Many possible reasons for decline in deer harvest
By now you know the gun deer season didn’t provide anywhere near the amount of venison hunters wanted. It was once again a very safe hunting season with only four firearm incidents. I can’t say that I experienced a down season. As a group, we had the best season we’ve had in over five years.
The preliminary registration numbers show that 160,769 deer were registered during gun season, compared to 213,972 last season, or 53,203 less deer. If you want to get into the antlerless verses antlered numbers you will have to look those up. They have been provided in many sources already. Hunters registered less deer in our area, just like the statewide total numbers. I say “registered” for a reason, but I’ll come back to that.
So what did happen? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can actually answer with one cause or effect. It probably involves multiple circumstances. So let’s go back to the spring, that very late spring storm. Certain areas may have had a spike in mortality due to that storm, with deer that were already stressed. We had a similar storm the year before and I found a few deer that succumbed to it while out turkey hunting. But that was
an area that still had plenty of deer in the fall.
This has been a strange year. Last year the rut was most likely still going when the gun deer season started. This year the season was on its latest possible start date. As a group we saw bucks moving together. The rut was stopped or hardly going where I hunted opening weekend. In their press release, the DNR stated that “When this occurred between the 2012-13 and 2007-08 seasons, there were similar declines in year-to-year registration totals.” Deer don’t naturally move as much just after the rut.
There was standing corn everywhere. We all know how well standing corn works at providing food, cover, escape routes, and — as one hunter put it — most likely watering holes this year. You can post up along the edge of corn, you can even run a drive through corn, but you’ll never push all the deer out of the corn. And if the deer decide not to move around they are pretty safe, making for reduced deer sightings. Our group saw very few does and fawns. Seeing mostly bucks in the gun season is a nice problem to have. It took over 40 years of hunting to actually see that, but hey, I can cross that off the list now.
Predation was mentioned in a few conversations I’ve had the last couple of weeks. I know this might shock you, but wolves came up for some reason. Here is the problem with blaming wolves: they were around last year in the same numbers and when we were having record harvests they were here too – about at the same population level. Heck, double the wolf population and that will only remove another 20,000 deer per year. It doesn’t account for a 53,000 plus reduction in harvest. And it fails to address the reality that bears kill far more deer than wolves. I still expect wolves to come up in the conversation; even the old Colonel was griping about wolves when we got together before he headed home.
Opening weekend had beautiful weather. The kind that is great for taking a nap on the stand, especially in the afternoon. I suspect two things. One, more than one deer did the same (take a nap) and second, more than one deer snuck past more than one hunter taking a nap. By the second weekend, the weather conditions were very difficult with low visibility, high winds, and cold. It reduces the time in the woods. Yet I know hunters who killed deer that weekend, even on the last day.
Some say hunters are not registering the deer they kill with this new screwed up tag scenario. The DNR has stated that, under the older system with registration stations, there were always hunters who intentionally didn’t register their deer. They feel those hunters are the minority and that the majority understand the importance of registration and do so, especially since it’s easier now.
It’s a combination of things, and it’s different in each region of the state I suspect. What I do know is that most of the hunters I talk to want to go back to the days when the gun season provided a harvest of 250,000 to 300,000 deer.
K OLAR THROUGH A