Here's where to go for some great, last-minute whitetail deer action in New York.
In a state where the five-year deer harvest averages over 230,000 antlered and antlerless deer, there can be no doubt that New York has plenty of opportunities for hunters who want to extend their season well past the traditional opening day and Thanksgiving weekends. Every county in New York, even heavily developed Suffolk County, offers deer seasons that run into December (and, in some cases, even January).
As might be expected, there are a wide variety of restrictions governing New York's late-season opportunities, which are geared primarily to bowhunting. Muzzleloader hunting is allowed during December in certain areas and there is a firearms season (special permit required) in Suffolk County.
New York's 2017 late-season deer-hunting opportunities are clearly defined (with color-keyed maps) on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's website. Hunters are advised to refer to this site for details on hunting seasons, allowable weapons and bag limits for the areas they plan to hunt in December or January.
Empire State hunters are privileged to have one of the most comprehensive state deer harvest reports available online at the same site. Select the "Deer and Bear Harvest" link and click on the most recent deer harvest report (2016 is now available). Hunters will find 48 pages of harvest totals, maps, graphics, lists and trends that can be of immense help in deciding where to go for a great late-season hunting experience.
Included in the report is a county-by-county list of deer harvests (antlered and antlerless) with a town-by-town breakdown of harvest totals. Hunters can easily find the county with the highest harvest totals and then find the towns where hunters have reported the highest number of deer.
It only makes sense that consistently high numbers of deer taken each year should mean higher odds for success for hunters targeting those areas. The only wrench in the works is that not all of the top-producing towns contain public land that is open to hunting.
However, nearly every top deer county in New York is proximate to public land (state parks and forests, wildlife management areas, etc.) where private-land deer population spill-over is at least possible.
Hunters who access the DEC's Web site, study last year's harvest report and connect the dots should have no trouble filling their remaining tags during the waning days of the 2017 hunting season.
LATE-SEASON WHITETAIL DEER HUNTING
The tag end of the deer hunting season brings additional challenges to hunters, especially those who spend most of their time in the woods during October and November. Habitat and weather conditions are considerably different come December and January, plus deer are no longer in a feeding or rutting mode — for deer, life is all about survival as winter sets in.
Most whitetails will be found in dense, forbidding cover where they can ride out the winter in relative security. The animals will live primarily off their accumulated fat reserves, venturing out to feed mostly at night and only for short periods of time.
This means hunters need to be in the woods at dawn and dusk, fully prepared for cold temperatures, wind and stormy conditions.
Bowhunters will find December and January conditions to be especially challenging, but all hunters should keep in mind that some of the biggest bucks of the year are taken during these latter days of the season. Patience, persistence and perseverance are the hunter's greatest assets during any late-season hunt.
With all this in mind, here is a look at where to go for some great late-season public land deer hunting in New York.
Wildlife Unit 6 covers an 8,000-square-mile region of diverse habitats including the St. Lawrence River Valley, western Adirondacks, Tug Hill Plateau and the Mohawk Valley.
In addition to general wildlife stewardship across the five-county area, the DEC's Region 6 office administers 22 wildlife management areas (WMAs) encompassing 43,744 acres. Many of these WMAs are included in the DEC's late-season deer-hunting zone, providing plenty of options for hunters who want to focus on the Adirondacks' legendary wilderness deer-hunting opportunities.
Keep in mind that northern New York is heavily wooded, and its mountainous, often swampy terrain definitely favors its resident herd of big whitetails. There are comparatively fewer deer in this region, but if you see a buck the odds of it being older than average are substantially higher than in many areas of the state.
For additional information on WMAs in the Northern Zone, including maps and directions, call one of these telephone numbers: (315) 785-2263 (Watertown), (315) 793-2554 (Utica) or (315) 265-3090 (Potsdam).
Because more deer exist in New York's vast Southern Zone it's a good bet that most late-season hunters will target public hunting areas in this region. Habitat conditions are more favorable for deer here than in most other parts of the state, especially in the zone's western and central portions, but there is plenty of good deer hunting to be had in the Catskills and broken eastern-region forests.
TOP LATE-SEASON WMAs FOR DEER
Beginning in far western Region 9, here's a sampling of WMAs that should provide good hunting during the late season:
Canadaway Creek WMA
Canadaway Creek WMA is a 2,180-acre, broad and deeply dissected upland plateau with terrain that is characteristic of the county. The landscape of steep slopes is covered primarily with deciduous forest mixed with conifer plantations. Canadaway Creek runs through the property.
To get there from Interstate Route 86 take Route 60 north to Cassadaga and then head east on County Route 72 for approximately 5 miles.
Carleton Hill MUA
Located in the northwestern Cattaraugus Highlands portion of the Appalachian Plateau, the Carlton Hill Multiple Use Area (MUA) is a 2,484-acre area comprised of abandoned farmland interspersed with scattered small woodlots that provide a variety of habitat types. Carlton Hill MUA is located three miles north of the village of Warsaw in the town of Middlebury in Wyoming County.
