A Disaster In The Deer Woods

Hey? We're deer hunters and by nature are prone to bitching and moaning about weather conditions, our state's fish and game department, ridiculous new regulations and on and on. But what's going on in the deer woods this season may go beyond simple grousing.

Many seasons in many states are still underway, but preliminary numbers already point to some startlingly dismal deer harvest numbers that seem to be more than simple weather or food-source-related anomalies. And I know, cause I've been there.

In four hard days of hard hunting--including three days of drives, my New England hunting crew and I have nothing to show for our efforts. In fact, we've only seen four or five deer in total--and that's among eight hunters. The deer check station in town has done little business. The big story among those who I've spoken with is simply that there aren't any deer--no rubs, no scrapes, no does, no tails, no nothing. Theories, of course, abound: Too many coyotes, too hard of a winter, we've killed too many does, there aren't enough hunters in the woods anymore to move the deer and on it goes. The truth, no doubt lies somewhere in there, but there is little doubt in my mind that there is a huge problem in our deer woods. We all hoped that snow might change the equation and tip the odds in our favor, but six inches of fresh snow on Saturday hasn't seemed to have made a difference. The upcoming week will tell the tale.

On my hunting club property in New York's Catskills, the tale is virtually identical though the two areas are more than 100 miles apart. After two weeks of firearms season, the club's 30-plus members have yet to shoot a buck (there is a 3-point rule in place in the country we hunt) and have taken just four does.

"We haven't seen any deer to shoot," one member told me last week. "We've spotted only two legal bucks--one was missed and we never got a shot at the other. It's awful."

The Sullivan County Federation of Sportsman's Clubs' monthly meeting takes place Thursday night. Deer hunting clubs will provide their mid-season report at that time. No one expects any good news.

Similar headlines are coming from other areas of the country as well. Officials in Maine called their deer hunt the lowest since 1986, blaming two straight bad winters.

"I've never seen it this bad and I've been hunting for almost 40 years," says Topsham, Maine hunter Steven Michaud in the Bangor Daily News. "My opinion is this has now reached literally crisis proportions and an entire way of life is at stake in rural Maine."

Some areas of the Midwest also saw disappointingly low deer harvests. In Wisconsin, the gun season harvest was the lowest in 27 years eliciting cries for the removal of DNR deer managers according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel.

"It is a sad day for the state of Wisconsin deer hunter," Neenah hunter Scott Stevenson was quoted as saying last week.

The Minnesota deer harvest was down 11.6 percent from 2008, but on track with expectations according to the Department of Natural Resources. In Michigan, the deer kill was expected to be down 20 to 30 % in the U.P., 15 to 25% in the northern Lower Peninsula and 5 to 10% in southern Michigan. Final numbers won't be tallied until April.

So what happened to all our deer? At this juncture, no one knows for sure and that includes state biologists, but you can be sure that we'll stay on top of the story.

How was your deer season? We'd love to know.