Unfortunately, access to private land is becoming more difficult these days, which leaves public land the only viable option for many hunters. Because hunting pressure can be more intense on these properties, deer in general are smarter and as a result hunting these areas can be more of a challenge. To be successful in these public areas it is necessary to think like a deer and outsmart other hunters.
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge stretches for 50 miles along the Maine coast from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth. When complete it will cover some 14,000 acres of salt marshes and estuaries bordered and interspersed with deciduous forests. Because the refuge is along the coast, winters here are typically mild, and living conditions for deer are prime. Some of Maine's largest cities and towns are here and residential sprawl is heavy. As a result, many localities have firearm discharge ordinances.
To help control deer numbers, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife established an expanded archery season in specific areas a few years ago. In these areas hunters with additional permits are allowed one buck and any number of antlerless deer in addition to the regular statewide deer limit.
Much of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge is found in Wildlife Management District 24 within the expanded archery zone. Refuge hunting information is updated annually but specific areas are generally open during archery season with a special refuge permit, available for a fee from the refuge headquarters in Wells starting in late August through the end of the extended archery season. Hunters must show their current Maine archery license at the time refuge permits are purchased and maps of areas open to hunting along with any refuge rules will be provided at that time.
More information may be obtained by contacting the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, telephone (207) 646-9226; or by visiting the refuge web site at www.fws.gov/northeast.rachelcarson.
For more information on general archery laws, which apply on refuge property, visit www.mefishwildlife.com.
Bellamy River WMA
Since 2003 Strafford County has not been one of New Hampshire's top deer counties. This may be due in part to the fact the county is one of the most heavily populated in the state, much of the county is urban in nature, private land posting is becoming more common and public land open to hunting is scant at best.
But Strafford County has good deer numbers, and these deer are being squeezed into smaller habitats. Hunters with access to hunting land here have some good urban-archery opportunities. One of the best places to look for some of those deer is the Bellamy River WMA, located on the west side of the Bellamy River in Dover and Portsmouth.
On its 400 acres hunters will find a variety of habitats suitable to whitetails, including riverside shorelines, tidal creeks, salt and freshwater wetlands, second-growth woodlands and old fields.
Additionally, since 1990 habitat improvements have created openings that benefit whitetails, including a timber harvest in 2000 that created patch and strip cuts to regenerate oaks and provide woody browse. As recently as 2011 some 30 acres of old fields with pine and mixed hardwoods of low quality were cut to create habitat. That habitat work was done primarily to benefit the New England cottontail, but as these areas regenerate into hardwoods and shrubs they will also benefit deer.
Shat makes the Bellamy River WMA attractive to deer is that it is between Dover and Portsmouth and surrounded by several urban commities: it serves as a natural refuge. The property is attractive to hunters because it is one of the largest blocks of public property in the county and one of the few that allow hunting.
To find the Bellamy River WMA from Route 108 (Durham Road) near in Dover, hunters can head south on Back River Road. Travel about 1.6 miles and turn left on Rabbit Road and then right on Garrison Road and them left at the sign to the WMA. The property can also be reached from Route 4 in Dover by heading north on Back River Road for one mile, then right on Rabbit Road, right again on Garrison Road and then left at the sign.
For maps of the Bellamy WMA as well as information on archery hunting regulations visit the New Hampshire Fish and Game web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
Rutland County, Vermont is usually one of the top producers of archery bucks and antlerless deer in the state each year. Hunters have a choice of several public lands open to hunting in the county and those close to Rutland and Center Rutland get a lot of attention. But in the eastern region of the county, in the town of Shrewsbury and straddling the border into Plymouth in Windsor County, the Plymsbury WMA is worth getting to know.
The property covers 1,857 acres of gentle terrain and several wooded swamps surrounded by 1,000 acres of hardwoods, about 500 acres of mixed tree growth and 50 acres of old remnant fields, all prime habitat and hide-out areas for deer. There are also old apple trees that produce fruit and the two hardwood ridges transecting the area in a northeasterly direction are likely areas deer frequent. Hunters should also not overlook the heavy cover along Great Roaring Brook in the central portion of the property. The WMA is best accessed using the Old Plymouth Road and along Tinker Brook in the north, which in turn is accessed from the Old CCC Road, both out of North Shrewsbury.
