seasons, log onto www.maps.env.state.ma.us. This site provides a complete list of state lands including downloadable maps, boundaries and other details that hunters will find useful in planning their late-season hunts.
Hunters can select state lands based on the location of the town they want to hunt in or by selecting a specific WMA, state forest or other property. For the most part, Massachusetts' wildlife lands are open to hunting, fishing, trapping and other wildlife-related recreation.
Users will find unmarked trails or woods roads with simple, unpaved parking lots. State wildlife lands are managed by MassWildlife. Many of these properties are actively managed through mowing, cutting, prescribed burns or other activities that improve habitat for wildlife.
Hunters should keep in mind that motorized vehicles are not permitted on state wildlife lands.
For more information, log onto www.masswildlife.com.
Connecticut offers a wide variety of deer-hunting options that end in mid-December in most cases. Opportunities exist for rifle, shotgun, archery and muzzleloader hunting on state and-or private lands.
Hunters will need to study the various options and permitting processes in order to participate in specific hunts.
Muzzleloader hunting is allowed from Dec. 6-19 statewide with a bag limit of one deer of either sex.
Crossbows are also allowed during any of the seasons that run through December on most state lands and through January on private lands.
While most of Connecticut's best whitetail habitat is found on private lands, state biologists are working with and encouraging landowners to provide access to hunters in an effort to better manage deer populations on those lands.
Hunters should contact the DEEP for more information about gaining access to private lands where deer herds need to be thinned or reduced. A new law allows Sunday hunting on private lands in Connecticut.
Connecticut's late-season deer hunters also have access to over a dozen state forests ranging in size from just over 500 acres to more than 22,000 acres. Hunting is allowed on state forest lands except in areas that are posted for safety purposes. Interested hunters should log onto www.ct.gov/deep and click on the state forest links for maps and other information.
Maine's latest deer-hunting season is its December muzzleloader hunt, which runs from Nov. 27 to Dec. 2 statewide and through Dec. 9 in most of the southern portion of the state and the Expanded Archery Zone.
Maine is unusual in that any land that is not specifically posted against trespassing is considered to be open to hunting.
However, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife strongly advises hunters to seek permission to hunt whenever possible. Other options include wildlife management areas (over 190,000 acres) and Public Reserve Lands, which are scattered all across the state and are open to hunting.
Maine's northern zone is the traditional destination for hunters specifically seeking big bucks (meaning over 200 pounds dressed weight in the Maine vernacular), but the highest numbers of deer are usually found in the central, southern and southern-coastal portions of the state.
Muzzleloader hunters may take one antlered deer or they must possess a valid antlerless deer permit in order to take an antlerless deer. For more information, maps and current regulations log onto www.mefishandwidllife.com.
Vermont's 2017 statewide muzzleloader deer season is scheduled for Dec. 2-10. The bag limit is one antlered deer unless the hunter possesses a valid antlerless deer permit.
As is the case in most of the heavily-forested portions of northern New England, landowner permission is not required for hunting on private land in Vermont except on land that is legally posted with signs prohibiting hunting.
The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife strongly encourages hunters to seek permission from landowners whenever possible.
The privilege of using private land is usually extended by Vermont's generous landowners, and most landowners allow hunting when approached in a courteous manner. Hunters are required to show their license and leave the land immediately if requested by a landowner whether the land is posted or not.
Sunday hunting is allowed in Vermont, which also contains thousands of acres of the Green Mountain National Forest, state forests and WMAs where late-season deer hunting is allowed. For maps and additional information, log onto www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
The Granite State archery deer season runs from Sept. 15 through Dec. 15 statewide except in Wildlife Management Unit A (extreme northern New Hampshire). The firearms deer season runs from Nov. 8 through Dec. 3 (except in WMU A).
Total deer kill numbers have been up the past several years. Both the muzzleloader and firearms harvests have increased and the 2016 adult buck kill (which is used as an index to the overall population) was the seventh highest on record.
In fact, 21 of the top 25 total harvest years (going back 95 years to 1922) have taken place during the last 22 years, and all of the top 10 years for adult buck harvests have taken place since 2000.
The effect of New Hampshire's abundant acorn crop on deer was evident at biological check stations last year as deer were clearly in good physical condition.
As is the case in Vermont and Maine, New Hampshire's deer hunters are generally allowed to access unposted private lands as well as state forestlands, WMAs and portions of the White Mountain National Forest. For maps, additional information, season dates and licensing information log onto www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
Ocean State deer bowhunters (including crossbow hunters) may pursue whitetails on public and private land through Jan. 31 statewide. The muzzleloader season runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2 on private lands only.
The annual bag limit is two antlered deer. Only one of the antlered deer may be taken in Zone 3 (Prudence Island). Zone 1 hunters (mainland private and state land) may take four additional antlerless deer.
Hunters are eligible for one free replacement permit for an additional antlerless deer upon presenting proof of harvesting two antlerless deer in Zone 1. The replacement permit is in addition to the general antlerless bag limit allowed for Zone 1 and is restricted for use in this zone.
There are other hunts available by special permit on Block Island and other areas of the state where deer populations are creating issues with landowners.
Rhode Island has a number of state parks, forests and WMAs where hunting is allowed during the late deer season.
Interested hunters should log onto www.dem.ri.gov for maps and a complete explanation of deer permit processes, limits and restrictions in the various zones that are open to late-season hunting.