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Deer Hunting Season Forecasts

NYS Deer Forecast - 2014

image showing desired deer population change (increase, decrease, stabilize) in each Wildlife Management Unit

Once again, New York State hunters will have ample opportunity to take deer this fall. With crossbows allowed again, albeit still in restricted fashion, and reduced setback distance for archers (now 150' from structures for bows and 250' for crossbows), deer hunters will be able to legally access new ground and use new tools. Too, the popular Youth Deer Hunt continues to provide opportunity for young hunters to be mentored in the challenge, experience and tradition of deer hunting.

Currently, deer populations are above desired levels in large portions of central and western New York, and we are looking for hunters in many areas to refocus their efforts toward antlerless deer. When deer numbers are high, they cause problems for crop producers, motorists, and communities, and can have dramatically negative, long lasting impacts on forests. Therefore, we need more hunters to take more antlerless deer in the Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) shown in red on the accompanying map. Most hunters desire to only take one or two deer per year, but we encourage hunters to up their game and take advantage of the Venison Donation Coalition or share extra venison with neighbors, friends and family.

Statewide, we hope to increase Deer Management Permit (DMP; antlerless tag) issuance by about 17% over last year's total. We attempted a similar increase for the 2013-14 season, but hunters only picked up about 7% more DMPs than the prior year despite extremely liberal DMP availability. This resulted in an underwhelming antlerless harvest in 2013; certainly too few female deer were taken to reduce populations as needed across the Lake Plains, Finger Lakes Region, Mohawk Valley, southeastern New York and Long Island. In all likelihood, our supply of DMPs will again exceed demand in a dozen or so units. As I mentioned in the 2013 Deer Hunting Season Forecast, if antlerless harvests continue to be insufficient, we must anticipate alternative strategies for increasing antlerless harvest in specific WMUs. We will be watching the 2014 harvest closely and are preparing to make targeted changes where needed in 2015, as outlined in DEC's Management Plan for White-tailed Deer in New York State, 2012-2016.

Specifically, the plan outlines a 3-phase process to increase antlerless harvests:

Strategy 2.2.6: Where deer populations are above desired levels and DMP quotas may exceed applicant base, initiate a progressive and adaptive approach to increase antlerless harvest by: (Phase 1) expanding the use of Bonus DMPs; (Phase 2) making a portion of the early bowhunting season and late muzzleloading season valid only for antlerless deer; and (Phase 3) implementing a special antlerless-only season for muzzleloader hunters in these areas.

Last year, we began testing the potential to expand the Bonus DMP program (Phase 1 of Strategy 2.2.6) by exploring the impact of antlerless-only Bonus DMPs in WMUs 1C, 3S, 4J, and 8C rather than either-sex tags as they had been previously. This important step reduces the workload of administering the program, a critical factor for potentially expanding the program. In the event that expanded use of Bonus DMPs still proves too logistically costly to administer or unlikely to be effective, we must anticipate moving on to Phase 2 of Strategy 2.2.6 where necessary. Preliminary evaluation of recent Bonus DMP trends and results from our 2013 trial cast doubt on whether expanding the Bonus DMP program (Phase 1) would yield meaningful increases in antlerless harvest in other units.

Not all portions of New York are in need of increased antlerless harvests, though. Deer populations vary widely, and we are managing for stable deer populations in about 35% of the state and increasing populations in another 30% of the state. Deer populations in the Southern Tier of western New York (Regions 8 and 9) have been slow to respond to reduced antlerless harvests, and we are again prescribing very low antlerless harvests in the region to improve female deer survival and stimulate population growth.

Otherwise, the 2013 deer harvest revealed some interesting trends across the state. As expected, older bucks (2.5 years or older) comprised a larger portion (48%) of the adult buck harvest. We anticipated this trend due to great fawn survival during the mild winter of 2011-12, a modest yearling buck harvest in 2012, and more hunters voluntarily choosing not to take young, small-antlered bucks. However, we also expected that the overall buck take would increase modestly in 2013. Yet in many units across the state, buck take dropped slightly from prior levels, often counter to deer sighting trends recorded by bowhunters (Bowhunter Sighting Log) and inconsistent with prior winter severity levels and antlerless harvest rates. Still, as you may recall, 2013 was notable for the abundance of natural foods for deer and unusually warm conditions during the opening weekend of the Southern Zone regular firearms season. It is likely that these factors reduced deer movements and dampened hunter success. Indeed, harvest reports ran about 15% below the 2012 level going into Thanksgiving and took the remainder of the season to catch up. Thus, we expect that the minor decline in buck take seen in 2013 in many WMUs was a temporary event, not indicative of widespread population decline.

