“Our herd is in most cases either stable to increasing, and we’re right at around one million deer,” said Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “Last year, hunters took 197,000 deer, our second highest harvest on record going back to 1938.”
Like many states, Arkansas got drier as the summer progressed, and Gray was concerned that the quality of deer forage was on the decline as the heat and dry conditions continued. He was right to worry. By mid-August, nearly half of the state was in “exceptional” drought, the worst category. These areas included much of north and central Arkansas and part of the timberlands of southwest Arkansas.
Media reports had 80 percent of the state’s pasture lands dried up. Bad news for farmers, of course, but also an indication that natural vegetation was undoubtedly being stressed, with less and less nutritional value for deer as the drought extended into the late summer. Meanwhile, more Arkansas suburbanites were calling in complaints of deer damage to their vegetable gardens and flowerbeds as the deer moved around in search of new food sources. One species does very well in drought: ticks. Gray said he has received an increasing number of reports of deer literally covered in ticks, especially fawns and does. That high tick load, Gray suspects, could kill off a number of fawns. That won’t have any impact on this fall’s hunt, but could be felt in future deer seasons.
The most significant change in the regulations this year concerns new antler restrictions. In Hunt Zones 16, 16A, and 17, a buck must have a 15-inch inside spread or 18-inch main beam before it can be harvested. This requirement also applies to the Bayou Meto, Cut-Off Creek and Trusten Holder Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s).
There are also a variety of antler and point restrictions on a number of Arkansas WMA’s, put in place by the Game and Fish Commission to grow bigger bucks. The new restrictions are listed at: www.agfc.com.
The Southern Regional Report
It looks like this will be another strong season for southeastern deer hunters, with deer herds in good to very good condition. Deer populations are stable to slightly growing, and all states expected a strong fawn crop this year. The central south (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw drought expand over the region as summer went forward. However, this part of the country did receive substantial spring and early-summer rains, which generated a good deal of forage, so deer went into the summer in pretty good condition.
Top Trophy Zones**
AR: Arkansas and Chicot counties.
FL: Alachua, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
LA: Avoyelles, Concordia, and East Feliciana parishes.
MS: Delta counties like Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo are well represented in the record books. Outside of the Delta, Adams County has produced trophy bucks for the past 50 years, including the current state typical record, a 10-pointer killed in 2010 that netted an amazing 184 6⁄8.
OK: Osage and Coal counties. The latter is developing a reputation as a big-buck county, and that was only enhanced last year when 13-year-old Kelsey McKay shot a 200 7⁄8-inch monster non-typical. It is the largest buck ever taken in Coal, a county well represented in the state record books for both typical and non-typical whitetails.
SC: Orangeburg, Aiken, Fairfield, and Colleton counties.
TN: Cumberland and Van Buren counties, and the Tennessee sections of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell Military Installation.
TX: Irion, Kennedy, Maverick, Tom Green, and Webb counties.