Northeast Deer Forecast

Connecticut is the Northeast's sleeper for big bucks, offering great trophy opportunities again this year for deer hunters. Parts of southern and central Connecticut have dense human populations, and thus archery hunting is often the only legal and acceptable means of harvesting deer. This suburban landscape creates a matrix of de facto whitetail sanctuaries, which allows bucks time to reach maturity - and that always means big antlers. Combine these factors with an extended bow season, high deer densities and liberal bag limits, and you have the makings for some great hunting opportunities. Because of this, Fairfield and New Haven counties are proven to be Connecticut's hotspots over the last decade, producing more trophy bucks between 1996 and 2005 than anywhere else in the state. Other parts of Connecticut, particularly along the state's western border with New York and the northwestern border with Massachusetts, are remote and rugged, and "hunt" more like a big woods environment. Here you can find quality habitat and relatively low hunting pressure. This region also has some of the state's largest public lands. Look there for trophy opportunities in Tolland and Litchfield Counties. Deer season dates are staggered according to zones. But generally the state archery season runs Sept. 15-Jan. 31; shotgun season on state areas Nov. 28-Dec. 8; private land hunting with firearms Nov. 2-Dec. 31; muzzleloader season Dec. 9-31. Contact: http://www.ct.gov/dep/site/default.asp
Delaware deer hunters have long seasons and generous bag limits and the outlook this year is a good one, similar to the last few seasons. Last year's overall deer take (13,926) was only slightly higher than in 2007-08 (13,689). The biggest increase came during the October antlerless deer season, when 60 percent more animals were collected (1,246) than the previous year (775). Bow deer harvest also was up significantly (14.7 percent) to 1,682 deer. The general shotgun harvest was down just slightly (5,994) compared to 2007-08 (6,205). Adult does made up 45 percent of last year's harvest, managed purposely by the state game department to help keep the whitetail herd in check at about 30,000. Antlered bucks comprised just over 27 percent of the harvest, with only 3.2 percent spikes. Top harvest areas for deer are zones 1, 7, 11 and 16. General bag limits for each of the state seasons is four deer, but additional antlerless tags can be purchased for $10 each, with no limit. Generous tags such as this bode well for a healthy deer herd, since it allows managers to effectively crop burgeoning animals, especially in urban environments. Delaware deer seasons are: archery Sept. 1-Jan. 31; muzzleloader Oct. 9-17, Jan. 25-30; youth day Nov. 7; shotgun Nov. 13-21, Jan. 16-23; handgun Jan. 2-9. Plus there are many antlerless deer days scattered through October (see regulations for dates). Contact: http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov
Maine deer hunters continue to harvest some of the biggest-racked and heaviest deer in the country. Northern Maine traditionally produces numerous 200-250 pound (dressed) class bucks. However, the Pine Tree state has endured very difficult winters the last two years, which may impact the number of trophy bucks available in 2009. Last year's harvest showed a 25 percent decrease from 2007, which was the lowest since the beginning of the any-deer permit system in 1986. Northern Maine offers vast unpopulated territories with very low deer densities. But if you do cross paths with a buck, it could be a bruiser. The state's southern section is more densely populated with both deer and humans, but also more hunters. Central Maine's Penobscot County offers the best of both worlds, with reasonably good deer densities and plenty of open land to hunt - as well as having the best trophy potential. Maine deer season dates are: archery Oct. 1-30; firearms Nov. 2-28; muzzleloader Nov. 30-Dec. 5. Contact: www.maine.gov/doc.
