New England has long been a bastion of whitetail hunting. Gadgets, gear and clothing, not to mention regulations, have changed dramatically since the first English settlers came ashore in the 1600s, but the challenge remains the same.
Despite great advances in equipment, strategies and technology related to deer hunting, success rates average about 20 percent throughout the Northeast. When it comes down to it, the whitetail still holds all the cards.
The human population in New England is large, varied and scattered, which means state deer managers are forced to juggle the demands of hunters with the desires of landowners and the welfare of the resource. This has become a daunting task because the majority of deer now exist close to human habitation. Biologists struggle to provide hunting opportunities without disrupting the non-hunting public, which often results in a confusing mish-mash of zones, units, regulations and restrictions.
When the dust finally clears, however, there are plenty of great opportunities for hunters who want to bring home a supply of venison. Each New England state offers seasons for bowhunters, firearms and muzzleloader hunters. In the region the use of crossbows is gaining ground as well.
Complicated as it may seem, there are plenty of great deer-hunting options available to hunters on public and private land throughout the Northeast. Here's a look at last year's harvest numbers and a few public hunting areas where above-average hunting may be found.
According to Andrew Labonte, Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wildlife biologist, Nutmeg State deer hunters tagged a total of 12,549 whitetails during the 2013 season. Of the statewide total, 6,518 were antlered bucks and 5,618 were antlerless.
Archery hunters accounted for more deer (6,048) than did shotgun-rifle hunters (4,340) and muzzleloader hunters (947) combined. Bowhunters accounted for 48 percent of the total statewide harvest.
"For the first time since a hunting season was established in Connecticut the bow harvested exceeded the shotgun-rifle season and is expected to do so next year," LaBonte said.
Part of the reason for the increase in archery harvests, he added, was that bowhunters have more opportunities and tend to be more serious about their sport, spending more time scouting and preparing for the hunt. Also, one in three bowhunters harvested more than one deer last season.
Hunter success rates for firearms hunters were highest in Deer Management zones 1, 5, 9 and 11. Archery harvests were highest in zones 4B, 5, 6, 10 and 12.
According to Connecticut's 2013 Deer Program Summary, the top state lands for archery harvest include Patchaug State Forest (73 deer) the Centennial Watershed State Forest (45), Meshomasic and Cockaponset state forests (33) and Natchaug State Forest (29).
For more information, maps, 2014 hunting season dates and a copy of the 2013 Deer Program Summary, log onto www.ct.gov/deep.
Bay State deer hunters tagged a total of 11,566 whitetails in 2013, including 6,556 bucks, 940 button bucks and 4,070 females. Archery hunters took 4,486 whitetails or 39 percent of the total harvest, while shotgun hunters took 4,609 deer (40 percent) and primitive season hunters tagged 2,343 deer (20 percent). In addition, participants in the special Quabbin Reservoir hunt took 122 additional deer.
The most productive wildlife management zones last season were Zone 11 (2,660 deer), Zone 10 (2,340), Zone 9 (932), Zone 8 (836) and Zone 14 (732). Other zone harvests ranged from a low of 157 (Zone 6) to a high of 726 (Zone 13).
Shotguns and archery tackle were the most popular implements used last season, with 4,046 smoothbores and 4,052 bowhunters. There were 2,535 muzzleloader hunters and 811 crossbow users in 2013.
According to David Stainbrook, Massachusett's top deer biologist, bowhunters are increasing in number each year.
"I would expect a similar statewide harvest in 2014 as in 2013," Stainbrook said. "Archery is becoming more and more popular, especially in eastern Massachusetts where deer numbers are rising because of the lack of hunting access; plus many towns do not allow firearms. Also, We are seeing a positive trend in towns working to increase hunting access to limit deer population growth."
Zones 11 and 10 produced the most bucks last year with 1,422 and 1,068 respectively, more than double the number of bucks taken in any other zone in 2013. These numbers also exceeded the buck kill in 2012 and are more than 10 percent higher than the three-year average.
The western and eastern regions remain the most productive hunting areas in Massachusetts. Hunters will be interested to find that there are dozens of new wildlife management areas in these regions as well as statewide, many of which are newly open to hunting. Details on these areas, maps, season dates and more information are provided on the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs' Fisheries and Wildlife Division Web page at www.mass.gov.
Maine's 2013 deer harvest was up 15 percent from 2012 with a total of 24,795 whitetails, the third year in a row with a harvest increase. The deer kill increased in nearly every wildlife management district. The adult buck harvests increased as well, to 16,765 bucks, an 8-percent jump over the previous year. Youth season hunters accounted for 781 deer including 335 bucks, 280 does and 166 fawns.
As the statewide deer population continued to rebound the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued approximately 36 percent more permits than were issued in 2012. This resulted in an adult doe harvest of 5,307 animals, or 24 percent more than were tagged in 2012. Any-Deer Permits were issued in WMDs 3 and 6, the first time antlerless deer harvests were allowed since 2000 and 2007, respectively.
Hunters participating in the special Expanded Archery Season took 1,122 whitetails, an increase of 13 percent over the 987 deer taken in 2012.
Because the winter of 2013 was rated as above average in severity and the worst winter since 2009, MDIFW biologists have recommended a decrease in the number of Any-Deer permits issued in 2014. Last year 46,710 Any-Deer permits were issued.
Maine is a bucks-only state, so hunters looking for a supply of venison are advised to apply for an Any-Deer permit or participate in the Expanded Archery Deer season, which allows for more than 70 days of hunting in areas where the deer population is high or nuisance deer complaints are common.
