New England's Trophy Buck Outlook
Where To Find Big Bucks In New England!
New England's deer hunters took several new state record archery and muzzleloader bucks during the 2003 season, in addition to more than 50 bucks that scored 150” or better! And as the results roll in for 2004, it looks like several more state records will fall! Can things get any better in 2005? The Northeast Big Buck Club and other experts from the region think it can - and will!
New England's trophy deer hunters have increasingly flocked to bowhunting and blackpowder hunting in response to state biologist efforts to increase season lengths and bag limits. These “extended seasons” allow our regions’ hunters to fill the freezer early, and hunt for a big buck for the rest of the year. Not only does this provide more opportunity for hunters across the region to cross paths with trophy bucks, but it also creates a situation in which hunters don’t feel obligated to shoot “the first rack buck they see” as was often the case in the past. And ever-improving archery and blackpowder technology improves the chance for success. This combination of factors bodes well for trophy hunters in the coming season.
According to the Northeast Big Buck Club - the regional whitetail scoring and record keeping organization – great bucks were taken in every part of New England, from Aroostook county in northern Maine all the way down to southern Rhode Island. Several new state records were set during the past two seasons, and several bucks scoring over 200” gross Boone & Crockett were recorded. You will notice in the following state-by-state roundup that many of the biggest bucks harvested by archery and muzzleloader hunters. Let’s take a look at the potential in all six states in New England by analyzing their recent trophy harvests and pinpointing those areas and methods in each state that are most likely to produce “your buck of a lifetime!”
For many years the Pine State was THE destination for any serious trophy buck hunters in New England. And although great bucks are now taken throughout all of New England, Maine hunters continue to harvest many of the biggest racked, biggest bodied deer in the region. In 2002 Maine had a phenomenal season with a statewide buck kill of 20,694 - the second highest ever. But 2003 brought disappointing harvest numbers, down 21% from the 2002 total. And the 2004 numbers, although not yet published, look to be below the 2003 totals. However, don’t let the numbers fool you. In 2003 great bucks were taken throughout the state with new records set for archery typical, muzzleloader typical and muzzleloader non-typical bucks. And in 2004 some outstanding trophies were taken as well.
Brian Collin - Maine – Archery – 2003 – 164" gross B&C
Al Wentworth, Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club president, tells us that great bucks come from all three regions in Maine (Northern, Central, Southern. Wentworth says “If a hunter spends significant amount of time in the woods he can take a trophy buck anywhere in the state.” He all said that when selecting a place to hunt in Maine, the question is not “where to find a trophy buck” but rather “what type of hunt do you want.” The Northern section of the state offers vast, unpopulated territories with limited numbers of deer, but if you cross paths with a buck in just could by one of those massive-racked 200 pound bruisers. The Southern section of the state is more densely populated with both deer and humans. While it does produce many trophy bucks, it offers the best chance to “fill your tag” assuming you can deal with the high number of hunters. The Central region, which includes everything from the Penobscot River to the Kennebec River, and from the lower sections of Somerset and Piscataquis counties to the northern sections of Penobscot county, offers a the best of both worlds with reasonably good deer densities and plenty of open land to hunt.
Given that information, it would appear that trophy hunters might want to hunt just about anywhere in the state! But consider how you like to hunt before deciding where to hunt. The northern sections of Maine along with the north-central regions, tend to produce big bucks for those hunters willing to grab their gun or muzzleloader along with a topo map and compass, and log some miles. Great bucks are taken each year by rifle and muzzleloader hunters, particularly during years in which tracking snow is prevalent. Bowhunters on the other hand, and firearm hunters who prefer hunting from treestands in smaller pockets of woods, would do well to consider hunting southern Maine, or the southern portions of the Central region.
During the last several years, the top five buck-producing wildlife management districts (WMDs) tend to be districts 24, 23, 22, 21 and 17. All are in central and southern Maine. However, to illustrate the trend of great bucks coming from all parts of the state, here is a look at the best from 2003. According to the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club the biggest buck of the year was a giant non-typical found dead after being hit by a truck. Hunter Bruce Damon found a giant 21-Point dead in Penobscot county in late November that scored a whopping 238 6/8” gross and 235 net Boone & Crockett. In the early October archery season Brian Collin arrowed a new #1 archery typical in Cumberland county that scored 164” gross and 159 6/8” net Pope & Young. The largest buck killed by a hunter was another great non-typical, but this one was taken by a muzzleloader hunter in Knox county, and is the new #1 in that category. James Kenney shot the 206 1/8” 18-Pointer that dressed 190 lbs. in early December. The biggest typical buck of the year is also a new muzzleloader record, but this one is a typical that scores 190 5/8” gross B&C, 188 3/8” net. The buck was taken by Luther Tripp Jr. in Penobscot county in December.
