We still have a month and a half of bow hunting to go, but the number of archers in the field have dwindled to just a few. With recent weather, that is fully understandable.
So what is the big deal about a record?
Not much, really. Newspaper writers toss around the topic, but it is less important to many hunters and a lot less important to the wildlife biologists who manage deer in Arkansas.
Last year, the 2012-13 deer hunting season, Arkansas had a record 213,487 deer checked by hunters, far outrunning the old mark of 194,687 set in 1999-2000.
At present, the deer check totals have inched past 210,000, but fewer than a hundred deer are coming in daily. Doing some quick ciphering, it looks like 2013-14 will come up just short of last year’s high water mark. Things could change. Some days of good hunting weather could get more bow hunters out in the field, and the totals could increase. A little would be all it would take to set a new record.
We are seeing these deer check numbers increase because of two basic reasons. One, we have more deer in Arkansas. Two, we have more deer hunting in Arkansas in terms of days of the season, expanding of doe hunting and the increased statewide seasonal limit. We do not have more deer hunters, according to license sales of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Let’s take a look at one of those factors listed — the hunting of doe.
Oldtimers remember when female deer were not hunted in Arkansas, not legally. Let the herd grow. Don’t shoot the mamas. A real deer hunter does not kill a doe. Those were ingrained into the men and women, the boys and girls who went out after deer.
Arkansas’ deer ratio of bucks to does became far out of balance. All the focus was on killing half of the deer, the males. Wildlife biologists said time and again there needed to be more hunting of does to keep the total herd in balance. Finally the message got across to the people setting the deer rules and to the hunters.
Now a good portion of the hunters take does when they can, although getting a good buck is still the top priority. Many deer clubs in areas where the numbers are adequate or too adequate have rules that a hunter must kill a doe before he or she can kill a buck.
The statewide seasonal limit now is six deer, of which no more than two can be bucks. Few hunters reach this limit of six, but the ones who do have to take at least four does to get there.
To date, the deer checked have been 90,000-plus mature bucks, 14,000-plus button bucks (young deer) and 104,000-plus does. The totals are a virtual tie between bucks and does. This means the Arkansas deer hunting ratio is at the desired point since one buck and one doe are born in the wild.
The Arkansas deer check numbers passed 100,000 for the first time only 26 years ago, the 1987-88 hunting season. A half-dozen years later a steady increase started with longer seasons and more liberal limits. The totals dipped with concern over “killing too many deer” and constricted hunting parameters, then rebounded with expanded seasons and limits.
Most wildlife biologists in the state believe the numbers of deer in the wild are adequate, although not distributed ideally or equally. The deer as a whole are healthy. Those parameters, the season lengths and the limits, seem to be working well.
On that mythical scale of 1 to 10, Arkansas deer hunting ought to rate somewhere close to the maximum.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.