Whitetail Report confirms change in deer harvests nationally
It’s a first in the white-tailed deer woods, at least in the last 18 years.
And not necessarily a good one.
Hunters in the 37 states and six Canadian provinces with whitetails killed, on the whole, more antlered deer in the 2017-18 season than antlerless ones, according to the Quality Deer Management Association’s “Whitetail Report 2019.”
That hadn’t happened since 1998.
“The total antlered buck harvest of 2,879,000 in the United States was 2 percent more than the previous season, and 23 of 36 states increased their buck harvest,” said Kip Adams, the Association’s director of conservation. “On the contrary, antlerless harvest was down slightly to 2,827,288.”
That’s a difference of 51,732.
The gap could be smaller or disappear altogether. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources did not return harvest figures in time to be included in the report. There, hunters typically take 70,000 to 90,000 more antlerless deer than antlered ones annually.
But the trend is pretty clear.
Bucks harvests are generally increasing while doe harvests are generally declining, Adams said. And that’s the way things have been for years now.
Given that, he predicted last year that the antlered kill was likely to finally overtake the antlerless harvest in 2017-18. It apparently did.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing, he said then.
While there are exceptions, in most places hunters have to shoot more does than bucks to control deer populations and keep them in balance with the available habitat, he said.
Fawns are born at a one-to-one ratio of males to females. But, Adams said, males have higher mortality rates than females, in hunting season and outside of it.
“So you have to shoot more antlerless deer than bucks each year to keep their sex ratios relatively balanced,” he said.
The Whitetail Report 2019 doubled down on that.
“Reduced antlerless harvests are necessary in areas where deer herds have been balanced with the habitat and/or when other mortality factors (such as predation or disease) are increasing,” it reads. “However, few states should be harvesting more antlered bucks than antlerless deer on a regular basis.”
According to the report, six of 13 midwestern states, eight of 13 northeastern states and seven of 10 southeastern states shot more antlered deer than antlerless ones in 2017-18.
“In total, 27 of 36 states (75 percent) shot more antlerless deer in 2017 than the prior year, but 28 of 36 states (78 percent) shot fewer antlerless deer than their five-year average,” the report said.
There’s one good thing going on with all of those bucks being taken, though. It’s how old they are.
In 1989, 62 percent of all the bucks killed in the country were yearlings, or 1.5-years-old. In 2017-18, just 35 percent were. That “remains near the lowest national percentage ever reported,” the report said.
Meanwhile, one of every three antlered bucks shot in the United States was at least 3.5 years old.
“This is a testament to how far we’ve come as hunters and deer managers,” the report said.
Other statistics from the Whitetail Report 2019
Here’s a look at some other data collected by the Quality Deer Management Association on whitetail harvest numbers:
• Sixty-six percent of deer taken in the 2017-18 season were killed with a firearm, compared to 23 percent with a bow and 10 percent with a muzzleloader.
• An average of 41 percent of deer hunters were successful. Fifteen percent shot more than one deer.
• Texas hunters shot the most bucks in 2017-18 (506,809), followed by Michigan (226,656), Pennsylvania (163,750), Wisconsin (158,812) and Georgia (139,424).
• Michigan hunters killed the most bucks per square mile, at 4.0. Next in line were Pennsylvania (3.7), Maryland (3.3), South Carolina (3.1) and Wisconsin (2.9).
• The top five states for antlerless harvest were Texas (411,200), Georgia 242,205), Pennsylvania (203,409), Wisconsin (161,227) and Michigan (150,709).
• Maryland hunters killed the most antlerless deer per square mile, at 5.7. Next were Delaware (5.2), Pennsylvania (4.5), Georgia (4.2) and New Jersey (3.9).
• New Jersey hunters had more than half of their total deer harvest in the freezer before opening day of their firearms season, and Minnesota hunters shot more than a quarter of their deer harvest on opening day of their primary firearms season.