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Solving Problems with Nature - Naturally

ERIC P. ORFF
Certified Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Author - Wildlife Lecturer - Wildlife Photographer
Non-Lethal Control of Bats since 1983
nhfishandwildlif@aol.com

Hunting

2006 WHITE-TAILED DEER HARVEST SUMMARY REPORT

Milder than average winters for the last three years combined with limited antlerless seasons have helped to increase deer numbers in many areas of the state and brought deer numbers closer to the population objectives in many Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). The New Hampshire deer harvest has now increased for the third year in a row and is approaching record levels. The 2006 kill of 11,766 was an 11% increase from 2005. If mild to average winters continue, we should see deer populations continue to increase in those Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) units where current levels are below population objectives based on the Big Game Management Plan. The harvest of 11,766 deer represents approximately 14% of the pre-hunt deer population.

The 2006 statewide adult male kill was 6,678, a 9% increase from 6,127 in 2005 and the second highest on record, exceeded only in 2002 when 6,855 adult males were taken. Almost all WMUs produced similar or increased adult buck harvests in the 2006 season. Total male kill, including male fawns was 7,828. The statewide female kill in 2006 was 3,938, also up from 3,543 in 2005. The general season framework, either-sex hunting opportunities and a map of WMUs are provided in a subsequent figure in this report.

The youth hunt kill during their special weekend was 668. This is a dramatic increase from 326 in 2005 and also surpasses the previous record youth kill of 334 in 2003. Archery hunters took 2,978 deer in 2006, up from 1,971 taken in 2005. The muzzleloader harvest in 2006 was 2,484, down slightly from 2,549 in 2005 while “regular” firearm hunters took 5,636 deer in 2006, also down slightly from 5,749 in 2005. The slight reductions in statewide muzzleloader and regular firearm kills were largely related to deceases in female harvest resulting from continuing efforts to encourage deer population growth in many WMUs. Subsequent tables give additional details on the harvest by season, sex and WMU.

Biological information was again collected during 2006 at select deer registration stations in order to monitor the physical condition of New Hampshire’s deer and help assess harvest age structure. Average yearling antler beam diameter was 18.2 millimeters and yearling male field dressed weight averaged 118 pounds. These values were above the recent 5-year averages of 17.6 millimeters and 115 pounds respectively, and continue to indicate that deer populations remain below the biological carrying capacity of our deer habitat and that deer were in good physical condition. The statewide yearling male fraction (the percentage of adult males consisting of yearlings) for the 2006 harvest was 46.2%, a decrease from 51.2% in 2005. The distribution of older males was 30% at 2.5 years old, 15% at 3.5 years, 15% at 4.5 years and 4% at 5.5+ years old. Additionally, mature bucks at 4.5 years old averaged 191.4 pounds dressed weight with 8.8 points while bucks 5.5+ years old averaged 198.4 pounds with 8.9 points.

In summary, the 2006 deer harvest was up again in response to efforts to increase deer populations in much of the state by maintaining modest antlerless kills through limited either-sex hunting. In addition, recent mild winters continue to help. The winter severity index for 2005-06, measured by Fish and Game each winter since 1964-65 to help assess impacts on the deer population, was on average the mildest ever recorded. New Hampshire’s 2006 deer kill of 11,766 was the fourth highest ever and was only exceeded in 1967, 1968 and 1997. In addition, New Hampshire’s adult buck kill of 6,678 in 2006 was the second highest ever recorded and was only exceeded in 2002. Recently increasing deer populations continue to bring deer numbers closer to population objectives in many WMUs. As these objectives are achieved, either-sex hunting opportunities will be increased to stabilize deer abundance while attempting to maintain good adult sex and age ratios.

2006 BLACK BEAR HARVEST SUMMARY REPORT

Our 2006 bear hunting season represented the first season under the newly established Big Game Population Management Plan that spans the period 2006-2015. Bear management decision during the next decade will strive to maintain bear populations across the state’s various bear management regions at levels consistent with management objectives. If the population objectives of the current plan are achieved, the statewide bear population will remain consistent with recent levels of approximately 5,000 bears. Under the current management plan, the density of bears in several management regions will change from levels achieved in recent years. New Hampshire’s long-term bear management goals are to stabilize the population in the north, reduce the population in the White Mountains region and allow for population growth in central and southern portions of the state.

Hunters took 351 black bears in New Hampshire during 2006; a 19% decline from the 2005 level and a 37% decrease from the preceding 5-year average of 556 bears. Abundant mast production by several species during 2006 presumably allowed bears to feed in more remote areas, decreasing their vulnerability to hunter harvest. Soft mast species including blueberry, blackberry and mountain ash produced in abundance while apple, raspberry and chokecherry produced average crops. Hard mast species, including beech and beaked hazel, had strong nut production and acorns were locally abundant. The abundance of food during 2006 decreased the harvest rate of bears across much of the state thereby lowering the annual bear harvest. Additionally, food abundance appeared to be a significant factor in reducing the frequency of nuisance bear complaints throughout New Hampshire during 2006. The abundance of food caused bears, specifically males, to remain active well into December. It is anticipated that female reproductive success and cub production will be high during the winter of 2007.