While the 2013/14 winter was a cold one and seemed to persist into spring, relatively few parts of the state had deep snow for long periods of time. Despite some early, short-lived snowfalls around the state, outside of the Tug Hill region, persistent deep snow didn't arrive to much of the Adirondack and Catskill regions and pockets of central and western New York until mid February. Deer went into winter in good condition due to abundant fall foods. Still, fawns in particular, were likely stressed in some locations. Overall, though, we expect that deer generally fared well throughout most of the state this past winter.

So all told, the 2014 deer hunting season should be a good one for New York hunters. Now, if we can kill a few more antlerless deer, we'll be doing all New Yorkers and our forests a favor.

As you prepare for the 2014-15 hunting seasons...

  • Be aware of several key items:
    1. Youth Firearms Deer Hunt will occur over Columbus Day weekend, October 11-13, 2014.
    2. New legislation allows crossbows to be used to hunt deer during the regular firearms season, late bow/muzzleloader season and a portion of the early bowhunting seasons. See Crossbow Hunting for license and training requirements, general rules, and season opportunities.
    3. The hunting license structure has changed and fees have been reduced. Combination licenses such as the Sportsman or Super Sportsman license are no longer available and the components (including fishing) must be purchased individually.
    4. Setback distances have been reduced from 500 feet to 150 feet for vertical bows and 250 feet for crossbows.
    5. New legislation allows use of rifles for big game hunting in Albany and Livingston Counties, until October 1, 2016. See Rifle, Shotgun, and Bow Areas for other areas where rifles can be used to hunt big game.
    6. The Deer Management Focus Area will continue in central Tompkins County to assist communities in the Ithaca area with the burden of overabundant deer populations.
    7. Mandatory antler restrictions (3 points on one side minimum) remain in effect in WMUs 3A, 3C, 3H, 3J, 3K, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S, and 4W during all seasons for all hunters 17 years and older.
  • Consider being a mentor for a young hunter. Shared experience with family and friends is one of the most cherished aspects of hunting. We encourage you to share that heritage with a young person in your life. With a mentor, junior hunters (ages 12-15) can hunt for big game with a bow and 14-15 year olds can hunt big game with a firearm. Also, unlicensed persons of any age can accompany you while you hunt, as long as they don't participate in the hunt.
  • Consider voluntary antler restrictions. Many New York hunters are voluntarily choosing not to take young, small-antlered bucks, thereby allowing most of these bucks to live another year to gain some body weight and grow slightly larger antlers. Through the choices hunters make, we've seen a shift in our annual buck harvest to include an increasing number and percentage of older bucks. For hunters interested in seeing and taking older, larger bucks, we encourage you to voluntarily refrain from taking young, small-antlered bucks.
  • Participate in the Bowhunter Sighting Log by keeping a diary of your bowhunting activity and number of animals you see. These data help DEC track deer and other wildlife populations. We could use more bowhunter participation in many northern, eastern, and southeastern counties including Westchester and Suffolk counties.
  • Remember, Hunger Has A Cure ... The Venison Donation Program is a great way to help those less fortunate while also assisting with deer management in New York. With 120 cooperating venison processors in 50 counties, there are many outlets for you to donate a harvested deer. You can also donate a dollar or more anywhere licenses are sold - just tell the clerk you want to support Venison Donation.

Finally, to help you choose your hunting locations, our regional big game biologists have prepared a summary for their respective WMUs. Select the PDF report for your desired portion of the state, and you will be able to view a unit-by-unit forecast for the upcoming season. A wealth of additional information is available for deer hunters on our deer hunting and deer management webpages.

Good luck hunting this fall and enjoy your time afield in the Empire State.

Jeremy Hurst
Big Game Biologist

Unit-by-Unit Forecasts

To help you choose your hunting locations, our Regional Big Game Biologists have prepared a summary for their respective WMUs. Select the PDF report for your desired portion of the state, and you will be able to view a unit-by-unit forecast for the upcoming season. You may also be interested in deer hunting seasons, deer hunting regulations, rifle and shotgun areas for the regular season, past deer harvest reports, and DEC's Management Plan for White-tailed Deer in New York State, 2012-2016.

image of NYS regions

Long Island, Hudson Valley and Southern Catskills - DEC Regions 1 and 3 (PDF, 438 kB)
Capital Region and Northern Catskills - DEC Region 4 (PDF, 570 kB)
Eastern Adirondacks - DEC Region 5 (PDF, 340 kB)
Western Adirondacks - DEC Region 6 (PDF, 349 kB)
Central New York - DEC Region 7 (PDF, 346 kB)
Western Finger Lakes - DEC Region 8 (PDF, 519 kB)
Western New York - DEC Region 9 (PDF, 563 kB)