Deer are hard to find as hunting season ramps up, but not because there are few of them

  • Brad Marshall, co-owner of Marshall’s Firearms in Boscawen, says deer hunting has been more challenging this year. The firearm season – the busiest season in New Hampshire – starts Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/5/2016 11:49:28 PM

Thousands of hunters will be heading into New Hampshire’s woods starting Wednesday as deer season kicks into high gear, but they’ll find themselves facing two big obstacles: Acorns and leaves.

Acorns are an issue for hunters because of their abundance this year, which means deer don’t have to leave the shelter of trees to find food.

“They’re just standing in the woods. They’re not coming out into the fields because they don’t have to. That would be like a kid leaving an ice cream stand,” said Brad Marshall, co-owner of Marshall’s Firearms in Boscawen, one of the state’s check-in stations for deer hunters. “You have to work a little harder.”

Adding to hunters’ problems is the fact that the woods are providing more cover than usual because autumn was slow to arrive and is slow to depart.

“The leaves are on longer this year. It’s more like summer season than fall,” said Jim Morse, co-owner of Morse Sporting Goods in Hillsboro, another check-in station. “The rut will be on, but the advantage is definitely for the wildlife, because they can just hide up.”

Wednesday is the start of firearm season for deer, by far the most popular hunting season each year. This weekend, expect to see pickup trucks parked along dirt roads all over the state as their drivers prowl the woods.

Hikers are encouraged, even more than usual, to wear bright colors when going into the woods – although it has been many years since a non-hunter was shot accidentally by a hunter in New Hampshire.

Hunting remains popular in the state, although not as popular as in decades past. New Hampshire sold almost 59,000 hunting licenses in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That number has stayed level for the past half-dozen years, a big change from the two decades previous.

The number of hunting licenses sold in New Hampshire hit 97,000 in 1988, following years of growth that paralleled the state’s population rise, but then the number began to slip. The number of New Hampshire hunting licenses fell below 60,000 in 2010 but at that point the decline ended.

It’s not clear why license numbers have stabilized, but it may reflect the state’s expanded efforts to spread the word about the sport with efforts such as Youth Hunting Weekend. New Hampshire Fish and Game depends on hunting licenses for a large part of its revenue, and the decline in sales has contributed to the department’s financial woes.

New Hampshire isn’t alone in the decline, incidentally: The number of hunting licenses sold throughout the United States has fallen for decades – more than 40 million licenses were sold in 1970, fewer than 15 million last year – attributed at least in part to the nation’s continuing shift to a more urban population.

For those who do buy hunting licenses ($32 for in-state resident, $113 for out-of-state), firearm season for deer is by far the most popular time to use it. Firearm season runs Wednesday through Dec. 4.

Wednesday isn’t the first time white-tailed deer can be hunted legally this year, however. Deer hunting with bow and arrow began Sept. 15, and deer season for muzzle-loading guns began Oct. 29. The muzzle-loader season ends Tuesday while bow season continues through Dec. 15.

Last year, a total of 10,895 deer were killed over all the hunting seasons, slightly above long-term averages and within the goals of New Hampshire Fish and Game. The state tweaks the hunting season partly to help control the size of the deer herd – for example, extra deer can be taken by hunters in the state’s southeast corner, where their numbers pose a problem.

New Hampshire Fish and Game reported that through Oct. 30, a total of 3,154 deer had been killed by bows and muzzle-loaders, which is 19 percent fewer than at the same time last year – a reflection of the problems posed by those acorns and leaves.

Just ask Jim Morse, a long-time hunter in all seasons. He’s got venison in the freezer, but only because of an earlier car-vs.-deer accident.

“The deer are winning right now,” he said, laughing.

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

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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