Southern Deer Forecast

Alabama's estimated whitetail population is an incredible 1.75 million, up nearly 250,000 animals from just a few years ago. The total harvest in 2008 was 143,598 bucks, 198,302 does - a decrease of nearly 100,000 deer from the 2007 hunting season. Several factors could have caused the marked decline in the harvest. Coyotes are believed to be having an increased influence on fawn survival. The availability of acorns (hard mast) was the best in many years, and when preferred natural foods are abundant the deer become less vulnerable to hunters. Two years ago the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reduced the limit of bucks from one per day to a season total of 3, and one of those must have at least 4 points on one side. This regulation change has resulted in fewer bucks being harvested. But Alabama hunters are pleased more mature bucks as a result of the reduced limit. Approximately 70 percent of Alabama is open for dog hunting for deer, and public lands account for only five percent of the state. For most of Alabama, the firearms deer season runs Nov. 21-Jan. 31. Archery deer is Oct. 15-Jan. 31. Contact: www.dcnr.state.al.us
Arkansas' deer population is 750,000, and last year's harvest was 169,853 animals (two out of three deer bucks). It was nearly an identical harvest to the previous season, but up from just a few years ago. Things look good again this year, and an estimated 500,000 hunters should expect a similar abundance of deer, and harvest. Arkansas implemented a statewide antler restriction in 1998 that required bucks to have at least three antler points on one side. The percentage of yearling bucks in the harvest dropped from 49 percent prior to the restriction to an estimated 14 percent in the 2003-04 season. This has greatly increased the quality of deer taken by hunters in the state. Public lands cover 12 percent of the state, so there are plenty of prime areas for sportsmen pursuing deer. Archery deer season opens Oct. 1; muzzleloader Oct. 16; modern gun Nov. 13. Contact: www.agfc.com.
Florida deer hunters took over 100,000 whitetails last year, from a population not officially estimated by state wildlife biologists. But it's believed Florida harbors 300,000 to 400,000 deer. The peaks of rut span over half the year with the earliest in July in central-southern Florida and the latest in the western panhandle occurring in January and February. The state is working on new regulations that will time deer seasons in line with rut peaks. Florida's land area includes 16 percent public hunting lands, but has the lowest percent of hunters (2.5) in the general population of all states. Quality deer management guidelines are in effect on wildlife management areas (WMAs) throughout the state, and there are WMAs without QDM guidelines - this provides a choice for deer hunters. Florida ranks among the top five states in the Quality Deer Management Association. Cooperation from the St. Joe Company was a contributing factor in Florida's QDMA membership. Florida's deer hunting seasons are greatly staggered according to the type hunting and the state zone. In the South Zone, archery season runs Sept. 12-Oct. 11; crossbow season Oct. 12-16; muzzleloader Oct. 17-25; general gun Oct. 31-Jan. 10. In the Central Zone, archery runs Sept. 26-Oct. 25; crossbow Oct. 26-30; muzzleloader Oct. 31-Nov. 8; general gun Nov. 14-Jan. 24. In the Northwest, the seasons are archery Oct. 17-Nov. 15; crossbow Nov. 30-Dec. 6; muzzleloader Nov. 20-22, Feb. 18-28; general gun Nov. 26-29, Dec. 12-Feb. 17. Contact: www.MyFWC.com.
