2017 Deer Update: How Are Mule Deer Doing?

mule deerAt the 2017 North American Deer Summit last week, Jim Heffelfinger of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported on the status of the mule deer across the American West.

Mule deer went through tough times in the 1990s, and populations declined in many areas. More than 20 years later most people still think mule deer numbers are down, “but actually there’s good news,” said Jim. “Mule deer populations have been trending up, and are stable or increasing slightly in most states.”

Jim pointed to Utah, Idaho and California as bright spots, with herds on the slight rise. But he did acknowledge that the winter of 2016 was brutal in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, where there should be a “little dip” in deer numbers this year.

In the West, mule deer face unique challenges, such as expanded housing, energy and road development in herds’ migration routes and wintering areas; limited and changing water supplies; and changes in habitat and food sources. Major predators of the mule deer are the coyote (on fawns) and mountain lion.

Jim is particularly positive about the herds and the number of big, mature bucks in his home state of Arizona. “The big bucks are here in any given year.” Arizona manages their mule deer so conservatively—drawing a tag is tough—that there are always big deer on public ground. Also expect lots of huge public-land bucks this fall next door in New Mexico, where again pulling a tag is the biggest challenge.

2017 Whitetail Report: How Are The Deer Doing?

sd sioux falls buck 2008I recently returned from the 2017 North American Deer Summit, a two-day event where the top deer biologists and scientists in the nation gather to discuss the health of our herds and the future of hunting. First on the agenda: How are whitetail deer doing across the U.S.?

QDMA biologist Kip Adams kicked off the discussion with some good news. After several tough years (2011-2014) when winters were harsh in some regions and big outbreaks of EHD  killed substantial numbers of deer in other areas, things are looking up for America’s most popular and widespread game animal.

Kip pointed out that the buck harvest is up 4% (hunters in America shoot some 2.7 million bucks every fall). Furthermore, the percentage of bucks 3.5 years of older in the harvest has never been higher.

It took a while but hunters as a whole have finally embraced the idea of letting small bucks walk in hopes that they will the opportunity to shoot a mature, big-racked deer next season or the next. “I’ve been monitoring this issue for many years, and hunters’ attitudes on letting young bucks grow have definitely changed,” said Kip.

Also, 10-15 years ago, if a state wanted to implement antler restrictions in order to save immature bucks, hunters would scream. Today, more hunters than ever, a strong majority, support antler restrictions that let 1- and 2-year-old bucks walk and grow.

But there are threats to deer herds and deer hunting, including predators and lack of access to good land for hunting. But it all pales to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. 

CWD, which has now been documented in more than 20 states, is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior (drooling and stumbling), loss of bodily functions and ultimately death.

A large portion of the 2-day deer summit was devoted to the CWD threat, and I’ll cover that more in future blogs. But here’s the most disturbing thing.

Consider that CWD has been documented in both mule deer and whitetails in Wyoming for at least 40 years. For those 4 decades the deer herds survived and grew in many locations, causing some people to be skeptical of the CWD threat.

Consider me one of those early skeptics. I have hunted in Wyoming many times, and on every hunt, I have been amazed at the number of deer I have seen. Some of the strongest herds in America. How could there be so many deer out here if CWD is such a big deal?

Studies from CWD-prevalent areas in Wyoming the last couple of years have shown noticeable drops in deer numbers, perhaps 18% in places. This is the first time that CWD has been directly linked to population declines. The big worry as CWD spreads across the country: Once herds are infected with CWD, maybe it takes several decades for substantial numbers of deer to start dying and populations to diminish?

There are still many questions and a lot to be studied and learned about CWD, but Kip Adams and all the other scientists at the summit echoed the same sentiment: CWD is the biggest threat to deer and deer hunting in 2017 and maybe ever. All hunters must get engaged on this issue and be informed.

CWD aside for now, the outlook for the upcoming season is good across North America. “For the most part, last winter was fairly mild in most areas, and we’ve have lots of moisture this spring,” said Kip. “The 2017 hunting season is setting up to be a good one.”     

Alberta Black Bear Hunt

alberta kelly bear

Come to find out, Big Deer’s resident shed-hunting expert is also a bear hunter. Kelly files this report from the Alberta bush: 

Mike: Another great Canada bear hunt in the books. Very warm conditions this year, but many bears. Had to be selective when picking an animal to shoot, as there were many rubbed bears.

The units I hunt in Alberta are two-bear units. I shot this black bear and waited for a colored bear to no avail. This was my fifth year up in Alberta and I have yet to shoot a color-phase, but there is always next year.

I’m happy. The bear I shot squared 6’6” with a very clean coat. Already looking forward to next year!—Kelly K

DIY Deer: Cheap, Easy Trail-Camera Fasteners

It’s time to get your trail-cameras out at mineral sites and on food plots if you haven’t already. The 2017 buck season will be here before you know it! This guest blog from our good friend Kim might come in handy:

Are the straps on your trail cameras getting old and worn, or do you just not like the way they attach a cam to a tree? Well, for under $6 you can make 4 tree fasteners that will hold your cams securely in place.

stand fasterner i

Parts list:

–Four 5-inch-long Eye Screws

–8 Fender Washers

–4 Lock Nuts

–4 Wing Nuts

–Four 2-inch-long round-head Stove Bolts.

The diameter of the washers, nuts and bolts will be determined by the model of trail camera you use. Most cameras these days have an industry-standard ¼-inch attachment socket.

For cameras with a back mount, start by putting a 90-degree bend in your eye screw.  Place eye screw in a vice with its eye up, then with a hammer, pound it down to 90 degrees.

Attach stove bolt through eye of screw with a washer on each side and a lock nut. Then place a wing nut on the stove bolt so that when you attach the camera to this bolt you can use the wing nut to tighten the connection to your camera.

I hang the fasteners on a wire outside, and spray them with flat-black paint.

stand fastener 2

To attach to a tree, turn the screw into the tree at the desired height and angle until it is firmly in the tree.

stan fastener 3

Now attach your camera, and snug down the wing nut to keep it pointed exactly how and where you want it. If a camera does not quite have the downward angle that a lot of hunters prefer, simply apply a little pressure to the bolt and bend slightly down.

With your cams set and secure, you’re ready to get images of bucks and monitor how their racks are growing.–Kim

“Extreme Hunting Rigs” on BIG DEER TV

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I just got back from Montana where we filmed these customized Dodge trucks.

florida swamp buggy

Earlier this year I traveled down near Lake Okeechobee and filmed a hog hunt out of the swamp buggy pictured here.

oregon desert camp

There’s a jet boat, lifted 20-year-old camouflage Suburban and 1970s-era Land Rover fully customized for, get this, gopher shooting…

You’ll see these extreme rigs and more on an all-new and totally unique episode of BIG DEER TV this fall. Hunters love their trucks, and you’ll love this show.