By Alex Lippa
---- — This is one of Al Bacon’s favorite times of the year.
“The hunting season’s really starting to get underway,” said Bacon, owner of Al’s Gun & Reel Shop in Derry. “People here are starting to get excited.”
Hunting was listed as one of the “603 Reasons” readers think New Hampshire is special.
Hunters may be in luck this year; experts are predicting this will be one of the best season the state has seen in years.
“Deer season, in particular, should be really good,” said Kent Gustafson, wildlife program supervisor for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “We’ve already seen some high numbers this year.”
Dan Bergeron, deer project leader for New Hampshire Fish and Game, said this should be the best deer season since 2007.
“The last two winters, the population has really jumped back,” he said. “In lots of years, the population has really bottomed out, but now it’s about two to three times larger from where we used to be in terms of density.”
Right now, New Hampshire is in the middle of archery season, which runs from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15.
As of Friday, 2,518 deer had been taken, the most at this date in more than 10 years. Muzzleloader season runs from Nov. 2 to Nov, 12. Other firearms season for deer open Nov. 13 and end Dec. 8.
The last two winters haven’t been as severe as usual, which increases deer survival rates, Bergeron said.
“They have been among the more milder winters we’ve seen,” he said. “They’re able to find acorns easier and are able to survive the winter.”
In 2010, the deer kill was 9,759. This season, Bergeron expects it to approach 2007 totals, when 13,339 deer were taken by hunters in New Hampshire, the second highest total ever recorded.
That has led to more hunters seeking license, according to Gustafson.
“Preliminary data shows that we already have had about 500 more registrations at this point of the season, compared to last season,” he said.
This year is the last of the current method of registering for hunting licenses. Starting in 2014, all hunting licenses will be computer generated.
New Hampshire is one of the only states where some licenses still are handwritten. The change to computer-generated licenses comes with an extra $2 transaction fee.
That’s not the only change hunters are seeing.
“The deer herds are increasing, but the hunting spots are declining,” said Don Hathaway, treasurer of the Plaistow Fish and Game Club. “Things are just becoming too restricted. Places where people used to go are being developed and you can’t hunt there anymore.”
despite that, Bacon said he has noticed people getting more excited about the start of the season.
“More people just seem into it,” he said. “Our sales have risen, which I think is because of the economy. But I also think people want to spend more time with their fellow hunters, walking the fields. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a lot of deer out there.”
Family bonding is something that New Hampshire Fish and Game is promoting this weekend with its annual youth deer hunt weekend. The department encourages anyone under age 16 to hunt at no charge, but they must be with a licensed adult.
“This is a dedicated opportunity for people to take young people out and expose them to hunting, prior to other seasons opening,” Gustafson said. “From a gun hunting point of view, they have the woods to themselves. It gives licensed hunters a chance to mentor these people and have them experience the woods.”
The weekend usually produces about 400 kills, he said, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see that number go up this year.
“It is consistently very popular,” he said. “With more deer out there this year and good weather expected, it should increase.”
The abundance of deer has caused at least one community to do things differently. Atkinson legalized bow hunting in the town forest at Town Meeting in March, as officials hoped dimishing the deer population would lower the risk of reduce Lyme disease.
Barbara Snicer, administrative assistant to the Board of Selectmen, said the town has issued 16 bow hunting permits so far this year. She said the town is not tracking any changes of deer population.
While the forecast for deer season is rosy, things haven’t been quite as good for moose hunters. As of Wednesday, only 42 percent of the 281 hunters holding permits had recorded kills this year. At this time last year, 50 percent had recorded kills.
“I expected it might be down, because last fall our sightings were down,” said Kristine Rines, moose project leader for Fish and Game. “Over time, these animals have developed a quicker flight response time as well. They aren’t as tolerant of people as they once might have been.”
Gustafson said grouse hunting numbers also have been below average since the season opened on Oct. 1. But he expects turkey numbers to be strong.
“They’ve been everywhere this year,” he said. “I haven’t seen any official numbers yet, but I imagine those numbers will be up.”
In Rockingham County, bow hunters have been especially successful to date. There have been 387 deer killed as of Friday, second only to Hillsborough County, which had recorded 583 deer taken as of Friday.
“Sport hunting is the best way to manage deer populations,” Gustafson said. “Southern New Hampshire is the one chance we have potential for overpopulation and hunting season gives us the best opportunity to keep those numbers in check.”