To bowhunters who aren’t in the know, New Jersey might seem the last place to go looking for a trophy bucks. But that’s just evidence of the fact reputations can be deceiving. The Garden State’s lack of respect as a trophy producer is far more a matter of perception than reality.
It’s not that the notion of this being a place full of people and pavement is totally incorrect. It’s just that New Jersey is way more than just the place where people working in New York City actually live.
“This is the most densely populated state in the nation,” notes Nelson Roque, whose Jersey’s Big Bucks page on Facebook keeps tabs on trophy deer in the area. “But it regularly produces bucks as big as any taken in some of the more highly noted states.”
As the local expert points out, while New Jersey might not look all that big on a map, it has great geographic diversity and is well suited to bowhunting. The northern part of the state has its “wilderness hills,” while southern zones feature the Pine Barrens and a lot of rural farm country. There are roughly 500,000 acres in wildlife management areas, plus other public lands open to deer hunting.
Pope & Young-caliber bucks have been shot in good numbers for many years, and that production continues. Interestingly, the bulk of these bucks keep coming not from generally rural portions of the state, but from some of the more developed counties.
Soils are a big part of the reason. While the vast Pine Barrens encompassing over a million acres of southern New Jersey offers a bowhunter relative peace and quiet, the sandy, acidic soils just aren’t that fertile. And as goes vegetation, so goes a deer herd’s productivity. It’s harder to grow big antlers when the diet is lacking in key nutrients. For this reason, the archer seeking P&Y antlers might want to focus farther north.
Particularly productive have been the counties of Morris, Monmouth, Somerset and Hunterdon. Morris leads the way with 110 bucks in P&Y; Monmouth has 95, Somerset 84 and Hunterdon 67. But it’s worth noting that Monmouth has recorded 56 of its entries since 2010, as opposed to Morris’ 42. Hunterdon has 15 in that period, while Somerset has 10. Although Warren County has a relatively low all-time total of 29 entries, 12 of them have been recorded since 2010. So it’s been on the upswing of late.
Bow season in New Jersey starts early. In 2017, the opener for some zones was Sept. 9. Baiting is allowed, and it has about as good a chance of giving you a look at a bear as buck; New Jersey is rapidly gaining a reputation as a prime place for hunting black bears, which now exist in large numbers in many areas bowhunted for deer.