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.
[…] HERE: In recent blogs I have spoken to reduced deer numbers and harvests in some regions, especially across the […]
Hunted N. Missouri last season. Numbers were way down. When you can drive 30 to 40 miles of countryside in the evenings when its cold and clear with snow on the ground and see 4 or 5 deer something is very wrong. Its just a shadow of what it once was.
Chris northern Missouri deer populations have basically been cut down to nothing after the CWD & EHD breakouts over the last few years. A good friend of mine owns 5000 acres outside of Kirksville and said that he’s never seen it this bad up there in all his 30 years of hunting. I really hope that the deer population can bounce back in northern MO cause that is the best hunting the state has and it would be a shame if it stays the way it was this year.
Mike I hunt in multiple states each year and I think the south has the most resilient deer herd due to the fact that the herd doesn’t experience harsh winters and EHD has been relatively non existent in the south with a few exceptions here and there. On my hunts in AL and MS in January I was seeing a plethora of deer and one evening I passed on 15 does and 7 different bucks so I’d have to say the herd is still very healthy down south. Last November I hunted in Central Missouri and it was completely opposite I hunted 5 all day sits and maybe saw 9 deer in areas where three years ago I would have seen 100 deer in that time span. I did harvest a giant 8 though so the trip was awesome in the end, but in the midwest it’s vastly different whitetail hunting compared to years ago.
I hunt in NW Wisconsin and the deer herd is way down. I have harvest records for the just the last 11 years and the annual harvest is 60% more does then bucks every year. Combine that with several bad winters and large numbers of predators and the consequences have been dire for the deer herd. The family group I both bow and rifle hunt with all have doe tags every year(given out like candy by the DNR), but haven’t chose to fill any for a number of years.
We are hunting in northern Minnesota and have had the good fortune to have 1000 acres of land to hunt. 5-7 years ago there was actually an overpopulation of deer due to several mild winters but a prolonged dry spell had an impact. Everyone was seeing deer along the roads as that was the only green feed. When normal summer moisture returned, the deer were not as visible due to better browse and less concentration. The deer population is down from 5-7 years ago but I think it is a healthier herd. We have had no issues with seeing deer but have heard that there are no deer from many hunters that don’t stray from the roads very far.
Hunting is about the same here. The harvest is bouncing up and down near our record harvest each year. I watched 8 deer feeding in the front yard this evening.
I didn’t agree with that article in 2011, and I don’t agree with it now. Grant predicted a dire situation with, basically, a population collapse. I don’t believe he can predict EHD outbreaks or the severity of winters several years in advance. Those are short term blows that most areas will recover from in a couple of years, and any correlation between those events and his predictions is by chance. I am still waiting on 50% of America’s deer hunters to give up the sport, as Grant predicts. Maybe I can pick up a couple new deer leases for cheap.
I would also caution against placing values on how many deer a particular hunter or family needs to shoot to fill their freezer for the year. That is completely relative based on the size of family, how much deer is a part of their diet, and the size of the deer. 5 NC does would not feed my family for the year. 5 deer from the midwest, or Canada go a lot farther though.
I agree completely, David.
Hanback here, glad to hear of your good news, as I said in the post it’s not dire everywhere, esp. in southern states where bag limits have traditionally been higher and sustainable. It was a good year for big bucks in my home state VA too.
Where the real trouble is–the upper Midwest and its getting so much attention because that’s where most of the giant bucks have been killed last decade. Deer populations are without question down very much and seasons/limits will have to be cut IMO. I this part of the country at least the Outdoor Life article was harbinger of it.
The total deer we take are including bucks and totaling all hunters in our bunch. Example..Last year we needed 6 total deer. I took a buck and a doe, Travis took a buck and a doe, and Mike took a buck and a doe. We didn’t smash 6 does. Just wanted to clear it up. I may not have stated it well enough
Mike, In Kentucky we have a one buck limit, no matter what weapon is used. I think that makes a big difference. We are seeing plenty of does and take 2 or 3 each year off my 70 acres. I also take coyotes out any time I can.
QDMA has been telling everyone to kill all the does you can for years. Glad we haven’t listened on our farm. Our herd is in good shape.
No problems on the lease in East Texas. The biggest problem all of East Texas has is poachers. All in all Texas has a vast number of whitetails.
We recently moved from NE Kansas to NW Missouri. Bought some land (13 acres), and have 60 acres surrounding us that I was/am fortunate enough to hunt. I saw a total of 8 deer all season (mainly during the rut), on this particular crop/bedding area. In my opinion the deer numbers are either down, or the deer just aren’t there. I will see tracks now and then along with rubs and some scrapes, but have yet to see a lot of sign. For an undisturbed location with timber/crops, and very few people entering and exiting, I would think it would be a prime location for deer. I agree that the tough winter and coyotes probably played a big part in this years numbers.
For the last 3 years I have seen a steady decline in the deer herd here in southeast Indiana. I don’t think we are in as badd of shape as some of the other areas, but the bottom line is, we are the hunters and we are responsible for the health of the deer herd. If it is down….back off! I personally take stock of how much deer meat we have left before the season for my whole family extended, and then figure out how many deer we need to harvest accordingly. I don’t go over it for any reason. There are deer out there to bounce back with….just don’t flatten them if you don’t have to. Remember….each slick you let walk is a potential 3 deer on the hoof for next season. Use your heads and your conscience…..it will work. God bless you all.
I really like that last comment you said about letting deer walk, and using your head and conscience. Great way to put it.
hanback here, agreed!
Harsh Winters and EHD have definetly taken their toll. Throw in the fact that since 2008 or so many states have implemented herd reduction strategies and I do think there are areas that have been hit hard.
EHD and tough Winters, we can’t control, but hopefully a few things will happen that we can……
Lets hope the DNRs in many states will lower the number of antlerless licenses available, people will kill more coyotes, and hunters will exercise a bit of control on the releases or triggers.
But, we also need to understand that the DNR in many states want those herd numbers down and they’ll keep pushing until they reach those goals……..
The last two years have been the worst hunting we have had in 15 years. We hunt Western Indiana. Shooter bucks are scarce and deer numbers seem to be WAY down.