Archers lead deer harvest
Statistics released yesterday by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife confirm what white-tailed deer hunters already suspect — the prey had the upper hand in 2006, a warm, snow-less season with abundant food available everywhere in the woods.
There were 10,569 deer taken during the 2006 season, down about 12 percent from the 12,060 killed in 2005. It was the lowest number of deer taken since the all-time record 2002 season when hunters killed 12,417 deer.
Although hunting conditions were about equal during all three seasons — archery, shotgun and muzzleloader — the archers managed to hit a record, taking 3,385 deer, up from last year’s kill of 3,162. The second consecutive annual record caps a steady increase in the numbers of deer killed by archers over the past decade.
“Archery is an important management tool in suburban areas where deer densities are high and firearms discharge and other local bylaws are in place,” said Bill Woytek, MassWildlife’s deer project leader. Deer kills by archers increased by 7 percent in all but two of the agency’s 15 wildlife management zones, Woytek noted.
The agency issued fewer antlerless deer permits in 10 of the 15 hunting zones in 2006 because deer densities in those zones had met the agency’s goals, according to Woytek.
There were 5,603 deer taken during shotgun season, down about 13 percent from the 6,449 killed in 2005. Muzzleloaders downed about two-thirds of the numbers taken in 2005 — 1,482 (compared to 2,325) — halting what had been a decade-long increase in deer killed during the season’s final segment. Additionally, 117 deer — the same number as last year — were taken during the Quabbin Reservoir hunt, and eight deer were taken during the special season for paraplegic sportsmen.
The most deer — 2,154 — were taken in zone 11, an area in the southeastern part of the state between routes 128 and 1A and the Cape Cod Canal. Hunters in zone 10, which includes the northeastern part of the state within I-495, scored the second highest number with 1,866; and those in zone 9, an area bounded by I-495 on the east and routes 146 and 31 on the west, that stretches from the Blackstone Valley north to Pepperell, killed 1,079, the third highest number.
Theories abound as to why the numbers are trending down. Some hunters have suggested that the state’s management practices have trimmed the deer herd too low; a few have suggested that deer-vehicle accidents are now figuring into the management plan.
Yet, hunters that carry bows seem to find their targets.
“The state’s deer herd is right where we said it would be,” said MassWildlife director Wayne MacCallum, when asked about hunters’ complaints over the weekend during a visit to the T&G booth at the Eastern Fishing & Outdoor Exposition.
“We are accomplishing our goal. We are able to manage the deer population through hunting.”
MacCallum laughed at the suggestion that biologists were factoring deer-vehicle crashes into the management plan.
“Massachusetts has a quality deer herd; anytime you can kill 10,000 deer in a state like Massachusetts is a good year,” MacCallum said.
MacCallum suggested that a decreasing interest in hunting and fewer hunters in the field are the leading factors in lower deer kills, along with unfavorable weather during the hunting season. “Taking part in outdoor activities is not a priority with people today,” he offered.
Bolstering MacCallum’s take on the situation is a serious decline in the purchase of licenses. Massachusetts led the country in the percentage decline below the average sales of hunting licenses, tags and stamps from 2004 to 2005, according to recent figures released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The state’s license sales dropped from 69,500 in 2004 to 59,016 in 2005, off more than 15 percent from the national trend that showed that sales rose 2.8 percent, while the number of customers slipped 1.4 percent from 14.7 million to 14.5 million.
The federal agency used numbers provided to it by individual states. An analysis of the license sale report was released earlier this month by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The analysis showed that 25 states — mostly in the South and West — beat the national sales average. Massachusetts was among the majority of northeastern states, including New York, that fell below the average.
Bear season totals
A total of 148 black bears were taken during both the September and November bear seasons. Hunters in Berkshire County took the most with 76 bears and those in Worcester County the least, with five. The largest bear weighed in at 382 pounds, and it was taken in Holyoke by an archer.
Fall turkey season
With hunters taking just 107 turkeys, the state recorded its lowest fall harvest ever during the six-day 2006 season. The highest number of birds was killed in Worcester County.
“The harvest is not particularly surprising,” said Jim Cardoza, turkey project leader. “Due to the prolonged and repeated rainfall in the spring, hatch and pult survival was very low.”
Auburn ice derby
The Century Sportsman’s Club will open to the public this weekend a freshly stocked pond on the club grounds on Rochdale Street for an ice-fishing derby.
The derby will be held Saturday and Sunday, with registration beginning at 6 a.m. each day. It will cost $10 each day to fish; children under age 12 can fish free with a registered adult. Food will be available. For more information, call (508) 832-2211.
Learn to tie flies
Lower Forty Outfitters in Worcester will sponsor a novice fly-tying course with Bob Thunberg from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 24.
Beginners will be taught the basics of fly construction and design, as well as how to tie the handful of flies that every flyfisher carries. All hooks and materials will be provided.
The course fee is $40, the class is limited to six, and preregistration is required. Call Jim Bender at (508) 752-4004.