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Mild Winters Credited for Twin State Deer Hunting Success

From the opening gun, Dave Smith could tell a difference.

On the first day of deer-hunting rifle season in New Hampshire, he watched his 10-year-old granddaughter bag her first deer — one of nearly 12,400 that fell to licensed sportsmen and sportswomen in 2013.

On the second day, Smith harvested a deer of his own in Hanover Center — 130 pounds, fully dressed.

During bow season, the Enfield resident claimed a 150-pounder.

And on the Granite State’s annual youth hunting weekend, Smith witnessed his 7-year-old grandson bag his first deer.

Quite a haul for one clan, and that doesn’t even count the moose that Smith’s son shot in October.

“It’s as good as it gets,” Smith, in his mid-50s, recalled on Friday. “It beats my record for a great hunting experience, to be out with my son and my grandkids. It trumps any experience you could possibly have. It was an awesome season.”

And the Smiths weren’t alone in their success. According to Twin State deer experts, hunters took more than 14,100 deer in Vermont, 320 more than the average of the previous three autumns, and New Hampshire saw its biggest take since 2007.

The common demoninator?

While winter sports enthusiasts spent recent winters lamenting the abundance of warmth and the relative lack of snow, deer herds were living large.

Or at least in numbers large enough for hunters to see plenty of targets.

“The last three winters have been three of the mildest on record in New Hampshire since Fish and Game started recording winter severity data during the winter of 1964-65,” deer-project leader Dan Bergeron said recently. “This has helped increase deer survival and reproduction.”

Bergeron’s colleagues in Vermont are seeing the same pattern.

“Winter weather is the main driver of the deer population throughout New England,” deer biologist Adam Murkowski said on Friday. “In Vermont, it’s the biggest factor.”

Speaking of big, Bergeron said that the heaviest deer recorded in New Hampshire, 259 pounds, fell in Canaan. No. 3, at 243 pounds, was harvested in Orford.

Murkowski reported Vermont’s biggest deer, taken in Burke, dressed out at 225 pounds. The heaviest on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley checked in in Bradford at 205 pounds.

“The number of deer taken and the weight of deer measured by biologists indicate that Vermont’s deer population continues to remain in good health,” Murkowski said. “Our management strategies allow for slow growth of the herd.”

In New Hampshire, hunters killed nearly 1,770 deer in Grafton County — about the same as 2012 — and more than 820 in Sullivan County, a nearly 5 percent increase from 2012.

Hillsborough County led the way with 2,398 deer harvested. Bergeron said that while “in most of the state, our objective is still to grow the (deer) population,” New Hampshire has been attempting to better control the herd size in the area between Nashua and the Seacoast, where the human population is growing.

Dave Smith, who shot his first deer in Norwich as a teenager in the 1970s, would count the Granite State’s management efforts in Grafton County a success.

“This is the best deer herd I’ve seen for a long time,” Smith concluded. “The past few years, on average, it’s been the best of my life.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.