A Look at Whitetail Deer Herd Health & Annual Harvest Totals
DuckBuckGoose - PHJ FieldStaff
Deer and deer hunting captivate the minds of the American hunter. In North America, more hunters hunt Whitetail deer, by far, than any other species. So, in many ways, the "health" of Whitetail hunting as a sport closely reflects the health of the hunting industry as a whole. Whether or not you personally hunt Whitetail deer - if you are a hunter, you have a vested interest in Whitetail hunters being successful. That's because they are the driving force that keeps the hunting industry strong and they represent a passionate and powerful voting block that helps to keep the anti-hunting agenda at bay.
Each year the Quality Deer Management Association publishes a "Whitetail Report" to report on the status of the Whitetail deer. The report draws upon data from previous year's harvest totals and herd health statistics. We recently read QDMA's Whitetail Report 2011 and discovered some really interesting information. I'll just give you an overview of the things that stuck out to me in the summary below, but if you have a chance, I'd encourage you to read the full QDMA report. It is very interesting and informative.
Antlered Buck Harvest by Region
There is a wealth of great data in QDMA's Whitetail Report. Here are some that I found to be most interesting or thought provoking:
• 2009 was a down year in most states, as 25 of the 34 states reporting data shot fewer antlered bucks in 2009 than they did in 2008.
• Of all the states reporting, Texas reported the most antlered bucks harvested, at 300,575. Michigan followed with 215,120 and Georgia took the bronze with 140,142 bone-headed bucks reported.
• The Midwest averaged 1.5 bucks harvested per square mile and shot 3 percent fewer bucks in 2009 than they did in 2008.
• The Northeast harvested 7 percent fewer bucks and averaged shooting 2 bucks per square mile.
• The Southeast harvested 8 percent fewer bucks in 2009 and averaged 2.8 bucks per square mile.
QDMA notes that as hunters, when we see that harvest numbers are down, we tend to want reasoning to explain it. The reality is, the reasons why harvest numbers are down can vary widely, from region to region. For example, in many areas the number of deer killed was up sharply (South Dakota's antlered buck harvest was up 21% from '08 to '09) but there was an overall decrease when looking broadly across North America. Possible contributing factors to fewer antlered deer killed can include local weather, habitat conditions, poor deer management, or improved deer management.
Antlerless Deer Harvest By Region
• According to the report, "The Midwest shot 10 percent fewer antlerless deer in 2009 than in 2008. Wisconsin shot the most per square mile (5.4), followed by Ohio (4.1), Michigan (3.8) and Missouri (2.7), Nebraska (0.4), North Dakota (.6) and South Dakota (.6)".
• 92% of the Midwest states shot more antlerless than antlered deer – with an average of 1.4 antlerless deer killed for every buck that was shot. But "regionally, the Southeastern states averaged shooting more antlerless deer per square mile (3.6) than the Northeast (3.2) and far more than the Midwest (2.1)."
Has There Been a Decline In Record-Book Bucks?
Have you had this question yourself? If so, I think the QDMA did a great job of addressing it. Others are asking this too. For example, In the June 2010 issue of NRA's American Hunter magazine, outdoor writer Patrick Durkin's article entitled "Where Those Big, Gnarly Bucks Are Coming From Now" detailed how the last decade-long compilation of Boone & Crockett bucks (2000 to 2009) saw an amazing 31 percent increase from the previous 10 years (1990 to 1999). He also noted that almost 70 percent of B&C record book bucks taken since 1840 had been harvested during these last two decades.
However, since 2006, the trend has been heading in the other direction. In these last few years The B&C Club has seen a decline of 10 percent in total entries, while the Pope & Young club has witnessed an 18 percent decrease. To try to find answers the QDMA investigated more "local" record book programs like Mississippi's Magnolia Records Program (MRP) and Ohio's Buckeye Big Buck Club (BBBC). Both of these programs showed declines in record book bucks in recent years. Now, that being said, there is some speculation to whether there are actually fewer big bone-headed bucks in the woods, or if other factors are leading to the decline is recorded record bucks. Some of those other factors that could be leading to fewer entries include:
• A reduction in the total number of hunters
• Rising licensing and travel costs during a tough economy resulting in fewer hunters spending less time and money hunting
• Less interest from hunters in getting recognition or "attention" when harvesting a big buck (some hunters think this type of attention could create more competition for their hunting land or rising lease rates if they have to pay to get onto private land.
• Some think that a peak year for hemorrhagic disease in 2007 is revealing its impact in this trend.
• One other possible explanation is that there is simply a 3-5 year lag effect in the number of record book entries, since most record programs don't mandate a timeline in which you have to register your buck, except for the typical 60-day drying period. One interesting factoid shared in this report is that the Buckeye Big Buck Club "routinely sees 15 percent of their annual entries harvested five years or more from the actual scoring date".
A Different (Perhaps Better) Measurement – Per Thousand Square Miles (PTSM)
In search of a better measurement to help explain the supposed trend of a declining number of record book bucks, QDMA took a look at the total number of Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young records each state or Canadian province on a per square mile basis. To evaluate the data, they chose to use the 10 year average (1999-2009) for each club and showed the results as the average number of record-book bucks killed for every 1,000 square miles (PTSM) for each state.
To compare this new measurement to their previous work, the QDMA also grouped all the states measured into regions, so the bigger picture regional data could be assessed as well. The findings showed that there was a 36% increase in recorded B&C entries and a 2% decrease in P&Y entries over the 10-year period across the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. The Western states showed a 25% decrease in B&C bucks but a 34% increase in P&Y animals harvested. Canada was down 25% in reported B&C bucks and down 39% in P&Y club numbers.
As QDMA called out in their report, one of the most interesting insights from their PTSM study was just how very rare eligible record-book deer actually are when looking at their harvest rates on a per thousand square miles basis. For example, my home state of Ohio had the second highest estimated harvest rate of any state in the union during 2009 for Boone & Crockett and the third highest for Pope & Young deer. But the data also shows that in 2009 there were only 1.05 B&C entries and 3.5 P&Y entries per thousand square miles. When you consider that Ohio rates are almost twice that of some legendary mid-west hunting states like Kansas and Missouri – you can see just how rare it is that record-book animals are harvested (or at least recorded). When looking at the 2009 three-region average that includes the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast states, the numbers go even lower – with the average state harvesting only .25 Boone & Crockett club deer and 1.16 Pope & Young bucks per thousand square miles. Now, I don't care how much land you have access to hunt, those are some long odds. But, you just never know. If you do your research, gain access to the right hunting ground, manage your land well and spend enough time on stand, one of those "Booners" may come within range one of these days. Simply knowing that it MIGHT happen makes the hunting experience even more exciting.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and observations on deer harvest trends and record-book deer numbers in the comments section below.
Additional Deer Harvest Resources:
Deer Harvest By State
Ohio Deer Harvest
Wisconsin Deer Harvest
Missouri Deer Harvest
Georgia Deer Harvest
Pennsylvania Deer Harvest
Indiana Deer Harvest
Illinois Deer Harvest
Other Harvest Related Links:
John Deere Harvest
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