Considering that New York's deer hunters routinely tag nearly 10 times more whitetails each year than all of the New England states combined, planning for the coming hunting season should be a gleeful experience. Good numbers of deer are available in every portion of the Empire State where hunting is allowed, and it's a good bet that some of those "no hunting" counties also have more than enough deer to keep landscapers and gardeners on their toes.
Statewide, New York's deer harvest in 2014 was 238,672, including 108,604 adult bucks, 90,321 adult does and 39,747 fawns. While last year's kill was about 5,000 animals fewer than the 2012 and 2013 totals, 2014 still ranks No. 3 out of the last 10 years. Harvest totals have been above 200,000 deer for the last eight years and 17 of the last 20 years — still leaps and bounds ahead of New England's annual harvests.
The state's Deer Management Permit harvest was 100,381 animals. Bowhunters accounted for 35,388 deer, while crossbow hunters tagged another 5,535 whitetails. Muzzleloader hunters brought home 15,071 deer and youth hunters contributed 1,182 bucks and does to the annual tally.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the top-producing individual town in the state was Jerusalem in Yates County, with 1,299 deer tagged last year. Other towns topping 1,000 total tagged deer included Ellisburg in Jefferson County (1,166) and Warwick in Orange County (1,089).
Although great deer hunting may be found statewide, "the numbers" suggest that the most productive hunting is traditionally found in the western portion of the state, where buck and antlerless harvest densities are above 6 and 13 animals per square mile, respectively.
The top five wildlife management units last year were WMUs, 9H, 8H, 8R, 8M and 8N, all in the western region, with per-square-mile harvests ranging from 10 to 18. Most of the rest of the state's WMUs produced harvests ranging from .5 (in the northeast region) to 9.5.
Harvest numbers fluctuate due to in-season weather conditions, hunter participation and other factors, but it's safe to say that any hunter in New York who wants to put some venison in the freezer this season has an excellent opportunity to do so. Long-term trends suggest that the state's deer herd is stable and growing slightly each year.
There are no areas of the state where precipitous declines have been noted, and in fact the majority of deer-rich areas continue to produce near-record numbers of deer annually.
Hunters should note that woodland deer tend to be less numerous than farm-country whitetails, but there are plenty of places throughout the state where both habitat types exist, meaning astute hunters with an eye for deer cover should have no trouble finding a place to hunt this fall.
Also, most of the state's well-managed forests and wildlife management areas have scheduled logging, bush-hogging and other habitat projects that can benefit hunters who take the time to stay abreast of such work. A clear-cut, for example, should provide good hunting for 15 years or more until sapling-stage growth begins to crowd out the understory.
Thick, dense early-successional cover is most beneficial to deer, especially during the hunting season, but it may require some research to determine where recent clear-cutting has taken place.
In the end, hunters who put in their time and shoot straight at the moment of truth should have a happy story to tell at the end of the day.
Here's a look at New York's regional deer harvest numbers and hunting opportunities on public land across the state for 2015.
Generally speaking, deer densities and harvest numbers in New York's southeastern region are low to moderate, usually in the two- to four-deer-per-square-mile range. Habitat availability, public access and weather conditions during the season are all limiting factors in this region.
However, while most of the region produces comparatively fewer deer than do the wildlife management units (WMUs) in western New York, for example, there are some outstanding areas in the east that hunters may want to take a closer look at this season.
For example, WMU 3M (Orange County) produced 8,202 whitetails last season, including 2,956 adult bucks, or an average kill of almost eight deer per square mile — more than double the harvest rate in the remainder of the region. Higher kills and per-square-mile densities were posted in WMUs 4Y, 4T and 4C, with pockets of better-than-average production throughout the region.
Because the eastern region is more developed than the northern and western portions of the state, it certainly makes sense that hunters who gain access to privately-owned lands will find better hunting. However, there are plenty of state-owned parks, forests and wildlife management areas in the region where ambitious hunters who are willing to invest time in pre-season scouting can reasonably expect to enjoy a productive season.
Many of the eastern region's state parks and forestlands are small, but plenty of them offer room enough for hunters to spread out and enjoy a good experience, especially during the early archery hunting season.
For maps and more information about public hunting opportunities in New York's eastern region, log onto www.dec.ny.gov and follow the links under "Places to Go."
The majority of New York's big-number deer harvests occur in the western region, where county harvests number in the thousands. Perennial harvest leaders include Steuben County (10,539 deer in 2014), Chautauqua (8,918), Livingston (8,168), Allegany (7,954), and Cattaraugus (7,777). The region's heady mix of forest and farmland provides excellent habitat for deer as annual herd density estimates and hunter harvests clearly show.
