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

Where Have All the Whitetails Gone?

January 23, 2014
Where Have All the Whitetails Gone? - 12

There was an audible buzz at the recently concluded industry shows. In fact, it was more like a roar. The hottest topic wasn’t the best bow or newest camo pattern, the buzz was all about whitetails or the lack thereof.

It seems as if many industry veterans and influencers who make their living by selling whitetail deer-related products are seeing a precipitous decline in deer population numbers in various parts of the country and no one is happy about it. Keep in mind that the hunting industry is driven by whitetail deer (70% of hunters hunt whitetails) and declining deer numbers are a real threat to the industry.

These big shows (Archery Trade Association and Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade) attract the creme de la creme of the outdoor field. Everyone on the show floor either hunts for a living or makes products for people who would like to hunt for a living. As such, it is a clearing house for whitetail hunting information. This year the information seemed especially grim—deer numbers were down, and big bucks were particularly hard to come by.

This might come as no surprise to those of us who live in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Alabama, but it is a new experience for the guys who have been flocking to the Midwest in search of big deer. Hunting has gotten decidedly tougher in many parts of the Midwest over the past few years with 2013 going down as particularly poor tough. But it is not just about big bucks, it’s also about overall numbers as evidenced by trail camera surveys and day-to-day sightings. Everywhere you turned, hunters were huddled, wondering what happened and what should be done. 

Sportsmen from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri may have been the most vocal. Many hunted hard all season without seeing a shooter buck.

The calmer ones mentioned how some of these states were hit pretty hard with epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in 2007 and again in 2012 and some of them suffered another hit in 2013. Others mentioned outfitters tying up all the hunting ground and killing more young bucks than ever before. Many believed that natural deer habitat in these states was in need of some serious natural habitat work. A few mentioned tougher than normal hunting conditions last season and an increase in predation.

Some were just mad at everyone accusing state natural resource departments of adopting a “shoot all the does you can to keep the insurance companies and farmers happy” management policy. One thing is certain, they all agreed that the status quo in deer management practices needs to be examined carefully.

There’s no doubt that Midwestern deer hunters refuse to sit back and watch the best deer hunting on the planet quietly go to hell. They are all over their state’s officials and they are asking all the right questions. Deer hunters know plenty about managing deer these days and are not afraid to show it. Declining deer herds is the lead topic at the National Deer Summit meeting being hosted this spring by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). Hundreds of deer experts, state wildlife managers, hunting industry leaders, the outdoor press, and just plain deer hunters will be gathering the first weekend in March in Springfield, Missouri, to dig into this problem and hopefully come up with solutions. Disappearing deer are a serious problem and the guys that get paid to manage them had better have some pretty good answers.
 
What do you think? What did you see (or not see) last season? Are deer populations in trouble where you hunt?

Comments (12)

Top Rated
All Comments
from HuntingEditor wrote 23 weeks 5 days ago

We've been talking whitetails up til now, but in many areas of the West, mule deer are in trouble. A combination of a couple tough winters, drought conditions in some areas, and conversion of habitat has cause pretty intense localized population drops. Montana is talking about making the general tag valid for buck whitetails and mule deer only. It's hard to stress how big a decision this proposal represents. For nearly 40 years, Montana deer hunters have been able to shoot either a doe or a buck (or a fawn, for that matter) on their A Tags. Doe tags have been eliminated in many hunting districts.
- mckean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from sangcoacc wrote 24 weeks 1 day ago

The number of deer observed on the farms we hunt in Central IL have been noticeably lower for at least 3 years. Hunter numbers are steady or a bit higher. Our harvest totals have dwindled. 5 years ago, our group sported a 100%+ harvest rate and this year it was more like 33%. I think we are partly to blame as we were probably harvesting too many does. Coyotes are plentiful, yet ellusive. However, another hunter I talked to recently claims that one guy in their group has trapped over 60 coyotes this winter off of the farms they hunt. EHD has not been apparent in our immediate area. Habitat has actually increased but I wonder if the quality of that habitat is deteriorating. I would love to hear what is said in Springfield, MO in March. Meanwhile, I plan to learn more about habitat management, hunt a few coyotes and pray for a little more rain this summer.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from mytwo cents wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

Any state that allows hunters to shoot two or more doe will see a decline in the total deer population. If hunting pressure is exceptional, even one doe per hunter will whack a population of deer in a given area. Hunters are the reason for the rebound in deer and they are the reason for the now drastic decline. Close doe seasons for a year or two and you will see a nice rebound. The white tail has proved a gift to man in its ability to live in a variety of ecosystems and its ability to add to its numbers fairly rapidly for a big game animal. Hunters and industry merchants better organize quickly, because the 800 pound gorilla in the room is insurance companies. Even though deer vehicle collisions never put an insurance company out of business and stopped them from making a profit, they will gladly take more profit at the expense of the hunting industry and meat on your table or a trophy on your wall. I do not believe farmers are an issue since many farmers are hunters and many I know are concerned they are not seeing the deer they used to see. If the doe population gets too low, there will be a collapse. This may be blamed on a disease and a disease could be a final nail in the coffin if deer populations are already low due to over harvesting of doe. Paradoxically a large robust population has more genetic diversity and can shake off diseases with little impact. Many deer may die but percentage wise will be much smaller in a large herd verses a small less genetically diverse small herd. Sorry for the long post, I happen to be a biologists that is saddened by the unnecessary steep drop in the white-tail population.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from njschneider wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

was it not just last year that their was an article titled "Boone & Crocket says Whitetail herd is at healtiest level" Or "golden age of hunting" because of record amount of Boone & crocket entries. Haha one year later "where have all the deer gone".