Work continued on a "mark-recapture" study designed to estimate bear abundance in the state's northernmost bear management region using remote genetic tagging. This method employs “hair removal traps” (barbed wire strung around baited sites) to sample and mark bears. DNA analysis performed on hair samples provides a genetic profile for individual bears and allows each bear to be "marked". Hair samples acquired during subsequent trapping efforts are used to quantify "recaptures". Recapture rates are used in conjunction with mark-recapture models to develop a population estimate. Study results from 2004 suggested that this technique constitutes a viable method of estimating bear populations in New Hampshire. The previous DNA estimate was fairly similar to an independent estimate derived from New Hampshire bear biological/observation data. During June-July of 2006, 100 hair traps were constructed and monitored over a 200-mi2 area in the northern towns of Pittsburg, Milan, Dummer, Success, Millsfield and Cambridge. Hair collection was very successful, with over 3,000 bear hair samples collected, and should provide the sample size necessary to derive an accurate estimate of the bear populations within the study areas. Fieldwork will be repeated during 2007 and research results will be available in the spring of 2008.

During 2006, research initiatives and our bear management program continued to generate information required to ensure that our bear population is wisely managed for present and future New Hampshire generations. Research is made possible through dedicated bear permit revenue. Current management programs are based on biological data provided through the registration of hunter harvested bears, coupled with bear observation rates derived from hunter survey data.

2006 NEW HAMPSHIRE MOOSE SEASON SUMMARY

The 2006 New Hampshire moose season took place from October 21st through October 29th. The weather was a repeat of last year with gale force winds and significant rain, as well as sleet and snow. In addition, this season occurred after the rut was over. As a result, moose were not actively moving and hunters had to work harder to find them. The success rate was down as a result, only 67% as opposed to 78% last year or the preceding five-year average of 74%. Permit issuance was up this year compared to the last two years, going from 525 to 675 (673 actually issued) in 2006.

Four hundred and forty-nine moose were taken during the nine-day season. The take consisted of 268 (60%) adult bulls, 157 (35%) adult cows and 24 (5%) calves. Success rate for all permits was 67%; 67% for either-sex permits and 63% for antlerless-only permits. Regional success rates were all down (Connecticut Lakes Region – 80%, North Region – 78%, White Mountains Region – 56%, Central Region – 62%, Southwest Region – 40%) with the exception of the Southeast, which was identical to last year at 26%. The adult harvest sex ratio was not measurably influenced by the late timing of our season. Both the Connecticut Lakes and Southwest regions had the lowest sex ratios (bull/cow) seen in five years at 0.9:1and 2.3:1 respectively while the White Mountains region had the highest sex ratio in the past five years at 3.9:1. The remaining regions fell within the normal range of values experienced in the past.

Hunters traveled from 18 states and Canada to participate in the 2006 season. Non-residents took 97 (22%) moose while residents took the remaining 352 (78%) moose. Moose were taken by rifle (423), muzzleloader (13), shotgun (5), handgun (2), bow (1) and unknown (5). The preferred caliber of rifles used was the 30.06. Permittees accounted for seventy percent (316) of the moose harvest while subpermittees accounted for thirty percent (133). Women took 19 moose, and sixty-five percent of the 2006 moose harvest was taken in the first three days of the season.

2006 WILD TURKEY HARVEST SUMMARY

A total of 3,559 turkeys (3,532 gobblers and 27 hens) were harvested from 223 towns and registered at 53 stations during the April 29-May 31, 2006 youth weekend and spring turkey season. This was a 517-bird (17.0%) increase over the harvest of 2005. The gobbler harvest was composed of 1,286 jakes (36.4%) and 2,246 toms (63.6%), for a juvenile/adult male harvest ratio of 0.57 to 1.00. The age breakdown was: 1 year-olds (36.4%), 2 year-olds (40.9%), 3 year-olds (19.4%), 4 year-olds (3.7%) and 5+ year-olds (.005%). Many more adult toms than jakes were taken, partially due to good productivity and mild winters the previous 3 years.

The Youth Hunt Weekend of April 29-30, 2006 recorded 437 gobblers or 12.4% of the total gobbler harvest. Opening day (Wednesday, May 3) of the regular season had 553 gobblers registered or 15.7% of the total while the first week of the season tallied 1,973 gobblers or 55.9% of the gobbler harvest.

