Cloudy
58°
Cloudy
Hi 62° | Lo 50°

Fish and Game: 2013 deer hunting season fourth-highest ever

FILE - In this March 23, 2004 file photo, whitetail deer watch motorists pass by on County Road 11 west of Aitkin, Minn. The Minnesota Court of Appeals says a man who had a loaded weapon while he was concealed in a deer blind was "pursuing" deer under state law — and he needed a hunting license. The ruling issued Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 stems from a 2011 case in which a man was cited in Stearns County for hunting without a license. (AP Photo/Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Steve Kohls), File

FILE - In this March 23, 2004 file photo, whitetail deer watch motorists pass by on County Road 11 west of Aitkin, Minn. The Minnesota Court of Appeals says a man who had a loaded weapon while he was concealed in a deer blind was "pursuing" deer under state law — and he needed a hunting license. The ruling issued Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 stems from a 2011 case in which a man was cited in Stearns County for hunting without a license. (AP Photo/Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Steve Kohls), File

Concord — It was a pretty good year for New Hampshire’s deer hunters. Reported kills statewide increased by 7 percent over last year’s totals. And more than 12,300 deer — about 14 percent of the total population — were killed over the three-month hunting season, making it the fourth-highest year on record, according to preliminary figures from the state Fish and Game Department.

“The deer population has grown quite a bit since the 1980s,” said Dan Bergeron, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game and its deer project leader. “And over the years, it has increased and stabilized.”

The preliminary numbers from this past season seem to be in line with a string of steady increases in deer kills over the last several years, which can be attributed — at least in part — to a little help from Mother Nature.

The last three winters, Bergeron said, have been the mildest since Fish and Game began keeping records 50 years ago, leading to a bump in the total number of fawns that survive birth. That’s contributed to a spike in the overall population.

And that, in turn, has helped lead to a greater number of deer kills during hunting season in much of the state.

Yet in Merrimack County, the number of recorded kills this season, according to the unofficial tally, was down by about 360 deer. The reason for the drop, officials said, could be attributed to two things: that an effort made by Fish and Game in recent years to decrease the deer population in some parts of the county has begun to show its effects, making it harder for hunters to find deer now, or that some of the deer killed in the county may have been taken to registration stations in other parts of the state.

In either case, state officials said that the apparent dip isn’t a cause for concern for them — and that the total number of kills in the county will likely rise when a final, more complete report is issued in February or March.

“The data we have at this point is only where deer were registered,” said Kent Gustafson, the wildlife programs administrator at the Fish and Game Department. “We don’t know yet where they were killed.”

A sliver of towns in the eastern portion of the county are included in a Fish and Game wildlife management unit where — due to weather conditions, habitat space and a higher volume of deer-vehicle collisions — officials have made it a priority to curb deer population growth.

In most of the state, though, Fish and Game is trying to raise the population.

It’s doing so by limiting the number of does that can be killed during the season and by allowing certain kinds of deer to be hunted only on specific days.

And officials are hopeful that the overall trend of steady population growth will continue. Bergeron said that as part of a long-term wildlife plan, state officials are aiming to have the total state deer population eclipse 98,000 by the end of 2015.

With the pre-hunting season total hitting an estimated 87,000 this year, he said the state is relatively on track to hit that goal. But another nudge from Mother Nature could help cement it.

“If we have another light winter, the herd should continue to increase,” he said.