For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 284 State St., Augusta, ME 04333; call (207) 287-5248, or visit the MDIFW's Internet Web site at www.state.me.us/ifw/homepage.htm. Or contact Al Wentworth of MASTC at (207) 564-7614.
Although the overall deer harvest was down significantly in 2003, New Hampshire hunters took many outstanding trophy bucks. The total kill was down 14% percent from the previous year, and the 2003 statewide adult male kill was down as well. The 2004 totals also look to be depressed.
Roscoe Blaisdell, President of the New Hampshire Antler & Skull Trophy Club, had this to say: “Despite a harsh winter of 2002/2003 the hunting season of 2003 again produced about the same number of trophy deer over 200 lbs as in past years. There were four deer that dressed over 244 lbs. As usual most of the trophy deer came out of our most northern county, Coos County (6 of the top 10). It takes a big deer to survive the hard winters up there. For large racks, in the past the Connecticut River valley from Canada to the Massachusetts border had produced most of our B&C qualifiers. This trend has been changing over the last few years with almost all of B&C racks coming from Rockingham and Hillsborough Counties.”
Will Post – New Hampshire – Rifle – 2003 – 172 3/8” gross B&C
Northern New Hampshire rifle hunters tend to hunt like their neighbors in Maine, and generally require tracking snow for success. New Hampshire’s archers and muzzleloader hunters have seen outstanding success in recent years as well. In fact, during the 2003 season two outstanding Boone & Crockett typical bucks were shot by muzzleloaders hunters - a 186 7/8” 10-Point from Hillsborough county and a 178 5/8” 10-Point from Rockingham county. This state also had a new state record typical archery buck – a 163 6/8” 9-Point – arrowed Carroll county. In 2004, a new state record archery buck was killed in Rockingham county, with a typical gross B&C score of 183” and a net score of 175 4/8”.
Hunters planning on visiting New Hampshire are encouraged to contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 2 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301; call (603) 271-3421, or visit the NHFG Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us to receive a free packet on visiting and hunting in the Granite State.
Information on trophy deer in New Hampshire is available from the New Hampshire Antler and Skull Trophy Club (NHASTC), 22 Scribner Rd., Raymond, NH 03077.
Let’s face it, while this state posts very good numbers in terms of total bucks harvested each year, it has struggled in recent years to produce trophy bucks of the quality and quantity of neighboring states. Its’ makeup is very similar to New Hampshire, with “big woods” hunting opportunities in the north, farm county and a bit of suburban hunting in the south. But Vermont has failed to produce the “top end” bucks that would rival those produced in neighboring Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Most regional experts believe that, until Vermont’s hunters show a willingness to harvest more does, and fewer yearling bucks, this trend is not likely to change. Despite this fairly negative assessment, you should not assume that big bucks have not been (or will not be) taken.
According to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, the total deer harvest in 2003 was 14,528, down 13% from 2002. Bucks made up 63% of the harvest, for a total of 9,194 bucks with antlers of 3” or more. That number is down from 10,791 bucks in 2002, or 67% of that years’ harvest. The 2003 buck harvest fell 21% short of the departments’ goal. And the 2004 numbers look to be down yet again! Winter severity for three previous years and a poor nut crop were contributing factors to the declining buck harvest. What may be most disturbing however is that a very high percentage of the buck harvest was yearling bucks (1 ½ years old) at 66%. This number is generally between 50-60%. Fortunately the Department is exploring a CDM program (Comprehensive Deer Management) that would seek to decrease the number of immature bucks harvested each year.
According to the state, the statewide average of bucks harvested per square mile was .88 (just under 1 buck per square mile). Grande Isle county was by far the best, with 3.38 bucks taken per square mile, followed by Franklin county (1.46) and Orange county (1.17). Other counties to finish above the statewide average were Rutland, Caledonia, Washington and Bennington.
According to the NBBC, three of the five biggest racked bucks taken during the period of 2001-2003 have fallen in Bennington county to archers and muzzleloader hunters, while rifle hunters took the top two bucks in Caledonia and Windham counties. Most experts agree that on average the best place to hook up with a monster buck in this state is in the Green Mountains in the center of the state, or anywhere in the northern 1/3 near the Canadian border.
For more information, contact the NBBC at (508) 752-8762 or the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South Main St., Waterbury, VT 05671-0501.
The Bay State has recently gained a reputation as one of the region's top whitetail trophy-producing states. In 2002 it blew away the competition, largely on the strength of two world-class bucks, both scoring over 200”. In total this state produced more than 25 bucks that scored over 150” that year as well. Although there were no 200” bucks taken in 2003, Massachusetts continued to crank out a host of 150” to 180” bucks, and they fell all across the state to archery, shotgun and muzzleloader hunters. In fact, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club, 25 bucks were harvested that scored between 150” and 179”, including new state record archery non-typical (176 7/8”) and muzzleloader typical (176 4/8”) bucks. In 2004, a 190-class shotgun buck was taken, and the NBBC has already scored 7 archery bucks that gross more than 160” B&C!
