In the Northeast, New York is known as a big deer hunting state for five reasons: It has a lot of country, it has a lot of hunters, it has a lot of deer, the deer get big (for the Northeast) and it has a long tradition of deer hunting.
Jeremy Hurst, the state's big game biologist, said that New York "has a great diversity of opportunity for hunters. They can do the traditional remote wilderness type of hunting – we have vast stretches of wilderness where hunters can get away from it all and spend a lot of time tracking deer. We have mixed forest land that has higher deer numbers, though it's maybe a little bit more difficult to access because of private property. And then we have suburban situations where access is real challenging, but for those who get access the opportunities are great."
Deer Population: 940,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $1.4 billion
For total deer numbers, the highest densities are in suburban areas and in the Finger Lakes region, which has an ideal mix of agricultural land, forest cover and good soils.
The Finger Lakes area also is good for quality, Hurst said. "It has large-antlered deer – they may not be older, but there's better habitat so they have larger antlers."
Other areas for quality are the suburbs, where deer get older, and the so-called "big woods country" of the Adirondacks where there's much less hunting pressure. Hurst noted that Adirondacks deer can get older and thus will have larger body sizes, but there's "poorer habitat so they may not have as large antler sizes as agricultural and suburban areas."
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Hurst gave his state a 4, but wanted to qualify that rating: "I don't like giving a number on a statewide scale because there's so much variation in the state," he said.
"We don't manage [deer] on a statewide level. We manage them on a wildlife management unit level and we have 92 in the state. In some areas we have more deer than we want, in some we have fewer than we want – so it's tough to give a statewide broad-brush perspective. But averaging everything together, on a statewide scale we're not too far from where we want to be in terms of total deer numbers."
Status 5 Years From Now
In five years Hurst thinks New York will still be at a 4 overall. "We'll probably be fairly similar to where we are now," he said. "I think it's unrealistic to expect to be in an optimal status everywhere in the state. There's too much fluctuation in deer population from factors beyond our control."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
Harsh winters are a reality in New York – or what's called "upstate New York" to distinguish it from New York City – and they are one thing Hurst thinks could impact the deer herd in the short term. "Some of the biggest population swings we've seen are the result of several heavy winters back to back," he said.
Other than that, "most of the trends that affect deer populations in New York are on a time scale longer than five years. Habitat change and the impact of predation will be slower-changing variables. We don't expect they will have huge impacts in the next five years."
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Hurst said no to a crash but yes to a decline, at least in some forested areas.
"We have areas of the state that are set in our state constitution as protected forest," he said. "They can't be cut, so they're just naturally maturing, large blocks of land – more than 6 million acres. In those areas, the quality of deer habitat has been decreasing as the forest has matured, and that will continue unchanged. So in those areas hunters can't expect deer populations to be the same in 15 years as they were 40 years ago."