Georgia harbors just over one million deer, and last year's harvest of 143,092 bucks and 207,623 does was about normal in recent years. In 1993 Dooly County became the first in the U.S. to establish countywide antler restriction guidelines requiring bucks to have an outside spread of at least 15 inches to be legal. Several additional counties have followed suit, but it is the combination of a 2-buck limit (one must have at least 4 points on one antler), a liberal antlerless limit (10 deer), and an increasing voluntary participation in QDM that has resulted in an annual deer harvest consisting primarily of does and a stabile harvest rate. Public hunting lands comprise 6 percent of the Peach State, and 70 percent of the land area is open to dog hunting for deer. Bogart (within 5 miles of the University of Georgia in Athens) is the location of the QDMA's National Headquarters. Georgia's archery deer season (either sex) runs Sept. 12-Oct. 9; primitive weapons (either sex) Oct. 10-16; firearms (north) Oct. 17-Jan. 1, (south) Oct. 17-Jan. 15. Contact: georgiawildlife.dnr.state.ga.us
Louisiana deer hunters in 2008 shot just over 200,000 animals (108,648 bucks, 92,552 does) from a population of 750,000 - a slight increase from the previous season. Look for similar hunting to be available this fall. Big bucks spots include West Feliciana, Avoyelles, St. Landry, Claiborne, St. John, Grant, and Tensas parishes. Lake Ophelia NWR, Red Dirt NWP, and Red River WMA produce some trophy bucks, too. In 2002, Louisiana required bucks to have six or more total points in Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton parishes in southern Louisiana. Now, the popularity of voluntary involvement in quality deer management (QDM) programs has spread to regions throughout the state. Public lands comprise 4 percent of the "Sportsmen's Paradise" state. Dog hunting for deer is legal in 80 percent of the state. Louisiana's deer seasons are staggered by zone, but archery runs roughly from Oct. 1-Jany. 31. Primitive firearms and general gun seasons are split and complicated, running from October through January. Contact: www.wlf.louisiana.gov
Mississippi deer hunters are harvesting more bucks in the 3.5-year-old or older age classes than any other state, including Texas. Lowland river bottoms, especially along the Mississippi River delta are prime for abundant deer, and are ripe for buster bucks, too. Last year's hunter take of deer was 144,118 bucks and 119,415 does. Mississippi has led the way in quality deer management. The first experiment with antler regulations on a WMA took place in Mississippi in the late 1980s. In 1995, Mississippi was the first state to implement statewide antler regulations, requiring bucks to have a minimum of four points. In 2009, the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Department removed the antler point criterion (the least biologically sound) from its combination restriction. Their innovative approach now requires a buck to meet either an antler spread or main beam length requirement. Wildlife biologists divided the state on the basis soil quality and assigned antler spread and beam length minimums accordingly. In one deer management zone, the better soil region along the Mississippi River, a legal buck must have a minimum inside antler spread of 12 inches or a beam length of 15 inches. In the other two deer management zones, a majority of the state, the required antler criteria are a 10-inch inside spread or a 13-inch beam length. These antler restrictions are designed to protect nearly 100 percent of the yearling age class bucks. The state archery season runs Oct. 1-Nov. 20. Modern gun season runs Nov. 21-Dec. 1, Dec. 16-Jan. 20. And a Primitive weapons hunt takes place Dec. 2-15; Jan. 21-31. Contact: www.home.mdwfp.com
North Carolina has 1.25 million whitetails, and last year's harvest was 145,813 bucks, 119,415 does. This figure reflected an increase of approximately 23,000 deer from the previous season, due primarily to more aggressive antlerless deer harvest regulations. The eastern half of the state is open to dog hunting for deer. Currently, there are no antler point regulations (APRs) or an earn-a-buck program in effect on public or private lands in the state. Based on a hunter survey in 2006 there is a growing interest in quality deer management (QDM). In fact, 79 percent of respondents indicated they already were practicing some form of QDM on private land. Public lands cover 6 percent of the state. North Carolina's deer seasons are broken down to zones, as follows: Eastern - archery: Sept. 12 to Oct. 9; muzzleloader: Oct. 10 to Oct. 16; gun: Oct. 17 to Jan. 1. Central - archery: Sept. 12 to Nov. 6; muzzleloader: Nov. 7 to Nov. 13; gun: Nov. 14 to Jan. 1. Northwest - archery: Sept. 12 to Nov. 13; muzzleloader: Nov. 14 to Nov. 20; gun: Nov. 21 to Dec. 19. Western - archery: Sept. 7 to Oct. 3 and Oct. 12 to Nov. 21; muzzleloader: Oct. 5 to Oct. 10; gun: Nov. 23 to Dec. 12 Contact: www.ncwildlife.org