It was surprising to see Wildlife Management Unit K (412 gobblers) record the highest harvest because it is east of the original turkey release area in the Connecticut River Valley. Unit J2 (356 gobblers) also had a significant increase in harvest, as did units L and M in the most developed southeastern region of the state. Nine of 17 units have now reached a spring gobbler kill per square mile of 0.50, which is the threshold used to qualify units for fall shotgun season consideration. Of the 223 towns with turkeys harvested, 8 towns registered 40 or more gobblers, 23 towns registered 30 or more, and 72 towns registered 20 or more. However, the spring gobbler kill per square mile has reached > 1.0 in only 25 towns. Kill densities of 1 or more gobblers per square mile are common in long-established turkey states.

The first ever limited fall shotgun turkey season (5 days) of October 16-20, 2006 saw 824 hunters purchase the $11.00 permit and harvest 122 turkeys (81 hens and 41 gobblers) from the 8 WMU’s open to fall shotgun hunting in the western half of the state. Given that the total area open to hunting measured 3,347 square miles, this represents a harvest of only one turkey per 27.4 square miles. The modest harvest of 122 turkeys was only 3.4% that of the May 2006 spring season and should have little impact on the state’s turkey population. A total of 208 turkeys (120 hens, 88 gobblers) were registered during the 2006 fall (September 15-December 15) archery turkey season.

The statewide population estimate as of August 2006 was 33,000 wild turkeys. A total of 19,627 turkey permits were purchased during 2006 (excluding 824 fall shotgun permits). Turkey numbers continue to show annual growth in northern and eastern areas of the state. Productivity for summer 2006 was below the long-term average because of record rains. Because of the early warm spring, the majority of the hatch occurred during May rather than June. A sample of brood sightings from May yielded an average of 6.60 poults per hen, and a sample from June yielded an average of 5.36 poults per hen.

2005/2006 FURBEARER HARVEST SUMMARY REPORT

Trapping is a highly specialized skill and one that provides substantial public benefit to our residents. Trappers continue to play a significant role in the management of furbearer populations. They provide important data to management programs and provide an important public service in their capacity as damage control specialists. This furbearer harvest report summarizes data collected during the months of October 2005 through April 2006 (i.e., the 2005 trapping season).

New Hampshire furbearers remain abundant and widespread as indicated by results from the 2005 New Hampshire trapping season. There were 426 licensed trappers for the 2005 season. Average pelt values were derived from the annual winter fur auction conducted by the New Hampshire Trappers Association. Pelt values were similar to the previous year, and continue to average higher than they have in nearly a decade. The value of the 2005 fur harvest to trappers was $149,373.00 based on average pelt values and the total amount of fur harvested in New Hampshire.

The 2005 beaver harvest was 2,981 up 16 percent from 2,566 taken in 2004. Beavers contribute significantly to the nuisance animal complaints received by our staff. Trappers play a significant role in managing local populations and in reducing human/beaver conflicts. The 2005 beaver harvest rate was 8.97/100 trap nights; this rate indicates high densities of beaver in our state.

The otter harvest was 347, which was 13 percent above 2004 harvest of 307. This was 11 percent above the previous 5-year average. The pelt value of $72.00 was 11 percent below the previous year average of $80.56. Long-term population analysis suggests that New Hampshire can sustain an annual harvest of up to 350 otters, and that a higher harvest over several years could lead to a decline. Harvests are generally kept below the threshold with the current season and an imposed bag limit of ten otters.

The 2005 mink harvest of 281 decreased 21 percent from 357 in 2004 and was 28 percent below the 5-year average. The pelt value of $19.53 was 40 percent above the previous year and 64 percent above the 5-year average. The catch per unit of effort was 2.44 mink captured per 100 trap-nights, a decrease from 2.48 the previous year. Trapper effort and harvest remains significantly below historical levels due to low pelt values. The 2005 muskrat harvest of 1,901 was down 18 percent from 2,326 the previous year and was 17 percent below the 5-year average. The catch per 100 trap-nights was 10.6, which was the same as the previous year. The fisher harvest was 530, a decrease of 29 percent from 749 in 2004 and was 34 percent below the 5-year average. Fisher pelt values average $49.38, an increase of 85 percent from $26.67 in 2004, and was 107 percent above the 5-year average. Trapper effort decreased by 5 percent from the previous year and the catch per unit of effort was 2.22; as compared to a catch rate of 2.61 the previous year. Past analysis of long-term fisher harvest data suggests that the population can sustain an annual harvest of approximately 1,100 animals.

Raccoon trappers took 334 raccoons, a decrease of 47 percent from 629 the previous year and 29 percent below the 5-year average. Fox trappers took 64 gray fox and 233 red fox, down 45 percent and 43 percent respectively, from the previous year. Coyote trappers took 457, a 31 percent decrease from 660 in 2004.

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