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New Hampshire Deer Hunt Forecast

By Dan Bergeron, NH Fish and Game Deer Project Leader



The 2018 New Hampshire deer season is likely to be another great season for NH deer hunters. Deer populations have been experiencing recent highs in many areas of the state and have recovered in other parts of the state since declines following severe winters beginning in 2007-08.  The statewide deer harvest is likely to be on par with recent highs given the winter of 2017-18 was average to below average severity throughout most of the state and several of the preceding winters were some of the mildest we have ever recorded.  Further, 2017 was yet again another great acorn year. The effect of the abundant acorn crop on deer was evident at biological check stations as deer were clearly in good physical condition.  Average field-dressed body weights and antler measurements both indicated deer went into winter in very good health and deer throughout most of the state were utilizing acorns throughout the winter and even into the spring.


Total deer kill numbers have been up the past several years from a recent low of 9,759 in 2010. The 2017 harvest of 12,309 was up 15% from the 2016 total. The adult buck kill (which is used as an index to the overall population) was the highest on record, while the total harvest was the 5th highest on record going back to 1922.  In fact, 21 of the top 25 total harvest years (going back 95 years to 1922) have taken place during the last 23 years, and all of the top 10 years for adult buck harvests have taken place since 2000.


Mild Winters: Mild winter weather continues to help deer in many portions of the state increase toward population objectives set in the state’s Game Management Plan.  The Department started recording a winter severity index in 1964-65.  The index assesses duration of snow depths in excess of 18 inches and minimum temperatures below 0ºF from December through April.  The four mildest winters the index has recorded have taken place in the last 10 years and the mildest winter on record occurred during the winter of 2015-16.  This past winter’s severity (2017-18) was again below the 20 year average.  Although we did get snow and extreme cold temperatures early on in the winter,  large thaws during February and March quickly reduced snow depths, even creating snowless conditions in more southern portions of the state. A couple of late snow storms and cold weather did cause a delayed spring green up, however, snow conditions weren’t overly prohibitive for extended periods through much of the winter and deer were observed ranging widely for food during several thawing periods throughout the winter.  Due to these factors very little mortality was noted by biologists during our annual deer wintering area surveys.  Further, deer were able to access acorns (in many areas) throughout winter and into the spring.  Since deer went into winter in good health, and winter was average to below average throughout most of the state, deer likely came out of winter in good shape as well.  As a result, productivity was likely high again this spring.


Population goals:Several Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) have reached or exceeded their goal and either-sex days were increased in these units for the 2018 and 2019 seasons to stabilize or reduce populations to goal.  These increases will also provide additional hunting opportunity for the state’s many deer hunters. However, in several of the state’s WMUs, the deer population is still below goal and limited either-sex hunting will continue in an effort to help build the deer population. Be sure to check the New Hampshire Hunting & Trapping Digest for season details, including WMU-specific regulations when it becomes available.


Youth weekend: A healthy deer population this fall will provide a great opportunity to take a young person deer hunting on New Hampshire’s youth weekend, October 27-28, 2018. The total kill for the 2017 youth weekend was up slightly from the previous year, and high deer numbers in many parts of the state should continue to provide an exciting opportunity for kids under 16 to begin, or learn more about, deer hunting under the guidance of a licensed hunter age 18 or older.


Apprentice hunting license: Apprentice hunting licenses will again be available during the 2018 season. These licenses provide persons 16 and over, who have not yet completed a hunter education course, the opportunity to deer hunt under the guidance of a licensed hunter age 18 or older. This program gives people who may not have grown up with family or friends that hunted, or simply think they would enjoy the experience of being outdoors and learning the skills of deer hunting, the chance to give it a try. In 2017 many potential new hunters, both men and women, took advantage of the apprentice license program hunting everything from deer to migratory waterfowl. Learn more about being an apprentice or accompanying an apprentice hunter.


Special Unit-L & M antlerless only permits: Special Unit L and M permits are again available for the 2018 season to help control deer numbers in the southeast portion of the state, where the potential for deer-human conflicts is the highest. For the 2018 season, the number of Unit L permits was increased from 750 to 2,000. Unit L permits come with 1 deer tag at a cost of $26.00 (plus fees). New this year, Unit L permits will be distributed through an ONLINE ONLY LOTTERY. To learn more, visit the Unit L webpage. Again this year up to 4,000 Unit M permits will be sold. All Unit M permits come with 2 deer tags at a cost of $36.00 (plus fees). Unit M permits are available online or at Fish and Game headquarters in Concord.  WMU M permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.


Wildlife Harvest Summary: Hunters can begin their scouting for this fall by reviewing the NH Wildlife Harvest Summary. This publication provides information and additional detail on last year’s deer and other big game seasons, and is available for review on the NH Fish and Game website. Hard copies are available at Fish and Game regional offices and at headquarters in Concord.


Best of luck in 2018: The state’s deer herd should continue to hold strong and this fall season should be another good season for hunting deer in NH. Both seasoned and beginner hunters alike should have an opportunity to see, and hopefully harvest a deer. So get out there this fall, start scouting, introduce a friend or a youth to the sport, and Hunt New Hampshire!