The other good news is that there is plenty of public land throughout the region in the form of state and national forest holdings, wildlife management areas, state parks and other parcels where deer hunting is allowed.
Of course, the region also has the lion's share of private farmland where courteous hunters gain access to some of the better-managed properties in the region. Most working farms feature woodlands, pastures, brushy cover and croplands where deer find all of their most important needs: Food, escape cover and safe bedding areas.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Web page lists numerous public-land opportunities for hunters who don't have access to private lands. Thousands of acres are available to hunters who are willing to do their homework, finding and scouting areas that maintain high numbers of deer and higher-than-average harvests of both bucks and does each year.
In fact, most of the counties within the western region produce buck kills that amount to one-third or more of the total annual harvest, with harvest densities that exceed 10 and nearly reach 20 bucks per square mile!
For maps and more information about deer-hunting opportunities in New York's western region, log onto www.dec.ny.gov and follow the appropriate links.
Some Empire State hunters not only want to kill a deer they want to do it the way Grandpa did it 100 years ago — i.e., by heading into the great Adirondack Wilderness Park, finding a big track and outwitting a trophy-sized buck in his own element.Because the park is managed in a "leave it wild" state, there are more forested acres than might be found on the average WMA or state forest, but for some hunters the "wilderness" aspect is nearly as attractive as the region's potential for producing longer-lived and therefore bigger bucks.
Overall, deer population and harvest numbers in the Adirondacks are much lower than other areas of the state. For example, the bucks-taken-per-square-mile totals average less than two throughout the region, matching the number of antlerless deer taken per square mile.
In the very center of the Adirondacks, WMU 5F, the buck take is about one per two square miles. In WMU 5H, the total increases slightly to .8 bucks per square mile. Generally, buck/doe harvests in the Adirondacks average about one per square mile, which pales compared to 6-plus bucks and 13-plus does taken per square mile in the western region.
Despite the comparatively low success rate in the Adirondacks, there are many hunters who prefer the challenge of hunting big, rugged country where there are few deer but also few hunters. There is something to be said about being able to walk in the woods all day without seeing another hunter, and in many cases the only sign one encounters is that of a big, mature buck.
Also, most fans of the Adirondacks enjoy rough camping or hunting out of primitive cabins where part of the experience is "roughing it" in an area where the views are spectacular and the nights are frosty and still.
Most of the 2.6 million-acre Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve is open to hunting and camping, although there are some restrictions in specific areas. For maps and more information about the park, log onto www.apa.ny.gov.
New York's deer hunters have the added advantage of having access to one of the most complete and detailed annual deer harvest reports of any state in the East. Comprised of more than 20 pages of maps, numbers and recent and historic deer harvest information, the DEC's deer harvest report is the ideal place to start for hunters who can't decide where to go for some productive hunting in 2015.
Log onto www.dec.ny.gov and follow the links to the 2015 Deer Harvest Report, which may be downloaded and printed along with maps of public hunting areas, state forests and parks, as well as detailed descriptions of each area, directions and comments by DEC officials regarding habitat quality and access information.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Despite New York's very high annual deer harvest numbers, there are still many hunters who come home empty-handed each season. Some hunters push the odds by preferring to shoot only mature, adult bucks, while others experience extraordinarily bad luck, or simply do not see a deer they can shoot.
The majority of unsuccessful hunters, however, likely spent minimal time in the woods last season or failed to do any practice shooting prior to opening day. It's a well-known adage that you can't shoot many deer from the recliner, and it's just as difficult to hit a deer if you haven't spent sufficient time at the range.
Time spent in the woods is critical to success. Deer are plentiful in New York but they are not behind every tree. Most hunters venture out for a few hours on Saturday mornings or holidays, but consistent success requires a larger investment. If possible, go out for a few hours before or after school or work, all day on weekends and holidays, or even for a few hours during the midday period.
Due to the rut, local hunting pressure and weather conditions, deer may move around frequently during the day, even at noon, so it pays to spend every available hour where scouting forays showed signs of heavy deer activity.
Also, hunters should keep in mind that deer behavior changes as the season progresses. After the leaves come down and the anxiety of the rut begins to subside, deer will become increasingly nocturnal and therefore more difficult to find.
The most productive hunting hours will be near dawn and dusk, especially in areas where dense brush provides critical escape cover later in the season. Late in the season deer may move around for only a few minutes each day, usually after dark but often near sunrise and sunset.
There are no guarantees, but the most successful deer hunters spend as much time as possible in areas where local whitetail densities are highest. Study the DEC's annual deer harvest report, scout early and often to stay abreast of subtle changes in deer behavior and spend as much time in the woods as possible. It's as simple as that!