October 11, 2016
Over the last decade Empire State deer hunters have been on a roller-coaster ride. Whitetail harvests have fluctuated during that period from 180,214 in 2005 to 243,567 in 2013, with nearly identical kills in 2008 and 2009 (just over 222,000 in each case separated by only 181 animals).
The whipsaw continued last season: The 2015 harvest total of 202,973 was a decline of some 15 percent below the 2014 kill of 238,672.
Numbers, of course, can be deceiving, especially when it comes to deer hunting. Factors such as weather conditions, hunter participation, antlerless deer permit allocations and local deer population fluctuations can influence county, regional and statewide harvest statistics from one year to the next. Also, some areas of the state may simply provide better hunting for a variety of reasons ranging from habitat quality, hunter access and antler restrictions.
The range of possibilities is endless, as final figures for 2015 reveal. Consider the number of bucks taken per square mile: In Wildlife Management Unit F, for example, only 0.4 bucks were taken last year, while in WMU 8N hunters took 5.9 bucks.
Meanwhile, the number of deer taken per square mile ranged from a low of 0.7 in WMU 6J to a phenomenal 15.9 in WMU 8N. WMU 8N's harvest rate is higher than most states' whitetail population density goals!
While New York's total harvest numbers are calculated estimates, it's clear that a majority of Empire State hunters are satisfied tagging any deer. The total estimated buck kill last year was 99,572 — more than the combined total harvest forall six of the New England states. According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation the 2015 antlerless deer harvest was 103,401, nearly 4,000 more deer than buck hunters tagged.
There's no doubt that many hunters were able to tag both bucks and does during the season using various permits and hunting opportunities. It's quite common for hunters to take a "meat" doe or two while waiting for that big buck to present itself, but it's also true that a good number of hunters are "one and done," satisfied to take the first legal deer they see.
According to the DEC's calculated deer harvest by zone, Northern Zone hunters harvested a total of 23,589 deer last year, including 11,374 during the firearms season, 1,660 by archery, 5,835 by muzzleloader and 4,720 total deer via Deer Management Permits (DMP) and Deer Management Assistance Permits, which are for antlerless deer or any buck with antlers less than 3 inches long.
In the Southern Zone, firearms hunters took 54,302 deer while archery hunters tagged 34,927 whitetails. Muzzleloader hunters harvested 5,735 deer and DMP and DMAP hunters accounted for 81,023 antlerless deer.
On Long Island, Regular Big Game hunters took 255 deer while archery hunters tagged 1,110. DMP hunters totaled 1,869 deer and DMAP hunters took 163 whitetails for a season total of 3,397.
The statewide total harvest of bucks (adult males) was 99,572, with an additional 15,389 male fawns for a grand total of 114,970. Adult female deer harvested totaled 75,157 with an additional 12,855 female fawns, for a total of 88,012.
Generally speaking New York's 2015 deer harvest decreased in nearly every category. The total kill was down 15 percent from 2014 with 20-percent-plus declines in antlerless deer, DMAP success and muzzleloader harvests. The adult buck harvest was down by 8 percent and the adult doe harvest dropped by 16.8 percent.
Only the Youth Deer Hunt showed a slight increase of 3.4 percent (1,222 deer in 2015 compared to 1,182 in 2014). The most significant increase across the board was in the crossbow harvest, which increased nearly 35 percent from 5,535 in 2014 to 7,469 in 2015.
While the statewide deer harvest has fluctuated over the past 10 years the annual kill has remained at over 200,000 throughout the period. The harvest was close to 240,000 during the past four years, with the most precipitous decline occurring last year, when some 36,000 fewer deer were taken statewide. State biologists continue to assess the reasons for the sudden drop in harvest numbers but remain confident that hunters who want to tag a whitetail in 2016 should be able to find one if they are willing to work at it.
NARROWING THE SEARCH
Statewide totals provide a good overview of deer hunting success from year to year but it's a sure bet that more hunters are interested in how the whitetail herd is faring where they spend most of their time in the woods. Fortunately, the DEC's deer management team provides an excellent, detailed report on deer harvests by county and by town as well as by Wildlife Management Unit, giving hunters all the information they need to narrow their search for the best places to go for deer in 2016.
For example, year after year a handful of counties, mostly in the western region of the state, produce comparatively high numbers of deer,
both bucks and does.
Perennial leaders include Steuben County with 9,971 deer taken in 2015, as well as Chautauqua (7,705), Livingston (7,433), Allegheny (7,354), Cattaraugus (7,329) and Ontario (7,046).
Wyoming County was a close seventh with 6,775 total deer harvested last year while Orange County was not far behind with 5,685. Wayne County hunters tagged 5,575 deer and the Northern Region's Jefferson County rounded out the Top 10 harvest counties with 5,567 total deer.
