Please Sign In

Please enter a valid username and password
  • Log in with Facebook
» Not a member? Take a moment to register
» Forgot Username or Password

Is State Deer Management Ruining Your Hunting?

August 20, 2012
Is State Deer Management Ruining Your Hunting? - 2

A month ago Dr. James Kroll (a.k.a. Dr Deer) and his team of whitetail experts released their long-awaited report on whitetail deer and deer hunting in the state of Wisconsin. The report was ordered up by Governor Scott Walker in keeping a campaign promise he made to the deer hunters of his state to “fix the deer hunting problem.” Like the shot heard round the world, the report has been circulating through the whitetail community and promises to change how deer are being managed in more places than Wisconsin.

At the core of any deer management program is the ability to estimate the size of the deer herd in a given state or specific area of a state. Wisconsin uses a population estimation model called the SAK (Sex-Age-Kill) method. Kroll and his team of experts pointed out shortcomings in the SAK approach and recommended that its use be limited. This is a really big deal for Wisconsin hunters who have been at odds with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and it could be a really big deal for you too.

If you are in a big deer hunting state, the plight of Wisconsin’s deer hunters may be all too familiar as more than 20 other states are using the SAK management model as well. If your state is having trouble managing its deer herd, it may just be the result of relying on a more than 50-year-old population prediction model.

SAK was the brainchild of L.L. Eberhardt of the Michigan Department of Conservation who introduced the approach in the early 1960’s. The model allowed state agencies to predict next year’s deer population by looking at a number of predictive variables including last year’s buck harvest which historically had been comprised primarily of yearling (1.5 year old) bucks. Yearling buck harvest numbers and a handful of other variables (doe harvest, winter kill, etc.) were fed into a hopper and out came next fall’s population estimate; the assumption being that yearling buck take was indicative of the overall population of 1.5-year-old bucks in the herd.

Once the deer population estimate was in the bag, doe harvest guidelines could be set, tags issued (based on historical success rates) and the population could be increased, decreased, or kept the same.

The model worked pretty well for most states until hunters started to screw it up by passing up yearling bucks. The model is highly sensitive to sudden shifts in buck harvest rates and all of a sudden yearling buck harvest rates went to free fall. At one time, yearling buck harvest made up 80 percent to 85 percent of all bucks taken in Wisconsin. Thanks to the popularity of Quality Deer Management and the implementation of buck protection programs like “earn-a-buck” yearling harvest rates are now somewhere near 50 percent. That is a serious and sudden change in the buck harvest rate and it’s enough to put the SAK model on tilt if no adjustments are made. Also, there were no guarantees that the adjustments were on target.

Today, nationwide yearling buck harvest rates have plunged from almost 70 percent in 1989 to 38 percent in 2010. Some states are down in the teens. If you live in a state where young bucks are protected (voluntary or legislatively) the yearling buck take could be even lower. Are hunters going to revert to their old ways and start taking 100-pound spikes and fork horns again? Not a chance! This means any and all SAK models in use today are probably obsolete unless they have been adjusted to compensate for the changing trend toward protecting young bucks.

To make matters worse, the SAK model is best suited to estimate populations over large geographic areas like states. Rigid adherence to SAK can result in serious errors when estimating populations at smaller geographic levels like the county, or wildlife management unit (WMU) level.

If you and your hunting buddies have a feeling that things just may be a little off with your state’s deer management program, you may want to start asking a few questions about whether or not your state estimates deer populations through the SAK method. If it does, drill a little deeper and ask how they account for the changing pattern in yearling buck harvest rates (assuming you have one).  And there are other important variables like winter kill, changes in year-to-year doe harvest rates and fawn predation.  These are all fair questions and your agency should be able to provide solid answers.

And while you’re at it, spend some time with the Kroll report to better understand the nature and challenges of deer management and how you as a hunter can be part of the solution to the deer management dilemma. Good deer management occurs when agencies and hunters work together in pursuit of a common mission.  So save your sharpshooting for the woods! As the Kroll report states: “deer management is part science and part art” which translates to “it ain’t all that easy and we need all the help we can get to get this thing right.”

