For most people, the Northeast region of the United States isn't the first place that comes to mind when building a bucket list of dream whitetail hunts. It certainly doesn't get the glory that the Midwest and Southeast get but it should not be overlooked by hunters looking to notch their tags.
The Northeast provides some quality hunting opportunities for whitetail deer, you just need to know where to look. Some hunters might consider one of American deer hunting's best kept secrets. In this list, we rank the five best whitetail hunting states in the Northeast United States from five to one. When compiling this list, we took several factors into account, including deer herd size, the amount of public land available to hunt, and the price of hunting licenses and tags for both residents and non-residents as key factors.
Vermont is the first state on our list, squeaking by a few of its fellow Northeast states to make the top five. Being a small state, Vermont has a deer herd of only about 133,000 estimated animals but does have over 463,000 acres of public land available for hunting. Vermont also has very reasonable licesnse costs for both residents and non-residents starting at $28 and $102 respectively. There are additional fees for archery hunting.
Bag limits are very generous in Vermont, allowing for one antlered deer and three antlerless deer to be taken by each hunter, each season. This may seem a bit steep considering the small deer herd, but Vermont also deals with severe winter weather and winter mortality is an issue in the northern half of the state. A level of harvest can help aid the deer population when those conditions come around.
Unfortunately, due to their extreme northern weather, Vermont has one of the shortest hunting seasons overall. Archery begins on October first and all hunting seasons end by December 15. With such a quick season and just shy of 16,000 total deer harvested in 2021, Vermont might benefit from an earlier archery start date in the future.
4. New Jersey
New Jersey is next on our list. Even though New Jersey is known more for its urban areas than it is for its open hunting land, it boasts almost 750,000 acres of public land open to hunting across the state. Its herd size is estimated to be near 150,000 animals, which is good for such a small state. Residents will spend just shy of $60 for their license and deer permit while non-residents will spend about $164 for theirs.
With an urban setting in some areas, small tracts of land and forest might be your best bet to find less pressured deer. It is also highly recommended that you stick to archery hunting in these types of areas in New Jersey. This will give more opportunities to get into some smaller tracts of land that deer will hole up in near urban locations. Also, archery hunters have taken more deer than firearm hunters every year since 2012. Bag limits vary by hunting zone in New Jersey, so be sure to check the regulations.
The northernmost state in the continental United States tips the scales at number three. While this state seems very remote for a whitetail hunt, it offers just shy of a million acres of public hunting land and a deer herd estimated at around 300,000 animals. Maine offers 79 days of hunting spanning between September 10 and December 1, with seasons varying a bit depending upon the area.
Right now Maine's deer herd is on the rebound after being hit hard in the past decade by harsh winter mortality rates. Currently, their game management plan limits hunters to a single antlered deer and a limited number of antlerless permits. However, if you get into the good wilderness areas of Maine and can locate a mature buck, they can easily push the scales over 250 pounds. The northern part of the state will hold the big boys in their vast wilderness areas, but the deer are few and far between due to the landscape and tough winters. If you are looking for a denser population of deer, stick to the southern part of the state.
Pennsylvania could have been number one on this list, but it just has a few drawbacks that kept it out of the top spot. Pennsylvania has plenty of public land to hunt at 4.1 million acres, and it has an established deer herd estimated at 1.3 million. It also has friendly fees for both residents and non-resident licenses starting at $32 and $123 respectively. The deer hunting tradition is strong in Pennsylvania, with the opening day of deer season essentially serving as a holiday. You can't hunt most Sundays by law, but the hunting season stretches from October 1 to the end of January.
Even with adequate land and great habitat for a large herd, the deer have been trending in the wrong direction. The state's population has lost its top end appeal for putting out big bucks and in 2021, antlered harvests were only at 22%. This has been an ongoing theme over the past few years. Chronic Wasting Disease has also hit Pennsylvania's deer herd hard. Between disappointing harvest numbers and CWD, the herd is not in great shape, which is what dropped Pennsylvania to number two. You can still have a great hunt, but it will be more difficult to bag a Boone & Crockett than in years past.
1. New York
Coming in at number one is none other than New York. When you think about the Empire State, you probably instantly picture New York City, but the vast amount of the state is actually rural and wooded. That makes for great whitetail habitat. New York has a deer herd that is right at or slightly above the one million mark. It also contains 3.8 million acres of public land that is open to hunting. Resident hunters will spend as much as $47 if they hunt firearm, archery, or muzzleloader. Non-residents will spend at least $140 to hunt deer in New York.
Bag limits vary from location to location, depending on the area that you choose to hunt. In some areas the bag limit is three and in others it's a single deer. Some areas around the most populated cities in the state are archery only for the entire hunting season, which is usually from October 1st to December 31st. A few areas start as early as September 27th. There are a lot of regulations and rules surrounding the hunting areas, so make sure that you pay attention to those before booking a trip. New York is a diamond in the rough and a particularly good whitetail hunting location. With the herd in New York becoming more mature in age, the trophy potential continues to grow.
Overall, the Northeast is in some need of changes when it comes to whitetail hunting and herd management. Many of the states in the region struggle with having a good management plans that will help the deer herd thrive and make hunting and habitat better. The urban development presents a problem that's counterintuitive to the conserving and protecting wilderness. New York is on the right path, but the rest of the Northeast needs to follow suit if they want to make the most out of their deer hunting opportunities.
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