In most counties the kill was evenly split between adult bucks and antlerless deer last year, which has been the general trend for several years, suggesting that Empire State hunters are happy to pull the trigger on a fat meat doe.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
A state as vast and varied as New York obviously offers plenty of options for deer hunters. Private-land hunters, be they landowners or those fortunate enough to have access to such holdings, can expect great results this fall, especially when those lands are managed for whitetail habitat and/or border properties that contain a good mix of grasslands, brush and woodlots.
While public-land holding are typically less productive, national and state forests also contain some good cover for whitetails, as do state-owned wildlife management areas, state parks and other forested areas where deer hunting is allowed.
The key is to research the target area and find pockets of early-successional cover where deer can find food, bedding areas and escape cover. There are few public lands where no such cover exists, but there are plenty of areas where the best habitat is difficult to find or access. You will need to scout for the right habitat, then scout for the deer.
Also, it will take boots on the ground to determine where the best cover is and then come up with a plan to hunt specific areas as conditions allow. The best areas for an early fall archery hunt, for example, may not be the best place to go for a late-season rifle hunt because the deer will adjust and adapt their behavior to existing conditions. Consider the pre-rut, rut and post-rut activities of the local whitetail herd and then tailor hunting strategies accordingly. With all this in mind, here's a look at a few of New York's top public land deer-hunting hotspots for 2016.
PUBLIC HUNTING AREAS
Most Empire State hunters are familiar with local state forests, WMAs and state parks but there are many otherplaces to go that are open to public hunting.
Among these are the New York City Watershed Lands. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allows deer, bear, turkey, and small game hunting on designated City Water Supply lands as provided by New York State regulations. The DEP is no longer issuing Hunting Tags for hunting on City Water Supply Lands, so hunters must possess the appropriate, valid New York State hunting license and a valid Access Permit to hunt on designated hunting areas within City Water Supply Lands. DEP Access Permits are not required on Public Access Areas. For more information, visit the off-site link "New York City Watershed Lands."
Hunting is also allowed on the Fort Drum military base in Jefferson County, three miles northeast of Watertown between state Route 11 and state Route 3.
Fort Drum provides one of the largest tracts of land in the northeast region available to the general public for recreational uswe, with approximately 69,000 acres open to hunting and trapping (dependent upon current military training operations).
Hunting on the Fort Drum does require a special permit. Interested hunters should call the Fort Drum outdoor recreation office at (315) 772-9636 or 772-4999 for information or log in on "Hunting at Fort Drum."
Another option is the Whitney Point Reservoir Multiple Use Area on state Route 26 north of the village of Whitney Point in Broome and Cortland counties. No special hunting permits required.
Or, try the Moose River Plains Wild Forest in Hamilton County. Hunting and trapping is allowed in this 64,500-acre wilderness setting. Hunters may register at any gate. For hunters wishing to extend their stay, there are over 100 drive-in primitive camping sites available. An extensive seasonal road network provides access to much of the interior of the forest.
Located close to New York's most productive whitetail hunting areas, the Finger Lakes National Forest is east of Seneca Lake in Schuyler and Seneca counties. The forest covers over 16,000 acres and features more than 30 miles of interconnecting trails that provide access to remote areas including gorges, ravines, pastures and woodlands.
The nearby Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is at the north end of Cayuga Lake in Seneca County. This area is open for deer hunting on a controlled basis during the archery and regular seasons.
Permits are required to hunt the refuge, and when Deer Management Permit (DMP) use is allowed, Wildlife Management Unit 8J permits are valid. For current information on seasons, permits, maps and regulations, contact the Refuge Manager, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 3395 Route 5-20 east, Seneca Falls, NY 13148; or call (315) 568-5987.
In northwestern New York, the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge east of Lockport in Genesee and Orleans counties is open for deer hunting during both the archery and regular seasons. The refuge is flanked by the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs. The three adjoining properties combined contain nearly 20,000 acres of wildlife habitat where deer hunting is allowed.
For additional information contact the Refuge Manager, Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, 1101 Casey Road, Alabama, NY 14013; or call (585) 948-5445. For the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs call (585) 226-2466.
Additional public lands open to deer hunting in New York's whitetail-rich western region include the Rattlesnake Hill Wildlife Management Area. The WMA is a 5,100-acre upland tract that is approximately 8 miles west of Dansville, New York. Roughly two-thirds of the area lies in southern Livingston County, while the remaining third lies in northern Allegany County. The area is appropriately named after the timber rattlesnake, which may be encountered in the more remote sections of the WMA.
This area offers an interesting blend of upland habitats, including mature woodland, overgrown fields, conifer plantations, old growth apple orchards and open meadows.
Finally, hunters interested in more western-region options may want to consider the 2,484-acre Carlton Hill Multiple Use Area, which is three miles north of the village of Warsaw in the town of Middlebury in Wyoming County. The area consists abandoned farmland and scattered small woodlots.
These areas are but a sampling of the great public hunting opportunities available to New York's deer hunters in 2016. For a complete listing of public hunting options throughout the Empire State, log onto www.dec.ny.gov and follow the Hunting and Trapping links to the Places to Hunt in New York page.
For more information on licensing, current regulations and antlerless deer permit applications, (518) 402 8013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.