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Firearms deer hunting season opens next Wednesday, Nov. 15 here in Connecticut. There was a time many Connecticut deer hunters traveled to northern states like Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire to do their hunting. Not any more.
In fact, there are a number of out-of-state hunters who now come to Connecticut.
Over the years, there have been many changes in the deer hunting seasons in Connecticut. Believe it or not, for many years, deer hunting in Connecticut was almost unheard of. Only landowners or lessees were able to hunt deer, and this was by special permit.
Even archery hunting for the public was unheard of until 1957, when archers got their first chance at deer on state lands. Back then, it was all long bows and recurves because compound bows had yet to make an appearance.
As the years rolled on, deer numbers increased. Those who manage our natural resources know that, left alone and unhunted, a deer herd can almost double on a yearly basis. Hunters who were fortunate enough to have permission to hunt private lands could only marvel at the number of deer they were seeing.
It was the biologists in the Wildlife Division who became aware of the upward spike in deer numbers and realized that something had to be done to insure habitat that would support a certain number of deer. This meant increased hunting that would not only help to control deer numbers, but provide a recreational opportunity that would also put back some money into the state coffers as well as many of the Connecticut sporting stores that cater to hunters.
The first “official” deer season for firearms took place in 1975. Until that time, an actual deer hunting season in Connecticut was scoffed at by many because of the state’s industrial status. They felt that deer hunting in the Northeast was more of a traditional type of sport, with deer camps a “must” if deer hunting were to succeed.
The next five years surprised many people. The Wildlife Division had done its homework following the start of firearms hunting for deer and even came up with the highest tag system in the Northeast or, for that matter, the East Coast.
Back then, as it is today, archery traditionally opens the year’s deer season, but there was a difference. The archery season was followed by the black powder or muzzleloader season that opened on Thanksgiving Day, and then the firearms deer season was turned over to the shotgun hunters.
But even with this setup, the Wildlife Division was not getting the numbers it wanted for harvest goals. This was attributed to a number of things, the first being that the muzzleloader was a primitive weapon. Back then, it really was “primitive.” The muzzleloaders used today are as deadly as many deer rifles.
Another reason for the low number taken by the muzzleloader brigade was too many hunter had become “buck selective.” Too many does were allowed to pass while muzzleloader hunters waited for the chance to shoot a buck. This seemed to go against the reason Connecticut even had a deer season, which was initiated in the first place to take down the number of deer, and this was to be accomplished by taking a high ratio of does.
By the time the shotgun season rolled around (there was no rifle season at the beginning), the herd had changed its survival tactics. Many of them turned nocturnal. And while the shotgunners did better, the end results were still not satisfactory for those in charge.
In 1990, a change was made giving shotgun hunters first crack at the firearms hunting season for deer. One of the reasons was that they would be less “buck selective,” and this proved to be true. In 1991, Connecticut was second only to Maine in deer harvest. Connecticut’s total of 11,305 was 14 percent over the 1990 take. Yet even with that total, Connecticut deer herd numbers were still on the rise.
“How could you NOT get a deer in Connecticut?” I have heard this question many times and those who ask it do not know what deer hunting is all about or they might have access to a certain piece of private property that has an over-population of deer. Another thing I often hear is, “Man, all I saw all day were white tails waving goodbye as the deer headed off to places unknown.”
Here in Connecticut, one of the problems — unless you might be hunting one of the large state forest properties — is that on some private land you are limited in your hunting area. Jump a deer on a small parcel of property and it might run on to a piece of private land that you cannot hunt.
In Connecticut, patience is the key. Farmland in many areas has given way to homes and businesses. However, if you can latch onto 50 acres or more to hunt, you are doing real good. If you get a couple hundred acres, you are probably in deer heaven.
When hunting private land you MUST know the boundary lines of the property you have a permit for. Many hunters like to walk about in their hunting efforts. When this is done on a small piece of land, all that they do is move the deer off onto another piece of land that, many times, they cannot hunt.
I hunted the big woods of Maine for 19 years and I just loved to walk the land all day long. Oh, I saw deer, but most of them were running away and escaped untouched by me. When I did connect with a Maine deer, one of them a 10-point buck over 200 pounds, I was sitting on a ground stand. You would think that I would have learned by then, but I didn’t until I started to hunt on small land parcels in Connecticut.
Again, patience is the key word for successful deer hunting in Connecticut. Over the last 10 years or so, I did my hunting from tree stands and saw quite a number of deer. When the ladder stands came into use, I purchased a couple and set them up in different spots so I would have options on where I wanted to hunt. It worked quite well because I tagged deer on all of the stands.
State forest hunters may find it harder to tag a deer, but I know a couple of hunters who manage to tag a deer or two every year on state land. One mistake many deer hunters make is they hunt like they are on the clock. Even before they go into the woods, plans have been made with their hunting buddies as to what time they will meet back at their vehicles for a coffee break. Too bad, because many times they unknowingly push deer to other hunters who had the patience to stay in their stands.
One other thing that, in my early years, I was even guilty of was finding a spot in the woods where I could see “forever” if a deer came through. None did, and if they did it was at night when the woods were void of human hunters. Look for deer trails in the heavier edge of the brush. They like to be concealed when they move. Believe me when I tell you, hunting the edge between forest and fields can be a “killer” move.
Private land shotgun/rifle deer hunters begin their season Nov. 15 and hunt to Dec. 5. They may take two deer, one of either sex (buck or doe) and the other antlerless only. This means a hunter may take two doe on private land.
State land hunters have different hunting permits, “A” or “B” seasons. “A” season permit holders may hunt on state land from Nov. 15-24, and “B” season permit hunters from Nov. 25-Dec. 5. Bag limit is one deer, either sex, for both season permits.
Have a safe hunt. See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.