Deer, deer. That’s the bottom line here in the East, where whitetail populations can be so thick they defy description. The region has even avoided chronic wasting disease so far, as herd health remains good. If you do your homework–scout out your selected terrain and secure permission for private land as needed–chances are excellent you’ll get your deer.
CONNECTICUT: The primary factor that could affect the season, according to CBNR Wildlife Biologist Howard Kilpatrick, was last year’s tough winter. But a plentiful acorn crop during the autumn helped, and aerial surveys indicate abundant whitetail numbers. There are hot spots throughout the state; look toward the southwestern areas to find the highest numbers of deer, especially in and near suburban developments. Counties like Windham and Tolland are characterized by more farmland and better access, and consistently garner high hunter success figures. The private-land archery season extension through the end of January in zones 11 and 12 will be held again. Contact: Connecticut Bureau of Natural Resources (860-642-7239; www.dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife).
DELAWARE: The relative uniformity of the First State’s habitat keeps the current deer herd of about 35,000 animals scattered throughout its borders, says Wildlife Program Manager Ken Reynolds. Despite minor incidents of hemorrhagic disease, the animals’ health is good, due in part to the plentiful corn and soy crops available. For the best opportunities and access, try the southern section (Redden State Forest gets special mention), with the central Kent County next, followed by New Castle County in the north. Contact: Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife (302-653-2883; www.dnrec.state.de.us/fw).
MAINE: With a deer population exceeding a quarter of a million and some of the best unspoiled wood expanses extant, there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to work. Quality bucks are generally found farther north, where the populations are thinnest. Hunters need to locate the pockets where small herds congregate, says MDIFW Deer Biologist Gerry Lavigne. Deer numbers are more plentiful farther south, but access is more difficult due to lots of land postings. The 2003 archery season will run from early September to mid-December, with a buck limit of one and no limit on antlerless deer. Contact: Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (877-620-8367; www.state.me.us/ifw).
MARYLAND: Douglas Hatton does not know if the 2003-04 season will stack up to the 2002-03 season, which stands as the record for total deer harvest (94,114). He suggests that sportsmen explore the less-agricultural wooded areas of the state’s western region, where deer concentrations are highest, or try some of the farmlands in the eastern and central reaches for the bigger-bodied specimens. Crossbow enthusiasts will also have their chance this year during two weeks in October and two more in January. (Crossbows may also be used any time during the firearm season.) Contact: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (410-543-6595; www.dnr.state.md.us).
MASSACHUSETTS: The Bay State is rarely touted as the place to go deer hunting, but if you can deal with the ammunition purchasing and firearm transportation restrictions, it’s a surprisingly good bet. Trophy deer numbers are increasing, as seen by the 2002-03 harvest. Over 30 percent of deer taken were 3 1/2 years old or older, according to MDFW Deer Project Leader Bill Woytek. The state’s approximately 90,000 deer are found in higher concentrations in the eastern regions. The southwestern corner, especially deer management zone 3, is worth special attention–it has a deer density of about 20 per square mile. Look to the Quabbin Reservoir area for good genetics; the state-record typical whitetail was taken there last year. Contact: Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (617-626-1500; www.state.ma.us/dfwele).
NEW HAMPSHIRE: According to NHFGD Deer Project Leader Kent Gustafson, the herd health and numbers are about as good as they’ve been for decades. Last season posted a record number for adult bucks killed. The proposed season lengths for 2003-04 may be shortened to keep fewer deer, especially antlerless ones, from being taken. Another possibility could be the use of crossbows during the firearms season. Look for the highest numbers of deer from the southeastern corner, along the seacoast, and near the Connecticut River. Contact: New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (603-271-2461; www.wildlife.state.nh.us).
NEW JERSEY: NJDFW Deer Project Leader Carol Kandoth describes the state’s 175,000 deer as “very healthy and at their reproductive maximum.” Hunters continue to increase the numbers of does taken, and buck harvests have not suffered. Kandoth recommends trying any location described as a “problem” area–zones with unlimited doe harvest potential–as good starting spots. Hunterdon County continues to be one of the highest participants in the annual deer take. Proposed new regulations allow for an earlier start to the fall bow season(early September) in zones with unlimited doe harvest, and the elimination of Zone 5 from the “Earn-a-Buck” program. Contact: New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife (609-292-6686; www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw).
