New England Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
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.