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Deer Hunting Season Forecasts

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.harvested buck with compound bow

2021-22 Deer Hunting Season

For the 2021-22 deer hunting season, we expect another very productive year for deer hunters. Statewide, deer populations benefited from a relatively mild winter and favorable weather conditions during fawning season and early summer. The deer food supply across the state is generally in good condition, though some portions of New York have been dry and gypsy moth caterpillars have taken a toll on forests in portions of the eastern Adirondacks and Finger Lakes, which will impact mast production in those areas.

Statewide, we anticipate the antlered buck harvest this fall will be similar to 2020. Of course, regional variations will occur as deer populations are managed separately within each Wildlife Management Unit (WMU). For buck harvests, we anticipate only minor fluctuations, probably unnoticeable to hunters. The exception may be in the localized areas most heavily impacted by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease last year.

However, doe harvests and availability of Deer Management Permits (DMPs; antlerless tags) may be noticeably different for some hunters, depending on location. We are decreasing the available DMPs across a large area of southcentral and southwestern New York, while in northcentral, northwestern, and much of southeastern New York we are maintaining similar or increasing DMP availability. We set DMP quotas by reviewing past harvest patterns and population trends relative to desired population trajectories (see Understanding DMPs).

Interestingly, across much of the state we saw a unique pattern of increased hunter effort and interest in DMPs in 2020 that influenced our DMP quotas for this year, a sort of COVID effect on hunting. In many WMUs, we had more hunters apply for DMP tags in 2020 than previously, which resulted in more tags being issued than intended. On top of that, data from our Bowhunter Sighting Log indicates that hunters, at least bowhunters, put in more time in 2020. And that effort apparently paid off as hunters filled a greater proportion of DMPs than usual and harvest during bow and muzzleloader season also increased. The result was that, in many WMUs, the 2020 antlerless harvest was greater than expected. This was a welcome event for population management in many areas as it came on the heels of an undesirably low antlerless harvest in 2019. But in some areas, such as southwestern New York, we don't want to maintain such high antlerless harvest and have reduced DMP availability this year.

New Hunting Opportunities

Deer hunters will have several new opportunities this year, with a law change that allows 12- and 13-year old hunters to pursue deer with a firearm in counties that opt-in to the program (see Junior Big Game Hunting map and details) and the new holiday deer hunt, an extended portion of the late bow and muzzleloader season from December 26 to January 1 in the Southern Zone. The primary purpose of these new opportunities is simply that, new opportunities for young hunters to be mentored by experienced adults and for families to be able to hunt together during the holiday season.

DEC also has proposed a strategic 9-day antlerless season in mid-September for a handful of WMUs where increased antlerless harvest is needed to meet population objectives. If, after review of public comment, DEC adopts this proposal, the timing will be very tight for implementation in 2021. Stay tuned.

Deer Population Objectives

Because deer can have profound and long-lasting negative impacts on forests and personal property, keeping these impacts at a sustainable level is a top priority of our deer program. We recently completed a new process for determining desired deer population changes, using data on public preferences and deer impacts to forests. The process is outlined in detail in Appendix 2 of our Management Plan for White-tailed deer in New York State: 2021-2030 (PDF).

Hunters Enjoying More Older Bucks

let young bucks go and watch them growThe voluntary choice of hunters to Let Young Bucks Go and Watch Them Grow is shifting our buck harvest toward older, larger animals.

​Though a mandatory antler point restriction continues in a few WMUs, in the rest of the state where hunters can choose what type of buck they want to harvest, most are choosing older bucks. Based on voluntary choice of hunters, buck harvest has shifted from more than 60% yearlings to 60% 2.5-year old and older bucks over the past decade. Even more pronounced, in several WMUs in southeastern New York without mandatory restrictions, 70-75% of the bucks taken by hunters are now more than or equal to 2.5 years old.

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 (abnormal proteins) 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

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.

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.

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?).

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.