Deer Hunting’s Best Values in the Northeast

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New York and Pennsylvania are producing nicer bucks than ever before. These were taken in western New York by Pete Hofert and his son Brad.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

It’s time to buy licenses for the 2019-2020 hunting season, and a good time to remind ourselves we have it pretty good in New York (where I hunt as a non-resident) and Pennsylvania (my home state).

Many hunters probably don’t realize this, but New York and Pennsylvania offer deer hunting’s best values in the northeast. From Maine to Virginia, other states don’t hold a candle to the value the Empire State and the Keystone State offer.

Hunters sometimes complain about the cost of a license, or argue against fee increases, but it’s hard to see why they grumble. New York and Pennsylvania could raise prices for resident hunters by 40 percent and still be under the average of all 12 New England and Mid-Atlantic states. (That’s no reason to justify a price hike, but it’s true nonetheless.)

The minimum cost to get licensed to hunt deer in Connecticut is $38.00, and the amount of public hunting land in the Constitution State is a paltry 5 percent of what Pennsylvania offers. Connecticut harvested only about 11,000 deer last season, less than 5 percent of New York’s tally, and just 3 percent of what Pennsylvania hunters tagged.

In 2018 Pennsylvania hunters took 374,690 deer, and New York hunters took 227,787. Together, that’s 85,100 more deer than hunters tagged in the other 10 states combined.

One thing that makes comparisons difficult is that some states have extra costs built into their license fee structure. Land access permits, habitat stamps, tag fees and other costs drive the price of deer hunting up. Many easterners think the west is a hunting paradise, but that’s where many states add those extra costs.

By contrast, license fees in most northeastern states are straight forward flat rates. In New York residents pay $22.00 and in Pennsylvania residents pay $20.90. No hidden costs. No land access fees. That helps make these states a hunter’s bargain. It’s as simple as buying your license and going deer hunting.

In terms of trophy potential, New York and Pennsylvania don’t offer what the whitetail states of the broad Midwest offer, and for good reason. In fact, many good reasons. We lack the corn production of Iowa. We lack the soil fertility of Ohio. Most of our land is fragmented into smaller parcels than in states farther west.

We mostly shoot rifles in firearms seasons, giving us more range and accuracy compared to shotguns, and our gun seasons are long compared to most other states. Those two factors mean we put more pressure on deer than states with fewer hunters do. And then, the sheer numbers of hunters we have in New York and Pennsylvania mean we kill lots of deer before their prime.

Still, considering it’s the northeast, we do produce our share of big, older bucks. Both states are producing bucks with more age and bigger antlers than they did in past decades, and we’re getting better at harvesting mature bucks. Pennsylvania has an antler restriction regulation which allows more yearling bucks to live past their first season wearing antlers. Last year Pennsylvania topped 60 percent in deer 2½ years old or older. New York, even without antler restrictions, is not far behind.

New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians might complain about high tax rates, poor road repair, shady political shenanigans and many other things, but without a doubt these states offer the best value in whitetail hunting in the northeast. Keep that in mind when you hand over a trifling $20 plus change for your license. Pennsylvania licenses are already on sale, and New York sales begin August 1.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).