Great bucks can literally be found anywhere in the state. There has been a noticeable shift in hunting pressure (and deer kills) from west to east, as more eastern hunters who used to travel west to find big bucks are finding better luck in their back yards! But defining any trend is a challenge at this point. For instance, Plymouth county (east) produced the biggest buck of 2003 in this state (a 178 7/8” non-typical gun kill), while Worcester county (central) produced the new state record archery non-typical buck mentioned above, and Hampshire county (west) produced the new state record muzzleloader typical also mentioned above. In 2004, Norfolk, Middlesex and Hampden counties produced the highest gross-scoring bucks. So that tells us that good bucks are produced everywhere, in every hunting season segment! That’s a trend we like to see…
In the center of the state, Worcester county (deer management zones 8, 9 and 10) perennially produces more trophy bucks each year than any other county in southern New England. Zones 8 and 9 are always hotspots, and hunters who gain access in northern Zone 10 (Essex County) may also expect a shot at a trophy. Meanwhile, in southeastern Zone 11 (Plymouth and Bristol counties), bowhunters may have better luck by getting access to private land and connecting on mature buck in a small pocket of woods.
To the west, towns in and around the Connecticut River Valley are showing signs of returning to their productive days again, and will probably get more attention since the new 200-class state-record typical was taken in Franklin County. And experienced trackers continue to find great bucks roaming the mountains of Berkshire county.
For more information about big bucks in the Bay State, contact the Northeast Big Buck Club, 390 Marshall Street, Paxton, MA 016123; call (508) 752-8762, or visit the Web site at www.bigbuckclub.com.
For several years now the Rhode Island Fish and Wildlife Division has been encouraging doe harvests as a means of keeping the herd growth in check, and biologists set seasons and bag limits designed to do just that. That of course has led to a very healthy population of mature bucks, both in terms of body weight and antler size. Hunters still take more bucks than does (63% of the 2003 harvest), but they are certainly doing a good job finding the big ones! During the last two seasons (2003 and 2004), as the NBBC recorded 50 new recorded book entries from this state. There were many deer harvested in excess of 200 lbs. field dressed, and several deer taken that score higher than 150” gross B&C. In fact, 2004 produced a 168” monster buck during archery season, and a 180” buck that was found dead during hunting season!
James Manni – Rhode Island – Muzzleloader - 2002 – 172 1/8” gross B&C
Washington county produced the three of the top four bucks of 2003, including a 164 3/8” 10-Point that is a new state record for gun typicals. Providence county produced the second largest buck of that year (156 7/8” 14-Point non-typical) and six of the state’s top ten bucks last year. Historically, the NBBC records show that these two counties finish at the top in terms of trophy buck potential, with Kent county a distant third.
It should be noted that muzzleloader hunters have a unique opportunity to hunt during the rut (the season runs through most of November) in this state, and therefore Rhode Island produces more muzzleloader record book entries than any other state in New England! In each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, more than a dozen new muzzleloader entries came from this state.
For more information, contact the Rhode Island Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 4808 Tower Hill Rd., Wakefield, RI 02879; or call (401) 789-0281, or check out www.huntri.com.
Some hunters are still surprised to learn that the Constitution State offers great trophy opportunities for New England’s deer hunters. Extended early and late archery seasons sandwiched around a peak-rut gun season and an early December muzzleloader season make for some great hunting under a variety of conditions. Add the state’s liberal bag limits to the mix and you have the makings from some great trophy hunting, especially for those hunters who can attain permission to hunt private land.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons were defined by a large number of absolutely outstanding archery bucks for this state. In total, the state’s archers took 3,258 deer this past season, fully 26% of the entire harvest. The Northeast Big Buck Club reports that more than 90 bucks from 2003 have been scored and entered to the NBBC record books, with 45% of those taken by archery hunters. For all harvest categories (including bow, gun and muzzleloader) this state’s hunters took 15 bucks with gross B&C scores of 150” or better! And as the 2004 results roll in, we are seeing the same pattern unfold. So while the archers were grabbing many of the headlines, excellent deer were being taken by other methods as well.
State biologist Howard Kilpatrick generally recommends the northeastern and northwestern regions as trophy hotspots. He attributes this to quality habitat and relatively less hunting pressure. This region has some of the state's largest public lands. But the NBBC’s records indicate that big bucks literally come from every count. In 2002, the best buck (a 189 6/8” non-typical 15-point) came from Windham county on the Rhode Island border. In 2003, the best buck (a 177 6/8” archery buck) came from the opposite end of the state in Litchfield county. And giant bucks came from everywhere in between. In fact, New London county has emerged in recent years as one of the hottest trophy buck producers.
For more information, visit the Northeast Big Buck Club website at www.bigbuckclub.com, or the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, State Office Building, Hartford, CT 06115; call (203) 424-3011.