Results Down for 2003 Deer Hunting Season

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The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that hunters harvested almost 13,000 deer during Connecticut’s 2003 regulated deer hunting seasons. The 2003 harvest increased by six percent over 2002’s harvest of almost 12,000 deer. Over the past 10 years, the number of deer permits issued has fluctuated between 60,000 and 63,000 annually. Over the past five years, the total deer harvest has fluctuated between 11,000 and 13,000 deer.

"Weather conditions and the fall acorn crop probably play the biggest role in influencing annual hunter success rates," said Howard Kilpatrick, Leader of the DEP Wildlife Division’s Deer Project. "During years with poor acorn crops, deer travel more to feed, increasing their vulnerability to hunting. The presence of snow cover also increases deer visibility, making them more vulnerable to hunting."

Snowcover was present during the second half of the shotgun-rifle season and much of the muzzleloader and late archery season. In 2003, the muzzleloader season harvest increased by 41% and the archery season harvest increased by 13%. During the shotgun-rifle season, windy conditions countered any benefits from the snowcover, resulting in a similar harvest between 2002 and 2003.

In deer management zones 11 (Southwest CT) and 12 (shoreline towns) where deer populations are high, efforts to employ aggressive deer management techniques to control deer population growth continue. In December 2002, the archery season was officially extended in zones 11 and 12 to include the entire month of January (2003). However, some hunters probably were not aware of this change, which may have reduced participation in the January 2003 season. Extension of the archery season was better publicized this past year, resulting in more deer being harvested (+133%) in January 2004 compared to January 2003.

As of October 2003, hunters were allowed to use bait for hunting deer in deer management zones 11 and 12. This law was changed to increase harvest rates in areas with high deer densities, especially where access to private land is limited.

In December 2003, the replacement antlerless tag program was extended to include the muzzleloader deer hunting season in zones 11 and 12. In the past, free replacement antlerless tags were available to hunters who harvested an antlerless deer during the shotgun-rifle or archery deer season only. During all deer hunting seasons in 2003, just over 1,000 replacement tags were issued in zones 11 and 12 and one in every three tags issued resulted in the harvest of an additional antlerless deer. This program has been effective at focusing hunter effort on removing female deer in those areas of the state where deer populations are higher than desired. Removing one female deer during the fall hunting season will effectively reduce next year’s deer population by three (1 adult doe and 2 offspring). "Expansion of the replacement tag program and the ability to use bait in zones 11 and 12, combined with the presence of snow cover, boosted harvest rates during the 2003 deer season," added Kilpatrick.

In many other areas, deer populations are relatively stable at reasonable levels. However, because of relatively low deer numbers in deer management zone 4A (northern Tolland County), restrictions were set in place five years ago to limit the harvest of antlerless deer. This restriction is starting to show a rebound effect on deer population growth in this area.