Deer hunters had an average season this winter by recent standards, but a very good season by long-term standards, which is more an indication of the state’s healthy deer herd than changes in hunting.
Hunters had an extremely successful bear season and a typical deer season, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.
The unofficial tally for New Hampshire’s 2016 hunting season was 10,702 deer killed. That’s only the seventh best tally in the past decade, but Dan Bergeron, Fish and Game Department deer biologist, said it “ranks among the top 25 total harvests going back 95 years, to 1922.
“In fact, 21 of the top 25 years have taken place from 1995 to 2016, during the last 22 years, and 9 of the top 10 years for adult buck harvests have taken place since 2000,” Bergeron stated in a press release.
This recent success is not due to more hunters in New Hampshire woods. Quite the opposite.
The number of hunters has been slowly declining in the state, as it has throughout the country for decades, although the figure seems to have leveled off in the past half-dozen years. New Hampshire sold about 59,000 hunting licenses in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, but that’s only about 60 percent as many licenses as were sold three decades ago.
So the hunting success appears to be a reflection of changes in the deer herd and perhaps the season, including annual tweaks in how licenses are awarded in different parts of the state.
Hunters expected difficulty this year because the warm fall kept leaves on the trees late, making it easier for deer to hide, and the abundant drop of acorns gave deer plenty to eat without venturing out into the open.
Bergeron said the physical condition of deer was good again this year, and that many very large bucks were harvested, including a 266-pound buck killed in Success, one of the 10 biggest bucks ever harvested by hunters.
The biggest difference between the 2015 and 2016 season came in Hillsborough County, which includes Manchester and Nashua but also rural areas to the west that have traditionally been prime deer-hunting territory. The take in Hillsborough County increased by more than 35 percent over last year, to 1,909 – about one-sixth of the total harvest in New Hampshire.
A total of 996 deer were registered at check stations in Merrimack County, about 200 fewer than a year ago.
In 2016, hunters in New Hampshire killed 898 bears, a whopping 34 percent above the 5-year average, and 19 percent higher than the 2015 harvest.
Fish and Game said the bear harvest “was the result of several factors including a strong bear population that has recently experienced slight growth in select regions, a continued shift by hunters toward using methods that yield higher success rates, concentrated fall food sources (acorns) and extended hunting opportunities in select regions in 2016.”
In most of the state, bear hunting season overlapped with deer seasons, giving a chance for opportunistic deer hunters to kill a bear.
Andrew Timmins, the N.H. Fish and Game Department’s bear biologist, said that the fact that two-thirds of the bears were killed in the white Mountains and Central regions of the state “dovetailed well with bear population management goals,” because bear density in the center of the state is higher than those goals.
Preliminary figures show that New Hampshire hunters took a total of 1,047 turkeys this fall, just a few more than the 1,043 taken in 2015.
The fall shotgun turkey season was lengthened by the addition of a weekend in 2016.
Bath was by the far the most successful town for turkey hunters, with 27 kills recorded there – 50 percdent higher than the next-highest towns of Barnstead and Deerfield.