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Deer Hunting Season Forecasts

2020 New York State Hunting Forecast

With deer hunting seasons that span four months, vastly different habitat types, and nearly 4 million acres of public land to be explored, New York State offers unique opportunities for hunters to pursue white-tailed deer.

2020-21 Deer Hunting Season

For the 2020-21 deer hunting season, we expect the statewide buck harvest to be similar or slightly larger than in 2019.With new population objectives throughout the state and growing deer populations in some areas, we have again prescribed an increase of Deer Management Permits (DMPs; antlerless tags), hoping hunters will respond by increasing the antlerless harvest about 10%.

Deer sighting rates recorded by bowhunters (Bowhunter Sighting Log) last fall suggest a growing population, with an average of 7.9 deer seen per 10 hours and 3 antlerless deer seen per antlered deer. Interestingly, bowhunters reported seeing a consistent 4 fawns for every 10 adult does each of the past 3 years, but harvest of fawns declined by about 50% in the Northern Zone and 35% in the Southern Zone in 2019. This shouldn't be a cause for alarm, as fawns generally comprise a relatively small portion of the deer harvest. Also, the 2019-20 winter was mild across most of the state, and deer survival should have been very strong.

The forage base greened up well in spring, and conditions were great during fawning season. However by early July, most of northern and eastern New York had experienced several weeks of abnormally dry conditions. While not problematic yet, if the dry conditions persist and worsen, fawn weights and adult male antler sizes may be a bit lower than average in those areas this fall. Still, hunters should anticipate great deer hunting opportunities throughout New York State.

For greater detail on what is happening with the deer population in your area, check out the Unit-by-Unit Forecasts assembled by our regional big game biologists:

New Deer Population Objectives

In 2018, we began phasing in a survey-based process for gathering public input on desired deer population changes. We mailed the survey to a random selection of citizens in about one third of the state each year from 2018-2020. The survey asked respondents about their deer-related interests and concerns, how they would like to see the deer population in their area change over the next several years, and how important deer management issues are to them. We are now using the survey results, in combination with data on deer impacts on forest regeneration, to guide whether deer populations should increase, decrease, or stay the same in each Wildlife Management Unit Aggregate. Because deer can have profound and long-lasting negative impacts on forest ecosystems and personal property, keeping these impacts at a sustainable level is a top priority of our deer program.

The new target deer population trajectories are illustrated in the map to the right and are listed with each WMU in the regional unit-by-unit forecasts linked above.

More Older Bucks, Again!

It's great to see how hunters voluntarily choosing to Let Young Bucks Go and Watch Them Grow is shifting our buck harvest toward older, larger animals. In fact, for the second year in a row, more than 60% of the adult bucks harvested were 2.5 years or older, setting another record in greatest percentage and total number of older bucks in the harvest. Of course, we still have an antler point restriction in portions of southeastern New York, but in the rest of the state where voluntary choice is the rule, buck harvest has shifted from 40% to 60% older bucks over the past decade, without regulatory restrictions. That's good news for New York hunters and their families, because the average 2-year old buck generally yields 25-30% more meat and carries antlers twice as large as the average yearling. Whether through organized deer hunting cooperatives, informal agreements among neighbors, or individual determination, hunters can continue to push the harvest ratio solidly toward older bucks by choosing to let young bucks go.graphic showing effect of age on buck size

Hunters are Crucial to Protect our Deer from Chronic Wasting Disease

Hunters should take the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) very seriously! CWD is always fatal to deer. If introduced, CWD could spread rapidly and be practically impossible to eliminate once established, threatening the future of New York's deer population, hunting tradition, and many of the other benefits associated with deer. The most effective disease management strategy is to prevent CWD from entering New York. Hunters can help protect New York's deer herd from CWD by following these tips:

  • If you hunt any type of deer, elk, moose or caribou outside of New York, debone your animal before bringing it back, and follow the law about importing carcass parts from outside of New York. See CWD Regulations for Hunters. DEC will confiscate and destroy illegally imported carcasses and parts.
  • Avoid natural deer urine products. Prions are shed in the bodily fluids (saliva, feces, urine) of infected deer before they appear sick. Prions bind to soil and plants where they remain infectious for years. There is no way to ensure that urine products are free of prions. Choose synthetic alternatives.
  • Hunt only wild deer and support fair chase hunting principles.
  • Report any deer that appears sick or acting abnormally.

Help Make Deer Management Successful

First, focus on antlerless harvest where DMPs are available and population reduction is needed. For deer hunting to remain relevant and be valued by the broader public, hunters must demonstrate willingness and ability to reduce deer populations to levels that are socially and ecologically compatible.

Second, report your harvest. It's important for deer management and it's the law. Hunters are the only source of two critical pieces of harvest information - when and where deer are taken. These data are used, together with reporting rates, to estimate the number of deer harvested in each town, county, and Wildlife Management Unit throughout the State. In 2017 and 2018, about 50% of successful deer hunters reported their harvest, which was a nice increase from the 45% level seen in recent years. Still, New York hunters have a long way to go to demonstrate that they take seriously their responsibility to Take It · Tag It · Report It.

Third, make the most of your hunting by helping DEC track deer and other wildlife populations. If you are a bowhunter, we welcome your participation in the Bowhunter Sighting Log. Keep a diary of your bowhunting activity and the number of animals you see for your records and ours.

You can also become an AVID (leaves DEC website) volunteer by collecting information about how deer are impacting the woodlands in which you hunt. These data will help our biologists ensure deer populations are being managed at levels that encourage healthy and sustainable forests.

Be a Mentor

Shared experience with family and friends is one of the most cherished aspects of hunting. We encourage you to share that heritage by mentoring 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. The Youth Firearms Big Game Hunt includes the option for 14-15 year olds to take bear as well as deer with a firearm during Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12, 2020.

Use Non-Lead Ammunition - It's Better for Wildlife and Better for You

When lead and lead-core bullets strike a deer, hundreds of tiny lead particles scatter throughout the tissue-up to 18 inches from the wound. Some of these fragments are too small to be seen, felt, tasted, or removed. These lead particles can ruin the quality and yield of game meat and pose a risk to human consumers and scavenging animals. DEC encourages deer hunters to use alternative non-lead ammunition (see Ammunition: Non-lead or Lead? for more information).

Find a Place to Hunt

Hunters seeking solitude and freedom to cover lots of ground will enjoy the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York and the Catskill Mountains in southeastern New York, which offer thousands of square miles of wilderness hunting. Hunters who want to maximize their success should explore the western Finger Lakes Region or seek access to hunt public or private lands in and surrounding various suburban areas throughout the state. For hunters seeking the greatest prospects for large-antlered bucks, the Lake Ontario Plains of western New York is a good option. Finally, for hunters seeking to extend their time afield, deer hunting runs through the end of December in Westchester County (bowhunting only) and through January in Suffolk County.

Additionally, you may find the following links helpful for your planning:

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