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Hunters bagged plenty of deer this year, but bear and wild turkeys were more elusive

  • The unofficial deer harvest for the season, which ran from early September through the first week of December, was 12,269 – 15 percent above last year’s tally and 13 percent above the 20-year average. Courtesy



Monitor staff
Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hunters in New Hampshire had near-record success with deer this year, but the story was different with wild turkeys and bears, largely because there was so much food in the woods that those species had an easier time hiding.

“Bear – they’re far less vulnerable when there are abundant fall foods. We had a bumper crop of acorns, beech nuts, berries,” said Kent Gustafson, wildlife programs administrator for New Hampshire Fish and Game. “Turkey are kind of like bear: When there’s a lot of food out there, hunters don’t see them as much as when they’re wandering all over the place, looking for food.”

Hunters reported killing 586 black bears during the season, which ran from Sept. 1 through November. That is 23 percent fewer than the five-year average and one-third fewer than the 2016 tally, which was the highest on record, according to Fish and Game’s preliminary data.

Andrew Timmins, N.H. Fish and Game bear biologist, said the decline was not a sign of a shrinking bear population. New Hampshire has an estimated 6,000 bears.

The fall wild turkey season, which ran from September through October in most of the state except for the northernmost areas, showed a very sharp decline in success rate: Just 434 turkeys were killed, compared to 1,101 taken in 2016.

Again, biologists said this was not a reflection of a smaller population, but of the abundant wild foods.

Results from the spring hunting season and a summer brood survey, said Gustafon, show “there’s abundant turkey out there. Hunters just couldn’t find them.”

The story was different for white-tailed deer, by far the most popular game animal in New Hampshire and most of the U.S.

The unofficial deer harvest for the season, which ran from early September through the first week of December, was 12,269 – 15 percent above last year’s tally and 13 percent above the 20-year average.

Reports from hunters and state biologists’ analysis of carcasses brought to deer check stations indicate that the herd has apparently bounced back from recent hard winters and is in good health.

“People were saying, the ones I’ve talked to, the deer all looked real good,” Gustafson said. “This winter is starting out pretty rugged, but at least they went into winter in great shape.”

Deer hunting may be declining in Merrimack County, where 1,077 deer were reported killed. That is the smallest number since 2009, a bad year for deer hunters that saw one of the lowest tallies in recent memory.

By contrast, deer hunting success has been rising in what might seem an unlikely location: The state’s most built-up areas of Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. Those two counties, which include Manchester, Nashua and the entire Seacoast, had far more deer killed than the rest of the state’s nine counties – more than 2,100 each.

New Hampshire sells a little less than 60,000 hunting licenses each year.

Final numbers from all of this year’s hunting seasons will be printed in the 2017 New Hampshire Wildlife Harvest Summary, which will be issued in March 2018.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)