Each year, we round up photos of the country's biggest bucks and most thrilling hunting stories for the Outdoor Life Deer of the Year contest. Now, we're calling on you to help us pick America's favorite buck. We've selected the 16 finalists for the reader's choice award and divided them by region. So, vote for your favorite bucks below. We'll post Round 2 of the contest next week.
Enter a photo of yourself with your 2013/2014 deer and you could win great gear and be featured on the cover of our August 2014 issue! We’ll use the information you give us to generate the charts to the right.
The recent North American Whitetail Deer Summit hosted by QDMA is well over, but it’s impact is still being felt. The summit identified the principal threats facing deer and deer hunters and spawned a national initiative to do something about them. The summit identified all kinds of issues threatening whitetails, but the 800-pound gorilla in the room somehow got lost in the shuffle.
The summit was held a month ago in Branson Missouri and attracted more than 200 of the best minds in the deer business. Representatives from across the whitetail stakeholder spectrum showed up to take a hard look at issues facing deer in North America.
The group met for two and a half days and produced an extensive list of issues and ranked them from most threatening to least. In all, some 20 items were identified. At the top of the list: 1) hunter recruitment and retention; 2) education to support hunters; 3) hunting and access; 4) influences; 5) the captive deer industry; 6) deer diseases; 7) public concern for population levels low or high.
From a national perspective, whitetail hunting and management seem to be at a crossroads. Not too many years ago whitetail powerhouse states like Wisconsin, Alabama, and Nebraska were seeing all-time record harvests (2000, 2005, and 2010 respectively) and the Boone and Crockett club had never received more entries. But, now a handful of indicators are suggesting that the deer hunting bubble is about to burst — or maybe that it already has. Increased predator numbers, deer diseases like epizootic hemorrhagic disease and chronic wasting disease, and years of high antlerless harvests have put many deer herds on unstable ground. Hunters from corners of classic whitetail country like Montana's Milk River and the riverbottoms of Illinois have already seen drastic declines in deer numbers over the last few years. Then, several bad EHD outbreaks peppered the nation last summer and a brutal 2013/2014 winter struck much of the Midwest and Northeast. This could spell more bad news for deer hunters this season.
The last place you would expect to see an animal rights group is protesting alongside a hunters’ rights group, but that’s exactly what is happening on Long Island’s East End. When town, state, and federal authorities announced the plan to remove as many as 3,000 deer from the local population, it polarized the community—and created unlikely allies. This is the first landscape-level cull in the region, and it has certainly garnered its share of opposition.
Local sportsmen were outraged over the use of hired guns to manage the local whitetail population. As with a lot of areas, access for hunters is extremely limited on Long Island. Now taxpayers are going to fund a service that hunters would happily provide for free?
Not surprisingly, local animal rights groups were equally opposed. Their protests and petitions started almost immediately. Senators were called, local officials were inundated with requests to stop the impending actions. Many questioned the biological implications of removing so many deer, as they are a keystone species. Mostly, though, the animal rights groups just didn’t want to see that many deer die.
But before you applaud or admonish a deer cull, it’s important to first know how these things actually work. That’s where I come in. As a wildlife specialist for USDA Wildlife Services, I participated in three deer culls over five years.
Some details remain to be worked out, but as of late Monday night it is official: crossbows are now officially a legal hunting implement in New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law that allows for the use of crossbows during at least part of the general archery season and through the entirety of the general firearms season.
It may not be everything many New York sportsmen and women asked, but is seen as a huge step forward by the New York Crossbow Coalition, which squared off with the New York Bowhunter’s association for years to get a season ratified.
“Today, crossbows have been awarded their proper place in the sporting community,” said Rick McDermott of the NYCC.
Back in 2000, voters in my home state of Montana passed Constitutional Initiative 143, effectively ending the controversial business of game farming.
The catalyst for the initiative was the discovery of chronic wasting disease in a captive elk facility near Philipsburg, in the very heart of Montana’s wild-elk country. Elk in the facility were quarantined, then euthanized (shot by government marksmen), and later tested for always-fatal CWD, for which there is no cure and which is easily transmittable to wild deer and elk.
The months leading up to the vote that ended game farming was hugely polarized, with pro-business groups claiming that voters were improperly impinging a legitimate industry, while hunting groups mostly argued that a few poorly regulated operators were putting Montana’s publically owned wildlife—and the $500 million-a-year hunting industry—at inappropriate risk.
Big changes are in the works for bowhunting in Connecticut. Not only is bowhunting on the rise among the state’s hunters, but the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is also considering lifting the ban on Sunday hunting for deer hunters using bows.
Virginia recently decided to allow hunters into the woods on Sundays, and Connecticut wildlife officials are considering the same revision. If implemented, the legislation would permit bowhunters to pursue deer only on private land on Sundays, reports the Hartford Courant. Wildlife officials say the whitetail population is growing too large and an extra day would give hunters additional opportunities to take a deer.
Back in 2011, when we published a downbeat assessment of deer trends across North America, we were called alarmists, pessimists, and even unpatriotic.
How could we dare challenge the notion that America’s whitetail resource was anything but renewable, robust, and ever-giving?
We were simply reading the tea leaves when we published “The Deer Depression,” a forecast of downward-trending whitetail signs that, looking back on it from this dismal year, seems especially prescient.
It’s worth revisiting the story to look at how quickly wildlife populations can cycle, and to remind ourselves that especially when we deer hunters get comfortable, disease, winterkill, land-use, and even our hunting regulations can quickly change the calculus.
My son Neil phoned me this morning with a winter kill report from one of his client’s properties. He has been walking the property for two days and so far he has turned up almost a dozen carcasses. He estimates this to be about 5 or 6 percent of the deer using the downstate New York property, which was hard hit with winter weather this year. Overall the habitat in the area is poor. Short of a few standing cornfields (which were cleaned up in January) and some greenfields (which were covered in deep snow), there was little food available through much of the winter. The area is also plagued by an overpopulation of deer; roughly 100 deer per square mile. They are lucky to only have lost that many.