This Expanded Archery Zone generally includes that area of coastal Maine east of the Interstate Route 95 corridor. Hunters participating in this hunt are allowed to take one buck and an unlimited number of antlerless deer. There is some public land included in the zone but hunters will need to do some research and scouting in order to find the best areas to hunt.
For more information on Maine's Expanded Archery Deer Season and Any-Deer permit application process, maps and a copy of the 2014 deer hunting regulations booklet, log onto www.mefishwildlife.com.
Green Mountain State deer hunters tagged a total of 14,107 whitetails in 2014, an increase of 2 percent over the previous three-year average.
The total buck harvest (8,831) increased 11 percent over the previous three-year average. A total of 4,389 does were tagged plus 423 doe fawns and 464 antlerless bucks. Rifle hunters accounted for 48 percent of the total harvest while bowhunters took 23 percent. Muzzleloader hunters took 2,452 deer (17 percent of the total harvest) and youth hunters downed 1,718 deer, or 12 percent of the total.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recommended a 16-percent increase in any-deer permits based on an increase in the 2013 deer population estimate that was due to recent mild winters. Also, abundant apple, acorn and beechnut crops were available to deer during fall 2013, which biologists expected would cause whitetails to be more dispersed. Cold temperatures and the presence of snow during the November rifle season likely increased the ability of hunters to fill their tags.
The buck harvest during the opening weekend of rifle season accounted for 44 percent of the total rifle harvest. This was higher than the average of the previous five years (39 percent). Hunting effort on opening weekend of the 2013 rifle season was also higher than the previous five-year average of 25 percent.
For this reason, 2014 hunters may want to focus their efforts on early-season bowhunting. More deer will be available to hunters prior to the opening of the rifle season and hunting conditions will be much more pleasant.
Visiting hunters may want to consider focusing their efforts on the Green Mountain National Forest, which covers thousands of acres and is open to hunting without special permits or fees. Scout portions of the forest that border farmlands, recent clear-cuts, waterways and other breaks in habitat because deer will feed and bed close to these areas.
For current regulations, licensing information, and maps log onto www.vermontfishandwildlife.com.
Granite State deer hunters harvested a total of 12,540 whitetails in 2013. That was the fourth-highest harvest on record, the second-highest total kill in 10 years and 7 percent higher than 2012, surpassed only by the season-high total of 13,559 deer taken in 2007.
County leaders in harvest totals were Rockingham (1,914), Grafton (1,332), Hillsborough (1,144) and Coos (1,008), which produced more than double the harvest of the remaining counties except Cheshire County, where 802 whitetails were registered.
Although New Hampshire does not have the "glamour" appeal of some other deer states, opportunities abound for hunters who are willing to put in some time scouting and hiking the state's legendary White Mountain range. Plus, Sunday hunting is legal in New Hampshire, which has more than 200,000 acres of state-owned land that is open to deer hunting plus some 750,000 acres of national forest lands. In addition, many thousands of acres of privately-owned lands are also open to hunting.
Deer hunting in New Hampshire is allowed from Sept. 15 to Dec. 8 with a variety of options ranging from the early archery season to extended bucks-only hunting. Archery, muzzleloader and firearms seasons are scheduled throughout, giving hunters any number of chances to fill their tags.
For more information on public land hunting opportunities, season dates, licensing, maps and other details, log onto www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
Deer hunters in the Ocean State killed a total of 2,458 whitetails in 2014, including 1,170 bucks and 1,329 antlerless deer. Muzzleloader hunters took 973 deer while shotgunners downed 578 whitetails. Archery hunters came in a close second with 907 deer. The archery and shotgun kills were up 31 and 46 percent respectively over 2012, while the muzzleloader harvest was down 14 percent.
Management zones 1 and 2 produced the bulk of the harvest with 637 does and 1,452 bucks.
What are the odds for success in little Rhode Island? According to Brian Tefft, wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, 90 percent of hunters took at least one deer. Meanwhile, All Outdoors Permit hunters killed 625 deer, with 33 percent of permit holders taking at least one deer while 26 percent took two deer and 14 percent took three deer. Surprisingly, 11 percent of All Outdoors permittees took four deer, and 8 percent tagged six deer!
Interestingly, 29 percent of the male deer taken in 2013 were yearlings, while 31 percent were 2.5-year-olds and 27 percent where older than 3.5 years, suggesting that hunters seemed to be making a conscious effort to take older, more mature bucks.
Although some opportunities for deer hunting are available via special Block Island, Jamestown and Prudence Island hunts, most of the deer-hunting activity in Rhode Island takes place on the mainland, where a variety of state parks, forests and wildlife management areas are open to hunting. Hunters with access to private lands will likely do very well when focusing on crop- or shrubbery-damaging deer. In either case pre-season scouting is essential. A call to a local game warden or U. S. Soil Conservation Service agent should produce a list of potential landowners who are having deer depredation issues.
For current season dates, maps, licensing details and other information, log onto www.dem.ri.gov.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'œgood luck tree.'
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell\'s giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands\' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it\'s just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost\'s wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail\'s Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'œchip-shot.' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it\'s a good thing he didn\'t.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson\'s persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp\'s Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'œI've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to.'
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran\'s Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who\'d spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won\'t forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'œBig Daddy' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he\'d squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he\'d hit, but couldn\'t find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand.'