Friday January 11, 2013

While mild weather in the fall meant deer hunting started off slow, preliminary numbers released by the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife indicate the total harvest in Berkshire County for 2012 to be average.

"Numbers are coming in, and we're seeing they're very close to last year's," said Reggie Zimmerman, assistant press secretary for the state's Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

This comes despite the unseasonably warm 2011-12 winter that led some hunters to expect a banner hunting season, as warm temperatures and scant snowcover would have allowed more deer to survive the winter.

In the division's Western District, made up almost entirely by Berkshire County, a total of 952 deer are estimated to have been taken during 2012's season.

In archery season, which ran from Oct. 15 to Nov. 24, the district estimates 314 deer were taken, coming very close to the previous year's tally of 321. During shotgun season, Nov. 26 to Dec. 8, the district estimates 638 deer, up from the previous year's 624.

According to Zimmerman, figures for muzzleloader season, which ran from Dec. 10 to Dec. 31, won't be reported until later this winter.

All other reported figures are preliminary, he said, as some checking stations haven't reported their tallies.

During the 2011 season, a total of 1,109 deer were harvested in Berkshire County, 164 of them during muzzleloader season. Tom Decker, owner of Pete's Gun Shop in Adams, one of several game checking stations in Berkshire County, said the season started slow but ended strong.


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Decker attributed archery seasons starting off slow to the fall's mild weather. Decker explained hunting season was based around the "rut," the period where males compete with one another to mate with females. The warm weather delays the rut, he said.

"If bucks don't have the wanderlust to go out and look for females, they're just going to sit there," Decker said. In addition, he said, bucks aren't as cautious during the rut as they normally would be, something that gives the hunter an advantage.

Decker said other factors, such as how close to food sources hunters were hunting, determined the likelihood of finding a deer. Food sources are often spread out, he said, and there aren't as many farms in Western Massachusetts to serve as major sources of food for deer.

"You see deer eating grass on your front lawn," he said. "And some are eating blackberry briars in the woods."

Ideal weather conditions toward the season's end, Decker said, ensured the muzzleloader season ended strong.

"There was cold weather and there was snow," he said.

With the weather being colder, the number of hunters drops closer to the number of deer, Decker explained, making it more likely to spot a deer. And with freshly fallen snow, hunters can track deer.

But for many hunters, chance dictated how many deer they would encounter in the wild.

"Some people went out and saw a lot, and other people went out and saw none," Decker said.