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Whitetail Dynamics: Rethinking “The Deer Depression”

March 28, 2014
Whitetail Dynamics: Rethinking “The Deer Depression” - 1

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.

But after seeing widespread declines across our whitetail range, and some distressing trends that indicate EHD, predators, and habitat conditions may exact an even greater toll in the years ahead, some whitetail gurus are suggesting that deer hunters revisit our piece.

“I admit to scoffing at the article back then,” says Mike Hanback of www.bigdeerblog.com. “Then BOOM! The massive outbreaks of EHD…new studies that revealed exploding predator numbers and predation on deer…and then toss in the last two brutal winters.”

Read “The Deer Depression” with three years of hindsight, and let us know if we got it right, or if we should be reassessing our ability to forecast. And let us know what  you’re seeing in your corner of our deer nation.

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from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 4 hours ago

Andrew, I will give you a pat on the back. Maybe you have a touch of Nostradamus. Obviously a current hot button issue in my home state of Illinois and currently getting hotter. Very timely blog. In my neck of the woods you ask? The deer I hunt are thriving in pockets and have been decimated in other pockets with an overall trend leading downward in numbers. My opinion for the numbers heading down contribute to monoculture, ehd and a continued harvest rate with a vulnerable herd at risk. Coyotes get a lot of the blame, but I do not feel they are even close to being the main culprit. In 2005 when the herd was considered peaking why didn’t we discuss how bad the coyotes sucked at killing deer? Coyotes are scavengers also. I will never argue that they do not eat a lot of deer, however I will argue all day long on whether they hunted and killed the deer. The trail cam pics you see a lot of are still born, diseased, road kill, etc. that they are dragging off to eat. The EHD disease itself has hurt the deer herd in many areas, but the indirect effect of EHD is really hurting the deer herd in Illinois where I hunt. The numbers that have been reported to the DNR, the way the DNR gathers the numbers and the research behind the EHD numbers is the “real” problem with EHD. If you were to do a survey on whether the hunters believed the EHD numbers reported by the DNR were realistic when compared to actual deer deaths, overwhelmingly most would not agree. I honestly believe the numbers are well over 500% off. Not adjusting permits and seasons to react to EHD die offs is the real problem with EHD. The monoculture problem is the removal of tree lines and ditches at quite the pace. I hope this trend slows. My graduate degree is in education not biology so I know my opinion is just that of a dumb deer hunter, but I know quite a few that agree with me.

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from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 4 hours ago

Andrew, I will give you a pat on the back. Maybe you have a touch of Nostradamus. Obviously a current hot button issue in my home state of Illinois and currently getting hotter. Very timely blog. In my neck of the woods you ask? The deer I hunt are thriving in pockets and have been decimated in other pockets with an overall trend leading downward in numbers. My opinion for the numbers heading down contribute to monoculture, ehd and a continued harvest rate with a vulnerable herd at risk. Coyotes get a lot of the blame, but I do not feel they are even close to being the main culprit. In 2005 when the herd was considered peaking why didn’t we discuss how bad the coyotes sucked at killing deer? Coyotes are scavengers also. I will never argue that they do not eat a lot of deer, however I will argue all day long on whether they hunted and killed the deer. The trail cam pics you see a lot of are still born, diseased, road kill, etc. that they are dragging off to eat. The EHD disease itself has hurt the deer herd in many areas, but the indirect effect of EHD is really hurting the deer herd in Illinois where I hunt. The numbers that have been reported to the DNR, the way the DNR gathers the numbers and the research behind the EHD numbers is the “real” problem with EHD. If you were to do a survey on whether the hunters believed the EHD numbers reported by the DNR were realistic when compared to actual deer deaths, overwhelmingly most would not agree. I honestly believe the numbers are well over 500% off. Not adjusting permits and seasons to react to EHD die offs is the real problem with EHD. The monoculture problem is the removal of tree lines and ditches at quite the pace. I hope this trend slows. My graduate degree is in education not biology so I know my opinion is just that of a dumb deer hunter, but I know quite a few that agree with me.

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