South Carolina hunters last year took 239,000 deer, split almost equally between bucks and does. That's from a large and stable population of 750,000 whitetails. The annual harvest (by about 135,000 hunters) and the buck-doe ratio of the harvest have remained relatively stable for the last 3 years. Biologists say one factor for this population trend is predation by coyotes. The preliminary results of a fawn survival study on the Savannah River indicate in excess of 70 percent fawn mortality within the first few weeks of life. South Carolina harvested a higher percentage of yearling bucks in 2005 (55 percent) than in 1999 (46 percent). This high harvest yearling bucks is a reflection of a combination of factors: more than half of the state has a four-and-a-half-month season, there is no buck limit, and 60 percent of the state is open to dog hunting for deer. It is noteworthy that approximately 3 million acres of the state are in voluntary QDM programs, which have resulted in exceptionally large bucks and a healthy herd. Approximately 7.5 percent of the state is open to public hunting. Success rates for hunters historically are highest in Jasper, Marion, Bamberg, Union, Sumter, Williamsburg, Dillon, Greenville, Lexington, Marlboro and Oconee counties. South Carolina's deer hunting seasons are staggered through six different game zones around the state, with open season generally running from Aug. 15 to Jan. 1. Contact: www.dnr.sc.gov
Tennessee's estimated pre-season whitetail population in 2008 was 700,000. The annual harvest in 2008 was 86,727 bucks, 72,146 does. The 2007 harvest was approximately 23,000 higher, because sportsmen are now voluntarily harvesting fewer total bucks, but more of older age with a 3-buck limit (the limit was reduced several years ago from a season limit of 11 bucks) and only one per day may be tagged. The result in 2008 was a better buck-doe ratio in the annual harvest, which also bodes well for this hunting season, as there will be more older, bigger-rack deer available. Public lands cover 9 percent of the state, with many good public hunting areas available. Archery deer season runs Sept. 26-Oct. 30, Nov. 2-6, Dec. 7-18; primitive weapons hunting is Nov. 7-20; modern gun is Nov. 21-Dec. 6, Dec. 19-Jan. 16-17. Contact: www.state.tn.us/twra
Texas has an astounding 3.4 million whitetail deer population. And last year's hunter harvest was 288,227 bucks, 224,625 does - a marked increase from the 2007 figure of 449,030 deer. In 2002, Texas implemented antler restriction regulations in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Washington counties in the eastern part of the state. The regulations required bucks to have a minimum inside spread of 13 inches, or six points or more on one side, or have one unbranched antler (e.g., a spike). This regulation reduced the yearling harvest rate from over 50 percent to 36 percent during the first year and 28 percent the second year. By 2008, the Texas "slot limit" approach toward protecting young bucks spread geographically to include 61 counties and had gained tremendous momentum in hunter acceptance. In 2009, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) was proposing an extension of the slot limit for bucks to 52 more counties---covering approximately 60 percent of the state. This technique would be applied to areas, or counties, with a history of over-harvesting young bucks. The TPWD also proposed increased antlerless harvests and longer season in some areas to provide more hunting opportunity and to compensate for the reduced buck harvest. The Texas archery-only whitetail deer hunting season is Oct. 3-Nov. 6. In north Texas (208 counties) the general deer season is Nov. 7-Jan. 3. In south Texas (30 counties) the season extends to Jan. 17.
Virginia has a large and healthy deer population in the one million animal range. Last year 250,000 hunters collected 253,678 deer that included 111,863 antlered bucks. A similar big harvest is expected this fall. Among the highest deer-kill counties in the state last year were: Bedford (10,000), Fauquier (7,000), Franklin (6,100), Augusta (4,700), Grayson (4,400), Loudoun (6,300), Pittsylvania (5,100), Shenandoah (4,500) and Southampton (7,100). Virginia is a bowhunter paradise, with a large and wide array of seasons available to archers in various parts of the state. For example, antlerless-only archery deer season in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties runs Sept. 5-Oct. 2. While either season archery seasons run statewide Oct. 3-Nov. 13, Nov. 30-Jan. 2. Special urban archery antlerless deer seasons are established in many cities, with a season running Jan. 4-Mar. 27. The general muzzleloader season runs Oct. 31-Nov. 13, Dec. 12-Jan. 2. The modern firearms season is a bit complicated, but runs generally Nov. 14-Jan. 2, with many special areas and days open to antlerless deer hunting in different zones and regions. There's even a late antlerless-only firearms season in some deer-rich counties running Jan. 4 to Mar. 27. Contact: www.dgif.virginia.gov
West Virginia has a whitetail population approaching one million, and over 300,000 hunters last year took 163,603. Included were 56,221 antlerless deer, 31,408 deer by bowmen, 67,365 bucks, and 8,609 deer by muzzleloaders. Another good season is expected by biologists for 2009. Four counties around the capital city of Charleston are bow-only, and historically produce some of the biggest bucks in the state. Annually many P&Y bucks fall to bowmen in the region, and occasionally some B&C deer are collected by archers. West Virginia's deer season is split and divided into zones, but the general seasons are: archery - Sept. 14-19, Oct. 17-Dec. 31; muzzleloader - Sept. 21-26, Dec. 14-19; modern gun buck-only - Nov. 23-Dec. 5; modern gun antlerless - Nov. 23-Dec. 12, Dec. 29-31. Contact: www.wvdnr.gov

Dixie is jammed with bucks, and it looks like this year will be another banner one.