Are Deer Numbers Too Low? Should Deer Limits Or Doe Days Be Reduced?

Another deer season, another round of complaints from deer hunters that they’re not seeing enough deer. Deer numbers are most definitely down in many parts of the state. Is that a good thing, allowing for better habitat management and higher quality deer? Or are you like a lot of hunters who state the obvious that not seeing deer pretty much takes the fun out of deer hunting?

It’s been almost a decade since a subcommittee organized by the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) Game Management Section met numerous times to hash out ideas for the direction of deer management in Georgia. The discussions were dominated by talk about quality management and how to deal with an overpopulation of deer in most parts of the state. There were many aspects to a “10 Year Deer Management Plan” that resulted from that process, but the primary theme was to reduce the buck harvest and increase the doe harvest.

And boy did we…

There was a time in Georgia deer hunting when about 70 percent of the deer harvest was 1 1/2-year-old basket-racked bucks. Now we kill more does than bucks, and many more of the bucks we kill are older-aged. That’s a basic premise of quality management, which most hunters say they want. So what changed in the past 10 years to make this shift a negative?

Guess what wasn’t even mentioned 10 years ago during those subcommittee meetings? Coyotes. That was back in the days of “they don’t eat deer, they eat mice and rabbits.” Of course we now know coyotes do eat deer, and they are having an impact on deer numbers. Deer recruitment rates (the number of fawns that survive) are way down because of coyote predation.

I was a member of the subcommittee, and so was Charlie Killmaster, who was then a University of Georgia graduate student. Charlie is now a WRD senior biologist and State Deer Project Coordinator, and he and other biologists will soon begin the process of creating a new Deer Management Plan. The current 10-year plan ends in 2014.How we manage deer in the future will certainly take coyotes into account.

The process for potential change starts now with this month’s VOTES questions and Cover Ballot, and with eight WRD Hunting Regulations meetings this month (see page 68).

If you think we’re killing too many deer these days, there are two changes you’ve probably considered. One is to lower the deer limit. Twelve deer is a lot, and that’s something hunters point to as a reason for lower deer populations. However, biologists, including Charlie, say if hunters really want to lower the harvest and increase deer numbers, fewer either-sex days would have the greater impact.

Charlie said there just aren’t that many hunters who kill more than three deer a season. There are about 300,000 deer hunters, and they kill about 320,000 to 350,000 deer a year. That’s less than 1.5 deer per hunter. To increase the deer population, you’d need for fewer does to be in that harvest, and you could do that with fewer either-sex days. Typically, fewer hunters are in favor of fewer doe days because they like that freedom to shoot a doe when they want to.

It’s the old adage—make a change that affects the other guy, not me. The problem is that there just aren’t enough “other guys” who kill more than three deer a season to really impact deer numbers, according to biologists.

Let us know what you think. Fill out your Cover Ballot, and make sure to include comments. We’re about to enter a period of hunter comment and potential regulation change. Be a part of the process.

Click here to download your Cover Ballot.

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