Arkansas is in the best shape it’s even been in regards to deer. We’re talking numbers here. Wildlife biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission estimate there are a million deer, maybe more, in the state.
Some folks like to say there are more deer now than when the first settlers arrived or when Hernando de Soto prowled around this area. Skeptics ask who counted the deer back then.
Deer numbers in Arkansas declined alarmingly in the early 20th century, and this was a prime concern with the Game and Fish Commission was created in 1915. In the mid-1920s restoration of deer was begun under the leadership of Lee Miles, chairman of the Game and Fish Commission, and Gus Amsler, its secretary, equivalent of today’s director.
The deer came back in Arkansas. Deer also came back in Mississippi, Missouri and Texas more so than in Arkansas. Deer came back in Tennessee, Louisiana and Oklahoma too but to a lesser extent from the standpoint of numbers.
Deer hunting for decades was bucks only in Arkansas. By the 1970s, wildlife biologists were saying some doe deer needed to be hunted in some areas of the state where deer were numerous. Hunters in general resisted. They were accustomed to the bucks only hunting. They were accustomed to the belief that killing a doe was a sin.
Gradually, oh so gradually, this changed. Hunters saw and heard what was going on in Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Those states were ahead in deer management with the limited hunting of does to keep the buck-doe ratio in reasonable balance. Finally Arkansas put in doe days, at first the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. It was often called the kids hunt on the idea that youngsters would be out of school, and adults could let them shoot some female deer.
Here in 2012 there are Arkansas hunters — and a lot of them — who will not shoot a doe.
A frequent comment is, “Yes, I know they have to kill some doe, but I just can’t shoot one.”
Another belief is that killing of a doe is unmanly. You might as well wear pink.
All right, things are working fairly well in spite of these bits of resistance. Deer are not evenly distributed across Arkansas, and they never will be. Habitat is not equal and never will be.
We have a couple dozen different deer zones in Arkansas, and season limits vary according to the numbers of deer in these zones. Wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges are zones to themselves in addition.
It is not that the wildlife folks, meaning Game and Fish Commission, are standing on street corners clamoring for the shooting of more does. But the rules are built that way.
The statewide season limit on deer is six, of which no more than two can be bucks. To achieve a statewide limit, you have to kill two bucks and four does – or one buck and five does, or no bucks and six does.
Zone season limits, except for two zones, are less than six.
This is a point some hunters have difficulty grasping. “You say that the season limit is six deer, then you say the season limit in Zone 10 is three. That’s contradictory.”
No it’s not. You kill three deer in Zone 10 and you go to another zone and kill three more. Or you can go to a half-dozen different zones to get those six deer if you so choose — and are able.
With today’s technology, we wonder if Game and Fish can tell us how many hunters get the statewide season limit of six deer. Our thinking is not many.