Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Northern opener not ‘the’ biggest day

Ray Brook, N.Y. – Sure, the regulations guide and the calendar
says the traditional Northern Zone firearms deer season opens on
Oct. 24 this year.

But the words “Opening Day” don’t carry quite the same meaning
in the Northern Zone as they do down south, where the firearms
season kickoff draws virtually every deer hunter and, unless poor
weather intervenes, results in the highest single-day harvest of
the season.

In the Northern Zone, the deer season instead builds to a
crescendo, with hunting intensity dictated more by fresh snow and
rutting activity.

“The Northern Zone season opens before the rut, and in some
cases there’s still foliage on the trees,” says DEC_Region 5
wildlife biologist Ed Reed. “It’s usually nothing to get excited
about.”

All that changes, however, when tracking snow arrives and bucks
begin showing signs of movement as the rut nears.

“The second week of November the hunters hit it pretty hard,”
Reed said.

And Northern Zone hunters have that luxury: the firearms season
is a lengthy Oct. 24-Dec. 6, surrounded by an archery season from
Sept. 27-Oct. 23, and muzzleloader offerings of Oct. 17-23 and Dec.
7-13.

When it was all said and done last season, nearly 34,000
(33,938) whitetails had been harvested in the Northern Zone,
including 16,653 bucks during the regular season. Another 8,066
were taken with muzzleloaders and 1,772 by bowhunters.

DEC statistics showed 5,105 antlerless deer were taken using
Deer Management Permits, and 2,342 were accounted for via the
often-criticized Deer Management Assistance Program, which allows
antlerless deer to be shot to alleviate agricultural damage.

A rough winter in some parts of the Adirondacks may impact deer
numbers, but overall, DEC biologists are expecting a harvest
similar to 2008.

“In some fringe areas there may be some small increases in deer
numbers, and some slight declines in the central Tug Hill region,”
Reed said. “The Adirondacks are a little but spotty. We had some
pockets where winter had some effect.”

The Northern Zone is a unique blend of big woods tracts and
Wildlife Management Units where no DMPs are offered because of low
deer densities, and agricultural-type areas where deer hunters
might think they’re hunting the southern portion of the state.

“We have a few thousand square miles of moderately high deer
populations,” DEC_Region 6 wildlife biologist Jim Farquhar said,
pointing to the Lake Plains area of Jefferson County and parts of
St. Lawrence County. But it’s still nothing like Steuben County (in
the Southern Zone).”

Reed is predicting “a pretty good year in general” for deer
hunters.

“There are a lot of deer out there, and a lot of fawns,” he
said. “But last winter was tough in the southwestern portion of the
Adirondacks – southern Hamilton County, northern parts of Fulton
and Saratoga counties, and a little bit of Warren County. They were
hit pretty hard last year and I expect the buck take will be down
in those areas.”

In the big woods portion of the Northern Zone, deer numbers are
traditionally driven by the severity of the winter and, because no
DMPs are available in many units, the harvest by muzzleloader
hunters in some units.

“To a certain degree, it really is out of our hands in the big
woods,”_Farquhar said. “The biggest impact in some areas is if snow
comes early and hard. During good winters the herd increases only
moderately, but a bad winter can knock down the deer population
about two years worth.”

The biggest changes this season in the Northern Zone comes in
the form of some boundary changes in some Wildlife Management
Units.

“In Region 5, WMU 5A got smaller and 5C bigger,”_Reed said. “And
we’ll have a late muzzleloader season in 5A, which we haven’t had
in quite a while.”

Region 6 WMU boundary changes include a shift of a portion of
WMU 6G into 6K, and a stretch of the WMU 6C boundary south into the
Black River Valley in an area formerly part of 6J.

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