Deer Forecast 2003

By C.J. Winand

Bowhunters in the U.S. and Canada now number 3,012,157. Not bad, when you consider what Fred Bear said when he started bowhunting in 1927 - that you could put "all of the bowhunters in the state of Michigan in the back of a Model-T Ford." Today, Michigan has 323,700 bowhunters, more than any other state. Pennsylvania is second with 280,756, and Wisconsin follows with 227,130.

In the 2002-03 hunting season, the total archery harvest across North America for whitetails, blacktails, and mule deer was 799,109. Collectively, bowhunters had an average success rate of 23 percent! Maryland bowhunters led the pack this year with an incredible 61-percent success! Florida (55 percent) and Kansas (54 percent) weren't far behind. These figures are simply astonishing when you consider that some state's firearms success rates still don't compete with these figures. Georgia bowhunters took the most deer with an estimated 80,000 whitetails. Pennsylvania bowhunters came in second with 74,051 deer.

In respect to harvesting more antlerless deer, Alabama and Mississippi have the best buck to doe (30:70 percent) archery harvest, respectively. This is followed closely by Kentucky.

In only four states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions did bowhunters take more does than bucks - Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey. The Earn-a-Buck policies (i.e., a hunter must take a doe before shooting a buck) in New Jersey seem to be working. I would expect more states to implement this policy. As Maryland's deer biologist, Doug Hotton, said, "Bowhunters must step up and take more antlerless deer."

The biggest news this year was in Pennsylvania where a statewide antler restriction (depending on county, a 3 or 4-point-per-side) was passed. Like many others, I heard all the negative comments, such as, "I don't care what the law says," or "This makes absolutely no sense to me." I recall hearing the same comments prior to adoption of antler restrictions in Mississippi and Arkansas. Nowadays, hunters in those states overwhelmingly support antler restrictions and quality deer management!

Before the season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 citations would be issued to hunters who mistakenly killed bucks that didn't meet the new antler restrictions. Well, Pennsylvania hunters killed 517,529 deer, and Conservation Officers issued only 2,050 citations for mistake kills. In most cases hunters paid a $25 fine and surrendered the antlers or their deer. There were only 46 cases where hunters paid the maximum fine of $500. Clearly, even the skeptics had to be pleased with these figures.

As for the future in Pennsylvania, Quality Deer Management Association's Northeast Regional Director Kip Adams says, "Hunters did a good job increasing the number of antlerless deer taken and should be given a lot of credit. Next year, many Pennsylvania hunters will experience a hunt they only dreamed about until now!" I agree with Kip. Simply letting deer live one year longer (from 1 ½ to 2 ½ years of age) increases antler production an average of 150 percent. Next year, Pennsylvania hunters can expect to harvest 2 ½-year-old bucks that support 15-inch inside spreads with 8 or more points.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is still on deer biologists' worry list. Last year, a 104,751 deer were tested across North America for CWD. Assuming an average cost of $25 per test, federal and state agencies spent $2,618,775 on this testing. If deer herds are not reduced, many biologists fear that CWD could drastically change deer hunting across the continent. Only time will tell.

A number of states and provinces have regulations changes pending at press time, so check local regulations prior to any hunt.

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