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bsakacsi96_WV wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

Here in West Virginia it was rough! This year was pretty bad it was a struggle to see a deer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 24 weeks 3 days ago

I live in Iowa like DSMbirddog and 4everAutumn, and I partially agree with their assessment of the situation here. I'm no fan of the DNR's and legislature's deer policies either, but I have to say, some of the blame lies with the hunters themselves. After all, the DNR and legislature aren't forcing hunters to buy and use doe tags - they're doing it of their own free will, and I personally know of hunters who complain all the time about low deer numbers, but still go out and shoot every doe they see. I also think habitat loss is a big (and somewhat overlooked) factor in some areas. With the insanely high corn and bean prices of the last few years, farmers have been tearing out a lot of CRP ground, and bulldozing every little swale and brushy fenceline they can. Every little piece of that kind of cover might not hold a ton of deer, but if you have enough of it taken out, it starts to add up. And then of course we have somewhat unavoidable factors such as EHD and coyote predation on fawns.
I personally saw a pretty decent number of deer last year, especially in late muzzleloader season, but the number of big bucks I saw was way down.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 24 weeks 3 days ago

I agree with the comments regarding Iowa concerning the politics of the deer management. It starts, I believe, with the governor and goes on down the line. The DNR says they are meeting their management goals but the question is what are those goals based upon? It is the same problem with the water quality issues in this state. Interest groups are heavily invested in this area so we end up with regulations that only ask for voluntary compliance with fertilizer use and livestock waste disposal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from cowboystl1 wrote 24 weeks 4 days ago

first part of the season in north MO i saw three keepers and never saw them again the same day my hunting partner shot a 130s 8 but never saw another deer. i goose egged this year. in another part of South MO my whole family seemed to clean up i passed on a bunch of small deer, but we took a bunch of keepers for public land hunting and my son in another part of south MO killed a monster still waiting for a score but even with the broken tine im betting 160s 170s easy the north is a struggle but south the deer are all over the place

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Billy Grose wrote 24 weeks 4 days ago

Here in WV this was the worst year i have had in 10 years as far as even seeing deer,numbers are dwn...

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 25 weeks 7 hours ago

All wildlife populations fluctuate over time. Kinda like the stock market or real estate markets. Ups and downs. Disease. Predators. Weather. Habitat. Take your pick. Whitetails have been booming for a couple decades, to unprecedented highs. No boom lasts forever. Companies would like to see endless growth, endless profit. The real world doesn't work that way.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 4everAutumn wrote 25 weeks 20 hours ago

We have been hit hard with EHD in Iowa. The main problem though, is the fact that management decisions are taken out of the hands of the DNR. In spite of IA DNR recommendations, the legislature refuses to limit the amount of available deer tags or allow for changes to the seasons. The political puppet strings in this state are controlled by the Farm Bureau and the auto insurance industry. They have convinced the unknowing public that there is a deer hiding behind every tree. The fact of the matter is that in many parts of the state, the deer herd is in desperate trouble. Now with the deer farm "gift" of CWD being introduced into the state, I can only imagine this being a continuing decline.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from cade99 wrote 25 weeks 21 hours ago

Blue tongue got a bunch in Wyoming

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from Billy Grose wrote 24 weeks 4 days ago

Here in WV this was the worst year i have had in 10 years as far as even seeing deer,numbers are dwn...

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 24 weeks 3 days ago

I live in Iowa like DSMbirddog and 4everAutumn, and I partially agree with their assessment of the situation here. I'm no fan of the DNR's and legislature's deer policies either, but I have to say, some of the blame lies with the hunters themselves. After all, the DNR and legislature aren't forcing hunters to buy and use doe tags - they're doing it of their own free will, and I personally know of hunters who complain all the time about low deer numbers, but still go out and shoot every doe they see. I also think habitat loss is a big (and somewhat overlooked) factor in some areas. With the insanely high corn and bean prices of the last few years, farmers have been tearing out a lot of CRP ground, and bulldozing every little swale and brushy fenceline they can. Every little piece of that kind of cover might not hold a ton of deer, but if you have enough of it taken out, it starts to add up. And then of course we have somewhat unavoidable factors such as EHD and coyote predation on fawns.
I personally saw a pretty decent number of deer last year, especially in late muzzleloader season, but the number of big bucks I saw was way down.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from sangcoacc wrote 24 weeks 1 day ago

