Ray Brook, N.Y. — Don’t let that word “northern” fool you when it comes to deer hunting in New York’s Northern Zone.
Sure, the region offers the classic big-woods deer hunting in the remote Adirondack wilderness, where hunters are few and deer are seemingly fewer.
But the Northern Zone also has areas where whitetails are abundant and could easily be confused with the best whitetail hunting in the state’s Southern Zone.
That variety of deer-hunting possibilities attracts plenty of attention each season, even though the Northern Zone deer kill typically accounts for less than 15 percent of the statewide take each year.
That was the case again last season, when the total Northern Zone tally of 32,369 whitetails included 19,538 bucks, according to DEC statistics. The statewide total was 243,567 whitetails taken, 114,716 of which were bucks.
Those numbers compare to the 2012 harvests of 30,843 deer – including 19,437 bucks – in the Northern Zone in a year when the statewide kill was 242,957.
Northern Zone hunters this year should see much of the same, DEC wildlife biologists are predicting.
“It should be pretty similar to last year,” said DEC Region 5 acting wildlife manager Ed Reed of the 2014 kill. “Maybe up a little bit, but we’re not expecting a big drop or gain. Just a fairly average year – which these days is pretty good.”
In Region 6, wildlife biologist Steve Heerkens said the pre-season outlook is solid, despite some winter mortality that was a product more of sheer cold than deep snow conditions.
“I’m sure we lost a lot of small fawns just because of the cold, but I didn’t see any kind of adult losses,” Heerkens said. “And I think antler development in some areas could be on the low side because of the extra energy bucks had to burn last winter. You might see thinner forkhorns and 2-year-olds, but the bigger bucks have more reserves to draw from.”
Reed said winter mortality in Region 5, which includes the rugged Adirondack High Peaks, was “negligible. We had bare ground three times in January in Region 5. It wasn’t until mid-February that we saw quite a bit of snow. Prior to that the deer were really going anywhere they wanted.”
Last year, whitetails across most of the Northern Zone had a decided advantage heading into the dead of winter, thanks to an abundant mast crop – apples, berries, acorns and beechnuts – that left them poised to deal with the long winter.
That, however, led to some frustration for hunters last season.
“Natural foods, particularly apples and beechnuts, were abundant all over the region and likely reduced deer movements, thereby depressing harvest rates,” Heerkens said of last year. “However, abundant foods put deer in good condition going into what turned out to be a fairly rough winter in much of Lewis, northern Oneida and St. Lawrence counties (of Region 6).”
While several wildlife management units in the Northern Zone have no Deer Management (antlerless) Permits available due to low deer numbers, Heerkens said deer populations in WMUs 6G, 6K, 6P, 6R and 6S are larger than desired, and as a result will see a modest boost in DMP availability “to achieve slightly greater antlerless harvests in these areas.”
In the Northern Zone units where DMPs are not available, the archery and muzzleloader seasons account for some antlerless harvests.
This year, that weeklong Northern Zone muzzleloader season overlaps with the state’s first-ever crossbow offering within the regular archery season.
“We don’t expect many hunters to take advantage of it up here (because the muzzleloader season is also taking place during much of the 10-day crossbow season),” Reed said. “Maybe a few hunters will go out with a crossbow.”
Biologists are expecting the mast crop to be something short of last year’s bumper crop, and that could funnel more deer into specific areas where food is available.
“Apples, in some places, are similar to last year, though,” Reed said. “Clinton County especially has lots of apples. I’m not expecting much in the way of beechnuts, and haven’t heard much on acorns.”
Heerkens said some areas of Region 6 have plenty of whitetails.
“We’re getting a lot of corn damage complaints in the agricultural areas,” he said. “Not a record number but they’re coming in. And we’re seeing a lot of deer. There are deer everywhere in Herkimer County. I drove around a few days ago and saw 50 within three miles from my house – and that’s just what we saw.”
Weather conditions during the regular firearms season in the Northern Zone always drives the harvest. Good tracking snow is welcomed by hunters and always increases hunting pressure. Unlike the Southern Zone, where opening day draws the single biggest hunting push in the state each year, the Northern Zone typically starts slow and builds to a crescendo, peaking when snow falls and tracking is an option.
“It all depends, as usual, on the conditions,” Heerkens said.