Taking aim

With New Hampshire's fall hunting season approaching, experts are watching the harvest

About 61,000 people hold paid hunting licenses in New Hampshire. Since a general hunting license costs $22 for state residents and $103 for nonresidents, it’s easy to see that the sport generates serious money.

“Hunting is quite a good economic engine for the state,” says Jane Vachon, information programs supervisor for N.H. Fish and Game.

Perhaps even more importantly, hunting is one of the state’s most effective tools for monitoring and managing wildlife populations. Every white-tailed deer, black bear, moose, or wild turkey killed by a hunter must be checked in at a registration station. There, wildlife biologists examine the animals and keep track of the harvest. That information is used to set future targets and determine hunting regulations for each region of the state.

“The biologists review the health of the population and the status and they determine exactly how many days of hunting there will be for specific species,” Vachon says.

The goal is to keep wildlife populations at sustainable levels across the state.

“There’s a certain carrying capacity that any particular location would have,” Vachon says. “There’s maybe an ideal number of animals that the landscape can support, and if you get above that number, the health of the population can be compromised.”

Fall hunting season is already underway for some species. Black bear season opened on Sept. 1, along with some small game and furbearers. Archery season for both white-tailed deer and wild turkeys opens on Sept. 15.

The state’s nine-day moose season takes place Oct. 17-25. A limited number of permits are issued for moose, with applicants selected through a lottery system. This year, only 105 permits were issued.

The low number of moose-hunting permits represents an effort to preserve a struggling species in New Hampshire. Moose numbers have been declining in recent years, particularly in the northern part of the state. Today, experts estimate there are about 4,000 moose statewide.

Fish and Game, in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, has launched a five-year study to determine why moose populations are declining, but it’s likely related to a boom in winter tick numbers. Winter ticks are different from the ticks that affect humans, but they wreak havoc on moose. A single animal can carry “thousands and thousands of ticks,” Vachon says.

“We think it’s related to climate change,” she says. “With the shorter winters, we’re experiencing higher levels of winter ticks, and that is reducing the health of the cows and the survival rate of calves.”

That’s a serious concern in the Granite State, where the moose is a beloved and iconic species. As recently as 2007, Fish and Game drew 675 moose-hunting permits. They decreased that number to 515 in 2008, to 395 in 2010, and to 275 in 2012. Last year, only 124 permits were drawn.

The steady decline “shows you that we are monitoring things closely and adapting the permits,” Vachon says.

White-tailed deer present the opposite problem — at least in southern portions of the state. Deer are the most popular game animal in New Hampshire, and, for the most part, their populations here are thriving. In 2013, the total deer-hunting harvest was 12,540, the fourth-highest total in state history.

That number dipped to 11,396 in 2014, and the harvest is expected to dip again this year due to the harsh winter, according to Dan Bergeron, deer project specialist at N.H. Fish and Game. But the broader trend has been toward milder winters, which has caused deer populations to rise, he says.

New Hampshire has 20 geographical management units for deer. “Each of those 20 different units has different population objectives, and those are based on habitat availability and human population density,” Bergeron says.

In the southern part of the state, where human population densities are higher and winters are generally milder, Fish and Game is aiming to reduce deer populations. In some other parts of the state, the hunting season is shorter.

“Things are very carefully regulated,” Vachon says. “As a result, we do have very healthy wildlife populations in general.”

Fish and Game recently developed a new 10-year game management plan, which lays out population goals and objectives for game species from 2016 to 2025. The plan can be viewed at wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/game-plan.html.

Meanwhile, hunting remains extremely popular, and the sport’s appeal is spreading to more young people and women, Vachon says.

A new “apprentice hunting license” allows more people to give the sport a try without going through the educational programs required to get a regular hunting license. (People with apprentice licenses must be under the supervision of a licensed hunter who is at least 18 years old, and they can only purchase an apprentice license once in their lives.) Last year, Vachon says, 1,353 people bought apprentice licenses, and more than 400 of them were women.

Hunting seasons and harvests

Note: seasons listed apply to southeastern New Hampshire; the dates may be different in other regions. For more information on hunting seasons, licensing, education, and more, visit wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting

White-tailed deer

Archery: Sept. 15-Dec. 15
Muzzleloaders: Oct. 31-Nov. 10
Firearms: Nov. 11-Dec. 6
Youth Deer Weekend: Oct. 24-25
2014 harvest (statewide): 11,396 (down 9% from 2013)
Estimated population: 85,000

Black bear

Still hunters: Sept. 1-Sept. 28
Bait hunters: Sept. 1-Sept. 21
Hound hunters: Sept. 21-Nov. 10
2014 harvest (statewide): 786
(up 38% from 2013)
Estimated population: 5,500


Oct. 17-Oct. 25 (lottery closed,
105 permits drawn)
2014 permits drawn: 124
(down 55% from 2013)
2014 harvest (statewide): 91
(down 49.5% from 2013)
Estimated population: 4,000

Wild turkeys

Archery: Sept. 15-Dec. 15
Shotguns: Oct. 12-Oct. 16
(spring season was May 3-May 31)
2014 fall harvest (statewide): 705 (down 17.5% from 2013)
Estimated population: 40,000


Ducks, mergansers, coots: Oct. 7-Oct. 16, Nov. 15-Jan. 3
Brant: Oct. 7-Nov. 5
Canada geese: Oct. 7-Oct. 26, Nov. 15-Jan. 3
Snow geese: Oct. 7-Jan. 3
Woodcock: Oct. 1-Nov. 14
Common snipe: Sept. 15-Nov. 14


Small game

Snowshoe hare: Oct. 1-March 31
Cottontail rabbit: Oct. 1-Dec. 31
Gray squirrel: Sept. 1-Dec. 31
Ring-necked pheasant: Oct. 1-Dec. 31
Ruffed grouse, northern bobwhite quail, chukar, Hungarian partridge: Oct. 1-Dec. 31
Crow: Aug. 15-Nov. 30


Gray fox, red fox, opossum, skunk, weasel, raccoon: Sept. 1-March 31
Fisher: Dec. 1-Jan 31
Mink, muskrat: Nov. 1-April 10
Coyote: year-round


Beaver, muskrat, mink, otter, weasel: Nov. 1-April 10
Fisher: Dec. 1-Dec. 31
Red fox, gray fox, raccoon, opossum, skunk: Nov. 1-Jan. 15
Coyote: Nov. 1-March 31
2013/2014 trapper licenses issued: 673 (up 20% from 2012/2013)
2013/2014 trapper harvest (statewide):
Beaver: 2,274
Coyote: 495
Fisher: 225
Gray fox: 184
Mink: 283
Muskrat: 1,740
Otter: 256
Raccoon: 593
Red fox: 268