The number of deer observed on the farms we hunt in Central IL have been noticeably lower for at least 3 years. Hunter numbers are steady or a bit higher. Our harvest totals have dwindled. 5 years ago, our group sported a 100%+ harvest rate and this year it was more like 33%. I think we are partly to blame as we were probably harvesting too many does. Coyotes are plentiful, yet ellusive. However, another hunter I talked to recently claims that one guy in their group has trapped over 60 coyotes this winter off of the farms they hunt. EHD has not been apparent in our immediate area. Habitat has actually increased but I wonder if the quality of that habitat is deteriorating. I would love to hear what is said in Springfield, MO in March. Meanwhile, I plan to learn more about habitat management, hunt a few coyotes and pray for a little more rain this summer.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from cade99 wrote 25 weeks 21 hours ago

Blue tongue got a bunch in Wyoming

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 4everAutumn wrote 25 weeks 20 hours ago

We have been hit hard with EHD in Iowa. The main problem though, is the fact that management decisions are taken out of the hands of the DNR. In spite of IA DNR recommendations, the legislature refuses to limit the amount of available deer tags or allow for changes to the seasons. The political puppet strings in this state are controlled by the Farm Bureau and the auto insurance industry. They have convinced the unknowing public that there is a deer hiding behind every tree. The fact of the matter is that in many parts of the state, the deer herd is in desperate trouble. Now with the deer farm "gift" of CWD being introduced into the state, I can only imagine this being a continuing decline.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 24 weeks 3 days ago

I agree with the comments regarding Iowa concerning the politics of the deer management. It starts, I believe, with the governor and goes on down the line. The DNR says they are meeting their management goals but the question is what are those goals based upon? It is the same problem with the water quality issues in this state. Interest groups are heavily invested in this area so we end up with regulations that only ask for voluntary compliance with fertilizer use and livestock waste disposal.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 23 weeks 5 days ago

We've been talking whitetails up til now, but in many areas of the West, mule deer are in trouble. A combination of a couple tough winters, drought conditions in some areas, and conversion of habitat has cause pretty intense localized population drops. Montana is talking about making the general tag valid for buck whitetails and mule deer only. It's hard to stress how big a decision this proposal represents. For nearly 40 years, Montana deer hunters have been able to shoot either a doe or a buck (or a fawn, for that matter) on their A Tags. Doe tags have been eliminated in many hunting districts.
- mckean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 25 weeks 7 hours ago

All wildlife populations fluctuate over time. Kinda like the stock market or real estate markets. Ups and downs. Disease. Predators. Weather. Habitat. Take your pick. Whitetails have been booming for a couple decades, to unprecedented highs. No boom lasts forever. Companies would like to see endless growth, endless profit. The real world doesn't work that way.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cowboystl1 wrote 24 weeks 4 days ago

first part of the season in north MO i saw three keepers and never saw them again the same day my hunting partner shot a 130s 8 but never saw another deer. i goose egged this year. in another part of South MO my whole family seemed to clean up i passed on a bunch of small deer, but we took a bunch of keepers for public land hunting and my son in another part of south MO killed a monster still waiting for a score but even with the broken tine im betting 160s 170s easy the north is a struggle but south the deer are all over the place

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bsakacsi96_WV wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

Here in West Virginia it was rough! This year was pretty bad it was a struggle to see a deer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from njschneider wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

was it not just last year that their was an article titled "Boone & Crocket says Whitetail herd is at healtiest level" Or "golden age of hunting" because of record amount of Boone & crocket entries. Haha one year later "where have all the deer gone".

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mytwo cents wrote 24 weeks 2 days ago

Any state that allows hunters to shoot two or more doe will see a decline in the total deer population. If hunting pressure is exceptional, even one doe per hunter will whack a population of deer in a given area. Hunters are the reason for the rebound in deer and they are the reason for the now drastic decline. Close doe seasons for a year or two and you will see a nice rebound. The white tail has proved a gift to man in its ability to live in a variety of ecosystems and its ability to add to its numbers fairly rapidly for a big game animal. Hunters and industry merchants better organize quickly, because the 800 pound gorilla in the room is insurance companies. Even though deer vehicle collisions never put an insurance company out of business and stopped them from making a profit, they will gladly take more profit at the expense of the hunting industry and meat on your table or a trophy on your wall. I do not believe farmers are an issue since many farmers are hunters and many I know are concerned they are not seeing the deer they used to see. If the doe population gets too low, there will be a collapse. This may be blamed on a disease and a disease could be a final nail in the coffin if deer populations are already low due to over harvesting of doe. Paradoxically a large robust population has more genetic diversity and can shake off diseases with little impact. Many deer may die but percentage wise will be much smaller in a large herd verses a small less genetically diverse small herd. Sorry for the long post, I happen to be a biologists that is saddened by the unnecessary steep drop in the white-tail population.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)