Leading up to the first-ever whitetail summit held in Missouri last month, QDMA CEO and biologist Brian Murphy said: “Whitetail numbers are down throughout much of their range due to many factors including EHD, predators, and even over-harvest. In some areas, herds are below what the habitat can support and what provides a quality hunting experience. This is a serious issue with significant long-term implications for the future of deer hunting.”
Add in the last couple of brutal winters and it’s rough times for deer and deer hunters in many regions of America.
Actually top whitetail biologist Dr. Grant Woods had predicted these tough times in comments he made in an insightful article published by Outdoor Life back in 2011. “I think we’re nearing a crisis mode,” said Woods… “The best-case scenario is that deer populations drop 10 to 25 percent over the next couple years.”
I admit to scoffing at that article back then. We were just coming off the 2010 season, one of the best I had seen for big buck kills across America. I was posting amazing giants on the blog. And I had just shot my biggest buck ever, a 209-inch monster. Life was good, the hunting was good.
Then BOOM! The massive outbreaks of EHD…new studies that revealed exploding predator numbers and predation on deer (notably coyotes killing and eating 25 to 50 percent or more of fawns in some areas)…toss in the last 2 brutal winters.
Another big factor. For the last 20-25 years, state game agencies encouraged us to shoot more and more deer, and especially does. Hunters obliged; some guys killed 5, 10 or more. Personally I have never understood why a person would want or need to shoot more than 5 deer in a season; surely that is enough to fill your blood lust and your freezer, and donate a couple of animals to the food bank. But the agencies had designed those seasons and limits to reduce the herds, and it was perfectly legal. So who am I to judge.
But now I believe we’re starting to see the dark side of shooting all those deer. Where years ago you might have seen 20-30 deer a day from your stand, you might see 5-10…some days none. Sound familiar?
In the Outdoor Life article referenced, the director of a Southeastern game agency noted that 3 years ago biologists in his state were seeing what he calls “pockets of poverty,” whole areas with few deer. He said he’s been telling hunters for 20 years “that you can’t kill enough does. Now I’m starting to say maybe it’s time to put on the brakes.”
Grant Woods told Outdoor Life that we will never lose all the whitetails. “But I do think we should be prepared to return to the days when you might have to drive 100 miles to find a place to hunt, or consider it a good day when you saw one or two deer, or even just a track.”
Just a few years ago that seemed unthinkable to me, but not now. On 2 separate occasions I have hunted for 6 days in Northern states and not seen a single deer. My best hunting lands on Montana’s Milk River have been devastated by EHD, which killed 90 percent or more of the herd. And they still have not come back. In other states, I have seen some does and immature bucks, but few if any shooters. I have been smacked back down to the new reality.
What do you think about all this this? Are you seeing fewer deer from your stand each day? Seeing fewer good bucks? Do you think the seasons and bag limits in your state have been too liberal for too long; have people been killing too many does? Have you been seeing more coyotes, or wolves…?
Or maybe you’ve been seeing a good number of deer and big bucks. The situation is not so dire everywhere, especially in areas that have not been hit with EHD…and the suburbs of many cities where the habitat is small but good for the deer…some western and southern states where winters have not been brutal. If your hunting is still fair to good to excellent, I want to know that too.
Tell me whatever is on your mind. I want to assemble as much information as I can and try to come up with some possible solutions.