Hanging Bog WMA
Hanging Bog WMA is a 4,560-acre area made up of rolling hills, forests and small fields where wildlife management, wildlife habitat management, and wildlife-dependent recreation are the focus of DEC managers.
To get there from Interstate Route 86 take Exit 28 and head north on Route 305 to New Hudson Road.
In Region 8, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 2,490-acre upland tract situated approximately 5 miles west of the city of Corning. From the north the area may be accessed from Smith Hill Road off the Coopers Plains exit of Route 17. From the South, the area may be accessed from Weaver Hollow Road off the Gang Mills exit of Route 15.
Rattlesnake Hill WMA
Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 5,100-acre upland tract approximately 8 miles west of Dansville. Roughly two-thirds of the area lies in southern Livingston County, while the remaining third lies in northern Allegany County. The tract was purchased in the 1930's and is one of several such areas turned over to the DEC for development as a wildlife management area. The area is appropriately named after the timber rattlesnake, which historically was found in the more remote sections of the "Hill." December deer hunters are more likely to bump into the occasional snowshoe hare especially in thick creek bottom brush or conifer plantation habitats.
Adjacent to Rattlesnake Hill WMA on the southeast are two additional parcels of state forest lands totaling approximately 2,600 acres. The two areas are similar to Rattlesnake Hill in habitat types with the exception of having fewer natural and maintained openings. These areas are also open to public hunting.
Honeoye Inlet WMA
Honeoye Inlet Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a 1,981-acre parcel located in southern Ontario County, occupying the valley at the south end of Honeoye Lake. Habitat types include an extensive silver maple-ash swamp on the valley floor, steep wooded hillsides, and open grasslands on the valley floor to the south. A dug channel, serving as the main inlet to Honeoye Lake, runs the length of the wooded swamp from south to north.
To find the Honeoye Inlet WMA, take county Road 37 north from Naples for approximately six miles. From the north, take county Road 37 south from Honeoye for approximately seven miles. There are five maintained parking lots on the Honeoye Inlet WMA.
High Tor WMA
High Tor Wildlife Management Area (WMA) consists of approximately 6,800 acres. It has many steep wooded hills, gullies, eroded cliffs and wetlands. The largest part of High Tor WMA is approximately 3,700 acres just east of the village of Naples and is primarily scenic, steep wooded terrain. It is intersected by administrative truck trails usable as foot access to the more remote sections of the area.
Immediately north of this area are about 2,200 acres of lowland marsh, forested wetland, and grasslands between state routes 21 and 245, bordering Canandaigua Lake and extending up West River valley. This area is drained by the famous Naples Creek.
East of the southern end of Canandaigua Lake is a third part of the area known as South Hill. This 900-acre portion is composed primarily of overgrown fields with steep wooded hillsides. This WMA is located in Ontario and Yates counties.
Connecticut Hill WMA
In Region 7, Connecticut Hill WMA is the largest WMA in New York, encompassing 11,645 acres. It is part of the Appalachian Highlands, which contains distinctive high, rugged land. With elevations reaching 2,000 feet, the WMA offers breathtaking panoramic vistas of the surrounding lowlands. The diversity of habitat ranges from streams and ponds, mature forests with American beech, maple and hemlock to open meadows and wetlands.
The WMA is located 16 miles southwest of Ithaca and 1 mile northeast of Alpine. State Route 13 provides access along the eastern side. Connecticut Hill Road runs through the WMA.
Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is 4,169 acres of generally flat or gently sloping terrain. The WMA is located in the northwest portion of Chenango County, approximately 10 miles southwest of Sherburne.
Route 23 borders part of the west and south sides of the WMA and provides access to a system of town and maintenance roads that traverse the WMA. Heading west out of Norwich on Route 23 to the town of Pharsalia, the WMA is on the right.
Of course, these are just a few of the WMAs that are open to late-season hunting in New York's deer-rich western and central regions. There are dozens of additional WMAs, state forestlands and other public hunting opportunities in New York's vast Southern Zone. Log onto the DEC's website for a complete list of late-season public-land options, current regulations, maps and other pertinent details.
In densely-populated Westchester County the archery deer season runs through Dec. 31. In Suffolk County (generally eastern Long Island) the archery season runs through Jan. 31. In addition, there is a Special Firearms deer season (permit required) that runs from Jan. 7 to 31.
Hunters hoping to take advantage of the unique late-season deer-hunting opportunities in Westchester and Suffolk counties are advised to contact the DEC for more specific details.
During all seasons in designated portions of south-central New York (see the DEC Web site for applicable counties) antlered bucks must have at least one antler with three or more points that are at least 1 inch long. Youth hunters (ages 12-16) are exempt from this rule.
Crossbows are allowed for use during the Northern and Southern zone regular deer hunting seasons but may not be used during the late bowhunting seasons.
For additional information on New York's late-season deer hunting opportunities including regulations, permits, maps and licensing details call (518) 402-8924 or log onto www.dec.ny.gov.