Stating Deer Harvest Goals
Officials work to assess, allot season to maintain healthy herd
As white-tailed deer hunting seasons wrap up around the nation, harvest numbers vary from state to state.
Higher harvest numbers are applauded in some states, troubling in others. While a drop in the number of deer killed may be expected in one state, it’s cause for concern in another.
In Minnesota, the total deer harvest for all of the 2013 seasons was a little more than 172,000, a drop of more than 6 percent from the previous year.
Dave Schad, deputy commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said while there is plenty of deer available in the state, the goal is to limit the population growth so the herd does get out of control.
“Your whole focus turns to limiting population and driving down populations,” Schad, who previously ran the Minnesota DNR deer program and has worked in deer management for 30 years, told Minnesota Outdoor News. “But at some point, you approach the goal or hit the goal and you need to take your foot off the accelerator and rethink your whole focus on deer management.
“We have really good population models. We have really good science that supports our deer program, but it’s always lagging a little bit and it’s always imperfect information.”
Minnesota deer hunters report they are concerned the state’s herd may be getting too small. While the state’s DNR is following plans and population goals set in 2005-2007, Schad said he understands the concern.
“There’s this concern about goals and population levels and the extent to which we kind of err on the side of managing to prevent problems created by deer,” he said, “rather than erring on the side of making sure we don’t overharvest deer and drive populations too low. That has been a tricky balance.”
In Illinois, as in other parts of the Midwest, the deer herd and the yearly harvest has been affected by the outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. Transmitted to deer from biting gnats, EHD becomes more severe during drought conditions, and the Midwest has been struck by historically severe droughts the past two summers.
In 2013, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources received 318 EHD reports in 63 counties, accounting for 1,220 dead deer. The actual numbers are probably considerably higher as most who find dead deer often do not officially report it.
In 2012, the Illinois DNR received reports of 2,968 dead deer in 87 counties.
Doug Dufford, the wildlife disease and invasive species program manager for the Illinois, said the EHD outbreak was most prevalent in the western half of the state, from around St. Louis and north to the Wisconsin state line. However, he said, the disease does not impact deer populations evenly.
In New York, officials had hoped for large harvest and hunters appear to have obliged, boosted by the allocation of Deer Management Permits by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which allowed the taking of antlerless deer.
However, officials believe the final numbers will fall below the results for which they had hoped.
“… It’s likely that we will continue to need higher antlerless harvest in some areas over the coming year to achieve the desired population reductions,” New York DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “We expect the antlerless harvest will be higher this year, but I’d be surprised if it will be as high as what we were looking for.”
New York’s overall kill last year was 242,957, including 209,458 in the Southern Zone, which typically drives the state’s total. The opening weekend of the firearms season in the Southern Zone usually accounts for 25-30 percent of the state’s overall harvest, but those first weekend numbers were down 9 percent in the Southern Zone this year.
Kentucky hunters set an overall harvest record for the second year in a row. When the final season ended Jan. 20, 144,404 deer had been taken. That was a 9-percent increase from the 2012-2013 season.
“This year we were ahead of the curve,” said David Yancy, deer biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Hunters harvested more deer in September than they ever had. The October youth weekend was the best it had been since 2008. There was a slightly better-than-average muzzleloader season and then modern gun season was way better than it normally is. It sort of held throughout.”
A poor mast crop and an increase of about 9,000 hunting permits sold helped push the harvest total.
“The poor acorn crop was a major factor in getting those deer out into the open and into the harvested corn fields and the food plots,” said Tina Brunjes, deer program coordinator with the Kentucky DFW. “The weather during the modern gun season and during the muzzleloader season was not as wonderful as it was last season, but we didn’t have any epic ice storms or some sort of huge flood. Hunters were able to get out.”
In February, officials in Minnesota and Michigan agreed to provide supplemental feedings to deer in areas hit hard by abnormally harsh winter conditions.
In Minnesota, officials have been reluctant to institute the feedings. But a 50-cent surcharge from each hunting license sold in the state has been set aside for the feeding program and hunters have pushed for it. It marks the first since 1997 that the Minnesota DNR has released money from the fund for feeding, which will take place in the northeastern part of the state.
“We still strongly believe that feeding deer is not necessary, that it doesn’t have a significant impact on the overall deer population and that it can have a detrimental effect due to the spread of disease,’’ Paul Telander, Minnesota DNR wildlife chief, told the Duluth News-Tribune, adding that unhealthy deer may come face-to-face with healthy animals at food piles.
Telander said he expects that the majority of the work in the feedings would be taken care of by members of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
In Michigan, the feedings will take place in the southern portion of the Upper Peninsula. The Michigan Department of National Resources announced that clubs, groups and individual may provide supplemental feed in the region through May 15.
“We get deer mortality every year. Even in mild winters, a certain number of fawns will perish,” said Terry Minzey, the Upper Peninsula regional wildlife supervisor for the Michigan DNR. “Feeding mitigates the situation only to a small degree. The truth is, you can’t get enough food to the deer to make a population change across the U.P., but it can impact them at the local level and let them get through the winter.”
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