Maryland is small in size, but big in deer herd with an estimated population of about 250,000. Roughly 75,000 gun hunters work the state annually, and success rates are high, with firearms hunters often collecting over 70,000 deer. The general bag limit is an impressive and generous two antlered bucks and 10 antlerless animals per season. Maryland primitive weapons hunters did well last year checking 25,655 deer; a 25 percent increase over 2007. In 2007 Maryland suffered from widespread impacts to deer from hemorrhagic disease, but it was not a problem last year, and seems to be gone this year, too. A good season is expected for 2009. Washington and Frederick counties are among the best for numbers of whitetails. Suburban Baltimore and Washington D.C. offer choice public hunting. Best racks are available near the upper Eastern Shore and in Central Maryland. Western Maryland is best for hunters simply wanting to tag a deer. Maryland's deer season is zoned and a bit involved (check the regulations online), but generally runs: archery Sept. 15-Oct. 21, Oct. 26-Nov. 27, Dec. 14-18, Jan. 4-7, Jan. 11-30; youth firearms Nov. 14; firearms Nov. 28-Dec. 12, Jan. 8-9; muzzleloader Oct. 22-24, Oct. 26-31, Dec. 19-Jan. 2. Contact: http://www.dnr.state.md.us
Massachusetts has gained a reputation as one of the region's top spots for trophy whitetails. Over the last six seasons, Massachusetts has produced more record book bucks than any other state in New England; and Worcester County (zones 8, 9 and 10) produces more trophy bucks each year than any of the counties in those states! Development inside the Route 495 beltway has created an environment for bucks to grow old, and finding a hunting location may be difficult. But on the western edge of the county more opportunities are available. Also don't overlook the public hunting land surrounding Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts. A total of 11,217 deer were harvested by hunters during the combined 2008 seasons. This included 3,521 taken by archers (a seven percent increase), 5,793 taken by shotgunners, and 1,895 taken by muzzleloaders. This is a slight overall decrease from 2007 during the shotgun and muzzleloader seasons, due to difficult hunting conditions resulting from the December ice storm in the central and western regions. In addition, fewer antlerless deer permits were issued in 8 of the 15 Wildlife Management Zones (WMZ), because deer populations in many WMZs now meet management goals for those zones. Massachusetts' deer seasons are: archery Oct. 12-Nov. 21; shotgun Nov. 30-Dec. 12; primitive firearms Dec. 14-31 (with no Sunday hunting). Contact: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/.
New Hampshire experienced a mild winter in 2006-07, which helped boost deer numbers in many areas and made for a record buck harvest that season. However, the severe winter of 2007-08 then reduced deer numbers in much of the state (similar to what happened in Maine), resulting in a 19 percent decrease in harvest last year (10,916, down from 13,559). There were harvest declines in all seasons - archery, youth weekend, muzzleloader and "regular" firearms. This was somewhat expected, because New Hampshire officials had reduced either-sex hunting days in the 2008 season in many Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) to decrease doe kill and allow populations to recover more rapidly. A good move by all accounts. Coos County in the extreme north and Rockingham County on the seacoast are best to bag a trophy buck in New Hampshire. Hillsborough and Grafton counties are tops for deer numbers. Deer hunting seasons in New Hampshire are: archery Sept. 15 - Dec. 15, 2009 (end dates may vary by WMU); muzzleloader Oct. 31 - Nov. 10, 2009 (beginning dates may vary by WMU); firearms Nov. 11 - Dec. 6, 2009 (end dates may vary by WMU); youth weekend Oct. 24-25. Contact: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us
New Jersey's deer herd is approaching 200,000 animals, and the state's 75,000 firearms hunters collect about 35,000 annually. Total whitetails taken last year was 53,260. That's a lot of venison from a comparatively small state generally considered more urban than rural; and more of the same is expect this year. Some of the best areas are suburban regions, with farm fields and estate homes, and plenty of whitetails that dine on nature's abundance. Some of the best hunting zones include: 2, 5, 8, 10 and 12. New Jersey deer seasons are zoned and varied (see regulations online), but generally run: archery Sept. 12-Oct. 30, Jan. 1-30; youth firearm Nov. 21; firearm Dec. 7-12. Contact: http://www.state.nj.us
