Old-timers will remember when there were two huge weekends for Georgia deer hunters—opening day of gun season, and then a couple of weeks later there was the first “doe-day” weekend of the season.
Well, doe days are back… not nearly to the extent they once were, but there’s reason again to take some time learning which days are buck-only for the county you hunt. The only counties where every day is either-sex for firearms deer hunters are the nine QDM counties. Bowhunters can still take does any day of the deer season from archery season until the end of gun season.
WRD brought back doe days in response to widespread hunter concerns about lower deer populations in Georgia. Many hunters have been saying for several years that overharvest of deer combined with predation by coyotes has hammered the deer population in some areas.
On large tracts of intensively managed land where most does traditionally are harvested in December, hunters will have to shoot them earlier or in a narrow window after Christmas.
Hunters spoke loud and clear at public meetings, through letters and emails, and in a statewide survey that deer hunting isn’t near as good as it used to be in Georgia, and something needed be done. The state’s response was fewer days when antlerless deer are legal. Meanwhile, what more hunters wanted—a lower deer limit—they aren’t getting.
In a survey published in the February issue of GON, a record 47 percent of the almost 1,200 hunters who participated rated their deer season as poor, and 30 percent gave it only a fair rating. That same survey asked what should be done, and 65 percent favored a reduction in either-sex days, while 86 percent favored a lower deer limit.
Biologists and experts keep telling us the deer limit doesn’t affect overall harvest numbers, and they have math that backs that up. No one knows precisely how many deer we have or how many are killed, but let’s say the state is close enough in saying we have about 1 million deer and we kill about 400,000 a season. There are about 300,000 hunters who hunt deer in Georgia. That’s a harvest of 1.2 deer per hunter. If we lower the limit to two deer per season, and everyone kills only their two-deer limit, we’ll increase the harvest by a staggering 50 percent. However, it’s the 6,000 or so hunters who the state says kill more than five antlerless deer a season that hunters are concerned with.
More on deer limits in a bit.
In much of the Northern Zone, either-sex days are reduced 33 percent from 75 days to 50 days. However, in the QDM counties of Hancock, Meriwether and Troup, every day of firearms season remains a doe day. In the mountains, either-sex days in Fannin, Rabun, Towns and Union counties are reduced from eight to six days. In Banks, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hart, Lumpkin, Murray, Stephens, White and Whitfield counties, the number of either-sex days dropped to 18 days from 26 days.
In the Southern Zone, the QDM counties of Dooly, Harris, Macon, Montgomery, Randolph and Talbot continue to have either-sex days every day of firearms season (89 days). The rest of the Southern Zone is reduced by 25 either-sex days to a total of 64 days (either-sex hunting is closed from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25).
Again, all archery hunting remains either-sex, including during firearms season statewide.
Meanwhile, there have been numerous statements that WRD doesn’t regulate deer limits, that the state legislature sets deer limits. While that’s a fact, it’s also true that deer limits weren’t raised on the whims of politicians—they were raised because WRD wanted them raised. And we didn’t get to a 12-deer limit without opposition from hunters. When the deer limit was raised from five to eight in 2000, and then when it was raised from eight to 12 in 2002, surveys showed most hunters didn’t want the increases
Now, as concern over disappearing deer has reached a boil, it’s disingenuous to dismiss hunters who ask for a lower deer limit by saying only legislators can deal with deer limits.
Specifically, what WRD told hunters in email responses to concerns about the deer limits is this:
“Concerning the deer bag limit, deer are the only game species that the department does not have the regulatory authority to adjust the bag limit. The deer bag limit is firmly established in state law, which may only be modified by elected members of the Georgia General Assembly. Thus, the regulatory tools available to the department to address biological issues relating to deer harvest are season length and either-sex days.”
That’s true, but it’s not an accurate portrayal of how the process has ever worked. In 2000, without any comment or public input from deer hunters, WRD asked legislators to introduce a bill that would completely do away with limits on antlerless deer in Georgia.
That raised a few eyebrows, to put it mildly. After opposition, a compromise bill was introduced that only raised the season limit to eight instead of “no limit.”
In a WRD briefing prepared for legislators released on Feb. 3, 2000, WRD made its case for higher deer limits. The document cited a trend of liberalized deer regulations including the 1988 increase in the limit from three deer to five and a 250 percent increase in either-sex days.
“Repeatedly,” the WRD brief stated, “the deer herd has demonstrated its capability to prosper under substantial hunting pressure.”
Back then, in asking legislators to increase the deer limit, WRD noted two areas where too many deer were a problem—suburban areas where hunting pressure was low and on large private landholdings where hunter numbers were limited.
“We’re having a lot of problems with deer damaging people’s gardens and flowers and things like that,” said then WRD Director David Waller when he spoke before the House Game, Fish & Parks committee and asked for legislative support for higher deer limits.
Unfortunately, what we’ve accomplished is a drastic reduction in deer numbers where hunting actually takes place, like on hunting clubs, while gardens and flowers remain nice treats for unhunted backyard deer.
In 2000, hunters didn’t want the deer limit raised. Most, 47 percent, said keep the deer limit at five; 30 percent said raise it to eight; 13 said reduce the limit below five; and only 10 percent said we didn’t need a limit at all on antlerless deer.
The same scenario played out two years later in 2002 when again the state tried to do away with the limit on antlerless deer. The legislators compromised by “only” raising the limit to 12.
The key point is WRD was the catalyst and key proponent in getting the deer limit raised, twice. Certainly WRD could ask for and get a reduction in the deer limit if they wanted to, just as they asked for and got the limit increased.