NEW YORK: Higher than usual deer mortality as a result of the difficult winter of 2002-03 has depressed populations in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountain ranges. NYDEC Big Game Biologist Dick Henry recommends hunters target the Hudson Valley, as central and eastern deer populations are higher than they need to be. Those looking to fill that empty spot on the wall are advised to probe the state’s western reaches and the northern portions. Hunters can get an idea about different spots by looking at the unit-by-unit forecasts on the DEC’s Web site. Contact: New York Department of Environmental Conservation (518-402-8924; www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr).
PENNSYLVANIA: “We expect to see a lot more older bucks this year,” says Pennsylvania Game Commission Deer Biologist Bret Wallingford. He attributes this to the second year of antler restrictions. Like most biologists in the region, he describes his state’s deer population as very high. The highest concentrations continue to be found in the northwestern, southwestern and south-central regions. Trophy hunters consistently do best in the Special Regulations zones–like 2B in the southwest and 5C and 5D in the southeast. The county-by-county harvest map, available on the PGC Web site, can help hunters home in on the best places. Hunters should also be aware of new point definitions. Each projection must be at least an inch long to qualify. (The main beam tip counts as a point in any case.) Contact: Pennsylvania Game Commission (717-787-4250; www.pgc.state.pa.us).
RHODE ISLAND: Areas with the highest deer populations are dominated by forested regions in all of the mainland counties. Fish and Wildlife Supervising Wildlife Biologist Lori Gibson suggests that the older and more mature animals tend to be found in the northern tier of the state. All regions suffer from fragmentation, making access considerations critical. Buck-to-doe ratios are lower than desired, but improving. Because of this, authorities are limiting the times for either-sex harvest without changing the total number of days available for the overall deer hunts. Gibson recommends that mainland hunters consider the smaller wildlife management areas like Nicholas Farm or Wickaboxet for hunting with less pressure. Contact: Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (401-789-0281; www.state.ri.us/dem).
VERMONT: State Deer Project Leader John Buck reports the Green Mountain state deer herd in excellent condition. The southern zones have high densities, with some high-quality animals sprinkled in. The northwest farmland reaches, and some of the Lake Champlain islands, also have good numbers. Buck cites the eastern and western boundary areas as worth exploring. Two areas in particular are the northeastern timbered areas and the Green Mountain National Forest; both are relatively underhunted and have good opportunities for trophy whitetails. Contact: Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (802-241-3600; www.anr.state.vt.us).
WEST VIRGINIA: Mountain State deer hunters had their best year ever in 2002-03, harvesting over a quarter of a million animals. Although Allegheny Mountain areas are producing good numbers of deer, those counties with the highest harvest totals are farther north, especially Preston, Randolph, Hampshire, Ritchie and Lewis counties (try Stonewall Jackson Wildlife Management Area). Contact: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (304-558-2771; www.dnr.state.wv.us).
For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional
BEST PUBLIC HUNTS
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire Sometimes a sportsman just wants to really get away from it all and have something like a true wilderness hunt. The White Mountains provide just the thing. Although the deer population isn’t as high as it might be elsewhere, the deer you will encounter are likely to be quality animals. It’s unusual to encounter other hunters in the remote areas, and the deer are consequently less pressured. Contact: New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (603-271-2461; www.wildlife.state.nh.us).
Nantucket Island, Massachusetts Anybody wanting to stock up on venison has an excellent chance of reaching his goal on this famous resort island, with a deer density approaching 50 animals per square mile. The primary hurdle is the logistics of getting to the island, but difficulty of access is one reason the herd numbers are as high as they are. State Deer Project Leader Bill Woytek recommends it especially for muzzleloaders. Contact: Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (617-626-1500; http://www.state.ma.us/dfwele/).