Hunters should keep in mind that Plymsbury WMA is bordered on three sides by 21,000-acre Coolidge State Forest and if they have time is worth scouting prior to the season opener.
For information on archery hunting regulations and wildlife area maps visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
Southeast Hunting Areas
Wildlife Management Zone 11 covers southeast Massachusetts and since 2006 this zone has been the top archery deer-producing region in the Bay State. Deer densities are high, up to 35 deer per square mile in some areas, and archers should find plenty of opportunity throughout the zone.
Most of the property in the region is privately owned, but fortunately the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife does have more than 30 wildlife management areas and wildlife conservation easements totaling over 38,000 acres.
Some of these properties are rather large in size. The Southeast Massachusetts Bioreserve covers 13,600 acres in Fall River and Freetown; the Hockomock Swamp WMA in Norton and Bridgewater area is more than 4,900 acres; and the Rocky Gutter WMA in Carver and Middleborough over 3,000 acres. All offer good numbers of deer — but they also draw a lot of hunters.
Keeping that in mind some of the smaller properties such as the 78-acre Pickerel Cove Deer WCE in Mashpee, 222-acre West Meadows WMA in West Bridgewater and 175-acre Taunton River WMA in Middleborough offer as many deer per square mile but typically draw fewer hunters.
In addition 11 state forests, reservations and state parks also allow hunting (with some restrictions) and provide several thousands additional acres open to hunting. Examples include the F. Gilbert Hills SF in Foxboro and the Myles Standish SF in Carver, which covers 15,000 acres by itself.
A complete list of wildlife management areas and conservation easements will be found on the MassWildlife web site at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw.
For a list of state forests and parks open to hunting visit the Department of Conservation www.mass.gov/dcr.
Archers in the Ocean State have been experiencing a success rate better than 15 percent in recent years, one of the highest in New England. Deer are considered abundant and opportunities are good throughout the state.
Hunting on private land is by written permission only but Rhode Island is also home to 28 wildlife management areas totaling 47,000 acres. These areas have been producing better than 20 percent of the annual deer harvest with archers taking a fair share of that total. That percentage is bound to increase considering crossbows with a minimum draw of 150-pounds are now allowed during archery season.
Archers looking for big woods to scout and hunt should consider the Arcadia WMA in West Greenwich, Exeter, Hopkinton and Richmond. It is consistently one of the top public deer hunting areas in Rhode Island.
The property gets its share of hunters but at 13,817 acres it is the largest wildlife area in the state and there is plenty of room to hunt. Dominated by a mixed forest of hardwoods, evergreen and pine, the WMA also contains swamps, shrub wetlands and marshes that offer plenty of escape and secluded hideout areas for deer. Hunters just have to find them. The state also actively manages almost 200 acres in agricultural fields as food plots.
State Route 165 cuts Arcadia WMA into north and south sections and both are worth exploring. Access and parking to the northern portion is located east of the bridge over Wood River along Midway Trail, while access to the southern section is possible along Old Nooseneck, K-G Ranch and Summit Roads. Hunters will find numerous gated trails and roads throughout the property that lead into some prime deer territory.
For maps and more information visit www.dem.ri.gov.
State Forests & WMAs
It might be difficult to believe but Connecticut is 60 percent forested, making it one of the most heavily forested states in the country. Ironically, it is also one of the most densely populated. The contradiction has had little impact on deer numbers, by most estimates currently over 100,000 animals. And while finding places to hunt on private property has become more problematic, Connecticut offers a long list of public properties with prime hunting opportunities.
To start off with there are 105 wildlife management areas totaling 32,000 acres. These areas are found throughout the state and vary in size but are open to archery hunting.
If that is not enough hunters should consider one of the state forests that are generally larger in size. There are 32 state forests covering 170,000 acres and all are open during fall archery hunting. Pachaug SF, for example, Connecticut's largest, covers 24,000-acres in six towns.
In recent years, Connecticut archers have had the highest success rates in Deer Management Zones 4B, 7, 11 and 12, so keep that in mind when choosing a place to scout and hunt this year. But the bottom line is any of the state properties should provide some excellent bowhunting.
For a list of WMAs and state forests as well as maps hunters should visit www.ct.gov/dep.