New Yorkers almost never consider heading to Long Island for deer. But that might be changing since Suffolk County on Long Island and Monroe County around the city of Rochester log more trophy bucks than any other counties in the northeast region. Saturated with suburban living and bow hunting only regulations, the city atmosphere allows bucks to grow old enough to reach their greatest antler growth potential. The second best bet is the fertile region of the state's "Southern Tier", located in western New York from the finger lake region to Ohio. Hunters took 223,000 deer last fall, a 2 percent increase over the previous season. Of those, about 47 percent were adult bucks, although a significant portion were yearlings. The state is experimenting with a pilot "Antler Point Restriction" (APR) in Region 3 near the Catskill Mountains and many private citizens and clubs are implementing their own form of voluntary management to improve age and antlers of harvested bucks. For sportsmen wanting wilderness hunting with a chance for a great buck, head to the Adirondacks in northeast New York. Low deer and hunter densities and harsh conditions ensure bucks living more than three years are giants. Among the top deer harvest counties are: Steuben, Cattaraugus, Allegany, St. Lawrence and Chautauqua. Season dates run: Northern Zone - archery Sept. 27-Oct. 23, general Oct. 24-Dec. 6; Southern Zone - archery Oct. 17-Nov. 20, Dec. 14-22; general Nov. 21-Dec. 13; Westchester County archery only Oct. 17-Dec. 31; Suffolk County archery only Oct. 1-Dec. 31, special firearms weekdays only Jan. 4-29, 2010. Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/hunting
Pennsylvania hunters took nearly identical numbers of antlerless deer in 2008 as in 2007, and the antlered buck harvest of 122,410 was nearly the same as the five-year average of 122,362 bucks. Most areas in Pennsylvania received little snow in 2008, and the hemorrhagic disease outbreak of 2007 didn't reappear. The most recent Game Commission survey showed for those hunters with an opinion on antler restrictions, 3 of 4 supported them. Also, the 2009 archery season runs through November 14, so bowmen get the opportunity to hunt during the peak of the rut. These items all bode well for 2009, and Keystone State hunters should have a great whitetail season. Pennsylvania's deer seasons are: archery Oct. 3-Nov. 14, Dec. 26-Jan. 9; general Nov. 30-Dec. 12; muzzleloader (antlerless) Oct. 17-24; flintlock Dec. 26-Jan. 9. Contact: http://www.pgc.state.pa.us
Rhode Island is small, with only about 12,000 gun hunters and a similar number of resident whitetails. But success rates are good, and some surprisingly large bucks were tagged in 2008. Last year 4,644 bowmen collected 724 deer, while 7,225 muzzleloaders bagged 1,413 whitetails, and 5,904 shotgun hunters downed 800 animals. Among the great bucks taken was a typical 8-pointer (157 7/8s inches) by archer Steve Muddiman from Washington County on Oct. 21. Pat Murry tagged an outstanding 11-pointer with his bow in Providence County on Nov. 18 that scored 153 7/8s. A number of good WMAs are located around the state, with among the most productive last year being Arcadia (136 total deer harvested), Big River (93) and Prudence/Patience (48). Some of the better whitetail areas for this season should be near the towns of Exeter, Foster, Glocester and West Greenwich. Mainland hunting seasons are: archery Oct. 1-Jan. 31; muzzleloader Nov. 4-29, Dec. 26-Jan. 2; shotgun Dec. 5-20, Dec. 26-Jan. 2. Contact: http://www.dem.ri.gov
Vermont has been working since 2005 to reduce yearling buck harvest. The state Fish and Wildlife Board set a statewide Antler Point Restriction (APR) and re-defined a legal buck as "any deer having at least one antler having two or more points one inch or greater in length." According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the antlered buck harvest increased 58 percent between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and then increased another 15 percent in 2007. However, until recently trophy rack deer were not high-scoring bucks. But that changed in 2008. Now three years into the program, larger and more numerous trophy bucks are beginning to appear. In fact, the state typical-rack muzzleloader record buck was tagged last year. Vermont' southwest corner along the New York border (in Units K1, K2 and N south) has the highest deer density, and is showing signs of trophy buck potential. But big-racked bucks can be found in Essex, Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Lamoille and Windham counties. Deer season dates are: archery Oct. 3-25; youth deer Nov. 7-8; rifle Nov. 14-29; primitive weapons Dec. 5-19. Contact: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/

From Maine to Maryland, hunters should have another banner year for whitetails. Here's a Northeast state-by-state review of what's in store from our friends at the Quality Deer Management Association.