Optimism up north
Elizabethtown, N.Y. — Northern Zone deer hunters, especially those hunting the big woods tracts for which the region is known, are always hoping for good tracking snow.
And when the season ends, they’re hoping the heavy snows, notably in the Adirondacks, never arrive and the deer herd has an easy time of it during what is usually a harsh winter.
Last season will be remembered for its unusually mild conditions, which carried over through the entire winter.
That’s critical in the Northern Zone, where winter mortality is a bigger factor in deer numbers than even hunter harvest.
It’s no surprise, then, that hunters and DEC biologists are optimistic heading into the 2012-13 season.
“With the lack of major snow cover and very mild fall and early spring conditions, we anticipate excellent survival of fawns,” DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist Steve Heerkens said in his pre-season forecast. “That should correlate into a higher number of yearling deer in the woods this fall. Barring any unusually warm fall weather or early winter conditions, the outlook for the 2012 season looks excellent.”
Biologists are expecting the mild winter to translate into more yearling bucks as well as a greater number of buck and doe fawns this season, since winter mortality was virtually nonexistent.
“Last winter was one of the mildest on record in the Northern Zone units, with very little winter deer mortality, so buck takes should increase this year,” DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist Ed Reed said.
Tim Blodgett, owner of Saratoga Tackle and Archery in Saratoga Springs, said hunters are optimistic heading into another deer season.
“The deer had an easy go of it last winter, so there should be a lot of button bucks and yearling bucks,” he said. “It will just be up to the individual hunter to decide whether they want to take a young buck or hold out for something bigger.”
The Northern Zone offers some farmland-type hunting on its fringes, but is noted more for the big woods, including the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Vast tracts of state-owned land house some big-bodied, heavy-racked bucks – but also have the sparsest deer numbers in the state. Buck harvests typically are below one per square mile each year in that area.
“We’re seeing a lot of deer down here in the lowlands,” said Norm St. Pierre, owner of Norm’s Bait and Tackle in Crown Point (Essex County). “A lot of twin fawns. The mild winter helped a lot. It should be a good season. And we’re seeing a lot of bear, too.”
Northern Zone hunters last year killed 26,814 whitetails, including 15,899 bucks. The regular firearms season accounted for 12,208 deer, while 7,621 were shot during the popular muzzleloader seasons (including a weeklong early offering before the firearms kickoff); 1,394 by bowhunters; 3,697 on DMP tags and 1,894 through the Deer Management Assistance Program, commonly known as nuisance permits.
The total harvest last season was up only slightly from the 28,622 tally of 2012 – 12,053 during the regular season; 7,938 by muzzleloaders; 4,587 on DMPs; 2,249 on nuisance permits and 1,795 by bowhunters.
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said the 2012 DMP allocation target is down by about 4.5 percent this season, primarily because no DMPs will be offered in WMU 6A as the state attempts to rebuild the herd.
“Aside from unit 6A, in the other Northern Zone units with DMPs, compared to last year we intend to issue a few more DMPs in units 6G and 6K, about the same number in 6H, and slightly fewer DMPs in 6C,” Hurst said.
The Northern Zone this season will see a pair of regulations changes, one of which will be more noticeable than the other in 2012-13.
Hunters will be able to use DMPs – in units where those permits are available – in all deer seasons in the Northern Zone. DEC officials included the change as part of the department’s five-year deer management plan, noting that it will “simplify regulations and increase hunter opportunity and choice. No management impact is expected since DEC determines the total number of DMPs issued in each area of the state based on current deer population conditions and hunting activity.”
In addition, the Northern Zone season dates have been altered, although because of the way the calendar falls this year it won’t be noticeable to hunters. The regular firearms season in the Northern Zone, which traditionally opened on the third Saturday in October, will now run for 44 days, beginning on the second Saturday after Columbus Day.
“This is a slight change from the original proposal (in the five-year deer management plan) to begin the regular season on the fourth Saturday in October,” DEC officials said in announcing the change earlier this year. “Some hunters were concerned that the original proposal would extend the season too late into December. The adopted season structure results in fewer years when the regular season will extend later than it has in the past.”
Hunters had voiced a concern that allowing the season to run too late in December could make whitetails vulnerable to overharvest in years when heavy snows sent them into their winter yards early and during the open season.