Photo: Spycup
http://www.flickr.com/photos/c168i/

Comments (2)

Top Rated
All Comments
from 6phunter wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

jh45gun,I understand when you look forward to deer season all year and have that happen. HOPEFULLY next year will be better,if not there is lots of room in KENTUCKY .SEASON'S ARE LONG, out of state tags are reasonable, easy available.We may not have as many giants as your state has produced,but we do have plenty of nice bucks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jh45gun wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

The main problem in WI is for at least the past 15 years the DNR has sold anterless deer tags with no regard to actually how many deer were actually out there. As Kroll noted the DNR needs boots out in the field seeing what is there not doing a obsolete deer counting method. (SAC) The DNR has cheapened the deer hunt in WI buy giving unlimited anterless tags in areas which has resulted in a slaughter of the deer herd in WI. For a while it did not matter but eventually it came back to bite them there are few deer in the woods anymore up north anyway and every one I talk to are not happy myself included. Those two dollar anterless tags has resulted in a lot of fawns being shot which means a lot of nubbin bucks also. Used to be if you got a doe tag you held out for an adult doe as you did not want to waste it in a little deer. Now with the unlimited tags the state has been selling for well over a decade a lot of folks think hey that little deer is well worth two dollars since I can get an other tag. I seen trailer loads of does and fawns going across the border to MN during both the rifle season and the T zone hunts the DNR had for a while which also led to way too many deer shot in WI. Even this year while the DNR has listened and not issued any unlimited two dollar anterless tags in the northern part of the state they still have way too many bonus tags at 12 dollars a pop. Buy as many as you want as long as they are available. The deer herd has been declining the last 4 years from still decent hunting to the worst deer seasons I have ever seen and I have been hunting every year since 1964. I am 60 years old and I never seen so few deer as last year. Between bow season and rifle season I could count the deer I seen on my fingers and have fingers left over. Many folks never even seen a deer during rifle season. Used to be opening weekend sounded like a war last season I heard two shots all morning and they were not close. I never seen a deer all season. That never happened ever in all my years of hunting in my home state of WI.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from jh45gun wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

The main problem in WI is for at least the past 15 years the DNR has sold anterless deer tags with no regard to actually how many deer were actually out there. As Kroll noted the DNR needs boots out in the field seeing what is there not doing a obsolete deer counting method. (SAC) The DNR has cheapened the deer hunt in WI buy giving unlimited anterless tags in areas which has resulted in a slaughter of the deer herd in WI. For a while it did not matter but eventually it came back to bite them there are few deer in the woods anymore up north anyway and every one I talk to are not happy myself included. Those two dollar anterless tags has resulted in a lot of fawns being shot which means a lot of nubbin bucks also. Used to be if you got a doe tag you held out for an adult doe as you did not want to waste it in a little deer. Now with the unlimited tags the state has been selling for well over a decade a lot of folks think hey that little deer is well worth two dollars since I can get an other tag. I seen trailer loads of does and fawns going across the border to MN during both the rifle season and the T zone hunts the DNR had for a while which also led to way too many deer shot in WI. Even this year while the DNR has listened and not issued any unlimited two dollar anterless tags in the northern part of the state they still have way too many bonus tags at 12 dollars a pop. Buy as many as you want as long as they are available. The deer herd has been declining the last 4 years from still decent hunting to the worst deer seasons I have ever seen and I have been hunting every year since 1964. I am 60 years old and I never seen so few deer as last year. Between bow season and rifle season I could count the deer I seen on my fingers and have fingers left over. Many folks never even seen a deer during rifle season. Used to be opening weekend sounded like a war last season I heard two shots all morning and they were not close. I never seen a deer all season. That never happened ever in all my years of hunting in my home state of WI.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 6phunter wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

jh45gun,I understand when you look forward to deer season all year and have that happen. HOPEFULLY next year will be better,if not there is lots of room in KENTUCKY .SEASON'S ARE LONG, out of state tags are reasonable, easy available.We may not have as many giants as your state has produced,but we do have plenty of nice bucks.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

bmxbiz