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Georgia Whitetail Deer Population on Decade-Long Decline, Hunters Discouraged

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January 06, 2011

Georgia Whitetail Deer Population on Decade-Long Decline, Hunters Discouraged

By David Maccar

Some say the deer population in Georgia has declined rapidly in the past decade, creating what hunters are calling “a deer deficit.” The fact that hunters are seeing fewer deer each year is discouraging and is resulting in fewer and fewer hunters heading into the field. This, in turn, makes it harder for hunting clubs to retain enough members to cover their land leases.

From this story in The Augusta Chronical:
A decade ago, Ron Wright couldn't imagine a weekend of deer hunting without seeing a single deer. Today, such disappointments are commonplace in an environment some hunters contend has created a deer deficit.

"I've never been more discouraged than I have in the last five years," he told Georgia Wildlife Resources Division officials during a public meeting held in McDuffie County this week to discuss potential changes in hunting regulations.

As president of a hunting club in Taliaferro County for 30 years, Wright said his members see fewer and fewer deer, making it harder to retain enough members to cover land leases. Potential causes, he said, could include overhunting made possible by Georgia's liberal, 12-deer bag limit, the impact of coyotes and -- quite possibly -- illegal baiting on neighboring properties.

He joined others to ask officials to consider a shorter hunting season or fewer "either sex" days when hunters can kill antlerless deer. "If things don't change, we may have to give up our lease," he said.

Any thoughts? Is it the 12-deer bag limit, coyotes, illegal baiting, or is there no clear-cut cause? Have hunting clubs in your area experienced anything similar?

Comments (12)

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from mad_dog9999 wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

12 deer limit is a lot

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from HogBlog wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

The idea of the liberal season was to reduce population in an overpopulated state. If the management goals are being met, then it's time to reduce the harvest in one way or another.

This isn't a negative thing. It's proof that hunting is working as a population control measure, which is what most of us have been saying all along. Let's not get greedy here and lose sight of the purpose of liberal seasons and limits. It's not just about letting folks kill more deer, or recruiting hunters... it's wildlife management.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcarlin wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

yeah.. how long does it take to decide that maybe we should roll it back a little. 12 deer a year isn't quite market hunting, but wow..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from finnyk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

McDuffie County is on the border of where the Northern Zone meets the Southern Zone in Georgia DNR regulations. The Southern Zone has a season that lasts 1/2 month longer into January (North Zone Oct. 16 - Jan. 2, South Zone 10-16 to 1-15). That could also be a part of the problem experienced by this particular hunt club, depending on location within McDufffie County itself. Reports from NW Georgia show one county having 88 "roadkills" in November and December of 2010 - the height of the season here. At least in north Georgia, I think part of the problem is the "let's build" frame of mind. People seem to think all of Georgia has to be like Atlanta (ughh). It's gotten pretty bad - almost like "Hey, there's more than 5 trees on that lot, we better build something there so more don't grow." We have an area in NW Georgia where the deer are protected by virtue of being on a very large tract of private property (a college). Part of that property is leased to DNR for management and hunting, but the deer seem to have figured out that they are bulletproof while on the campus or the boundary area. Many does. Large bucks. All on campus sticking their tongues out at the hunters. In the end, it's all a matter of perspective. 12 deer may be a bit high for a limit, but I would imagine that part of the problem has to do with "If it's brown, it's down." Letting an immature deer walk seems to be a foreign concept to a lot of folks I talk to. It may be that lowering the limit is what it will take.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from finnyk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

FYI - Ga. limit is 12 deer with a 2 buck max (at least one of the bucks must have 4 points on one side) included in the 12. Lowering the overall doe limit, not necessarily the number of either sex days, seems like a reasonable solution.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from prairieghost wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

12 deer limit?!?! duh!?!? coyotes may be a factor but change the limit to one antlered deer and maybe a couple of does and see how quickly a whitetail population can respond.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Urbane_Redneck wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

I took a look at the GA seasons and limits and I'll bet the "solution" lies somewhere where the regulations are now, and the micro-managed (46 zones!) herd we enjoy in NJ.

Here's a link to our regs... http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/2010/regsets10-11.pdf

Don't be embarrassed if they make your hair hurt, I've lived here for 6 seasons and go crazy making sure I have the correct permits ($28 ea) and my dates straight.

UR

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

Perception is a big part of the groans and moans about deer hunting here in the Peach State. In 1985 we had between 1.5 and 1.9 million deer here in the largest state east of the Mississippi River. From '85 until about '95 that population slowly fell to about 1.2 million. The limit at that time was 5, 2 bucks (no antler restrictions) and 3 does or any combination that added up to 5 with no more than two being bucks. Doe days were also added. Many regard that period to be the so called hay day of Georgia Deer hunting. It was not at all unusual to see 12 to 15 deer in a morning or evening in the lower Piedmont and Upper coastal plain. Most of those were does. As a matter of fact there were so many does many were barren and taking up resources productive animals needed. To the average hunter that spelled prosperity or at least decreased boredom on the stand.
The woods in most of the state had an apparent browse line. In one word GA hunters became "spoiled" by watching the deer parade by.

Now to address the Northern & Southern Zone seasons. The zones roughly divide on the fall line from Augusta on the east border with S. Carolina to Macon in the middle to Columbus on the west border with Alabama. The Northern Zone traditionally has the larger deer population and also the larger human population. To mirror a comment from a blogger above, the whole state doesn't look like Hotlanta... The northern zone is also more woodland/pasture habitat vs. the southern zone which is row crop Ag, palmetto swamps, pine monoculture and gallberry/palmetto/pine flatwoods. The major reason for the longer season in the southern zone is that the deer on the western border with Alabama rut in late December - early January or even later in some cases. Georgia has been stocked with deer from all over the country and the genetics of the rut still persist. Our deer may rut from late September to late January depending on where they live.

One thing that paralleled the high deer populations in Georgia was deer auto collisions. The metro people pushed for lowering the population to help reduce collisions and thus the bag limits and doe days were inflated accordingly. GA DNR also wanted to knock down the herd to around 900,000 to reduce conflicts with Georgia’s expanding population and to help reduce deer Ag conflicts in the south. It also wanted to help reduce stress on habitat. No doubt the liberal bag limits have worked to a certain extent, but so have habitat loss to expanding development.

Metro populations continue to expand as Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the US. Georgia has also lost thousands of acres of timber company lands to said development. Weyerhaeuser sold over 4000 acres of land in my county alone. All of those 4000 acres is now divided up into subdivisions and 5-15 acre mini farms. The lost timberlands across the state were part of WMA's and also held a large majority of deer leases thus reducing overall access. GA DNR has also lost many additional thousands of acres of land formerly enrolled into the WMA system for public hunting as the owners find it more economically pleasing to lease it for high dollar to clubs. Another blow to access. I feel the rapidly expanding lease prices have also played a large part in eliminating hunters. When land leased for $7-$10 an acre many more hunters could afford a lease than they can at the present $15-$25 dollar range. Land in some of the quality buck counties goes for much higher prices than that.

When you combine population growth, habitat loss, increased lease prices, reduced public and private access and a high bag limit you get a deer population that is around the target goal of 900,000 deer. Hunters spoiled by the days of seeing deer after deer now feel cheated and assume something has happened and automatically blame just the bag limit. I will point out the our neighbor the great state of Alabama has a deer a day limit in some counties and very liberal bag limits in other areas and they have a thriving deer herd. They also have a stable to slightly falling human population level.

I will offer that the liberal bag limit has had the least effect on our Georgia deer herd. Few people take advantage of the full limit and those that do... well... they probably took advantage of a liberal bag limit before we had one...

Georgia is changing folks and not for the better the way this old country boy looks at it. My people have been here since 1760 and I'm getting an itch to move on as Atlanta and its millions now control the politics and resources in the state.

On a brighter note, less herd competition for resources has enabled the deer in many areas to grow in body size and antler development. GA now produces loads of dandy bucks. If you don't believe it check out the pages of Georgia Outdoor News Magazine and their Truck-Buck contest. Personally I know of 16 deer killed in the last two years in my county that scored 150 to 160 or better. That is not rumor I saw the deer. Yes, I see less deer now and some days I don't see any. But, the does I see now generally have 2 fawns following them and all three deer are fat. The bucks I see are better and younger bucks seem to be more numerous in ratio to does. I miss seeing the deer parade but I am also enjoying healthier deer.

Just my 2 cents worth as a 40 plus year veteran of Georgia’s deer woods.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from gallajk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

It's probably a combination of all those things. Here in Alabama we have a 3 buck limit for the season (1 of which has to be 4pts on one side), but we can take up to 2 does a day for the whole season (Nov. 20-Jan. 31 for gun season) on private and leased land. The reason these limits were implemented is because our buck to doe ratio is extremely unhealthy. I believe I read that in some areas it's like 5-6 does to every 1 buck. Unfortunately, these regulations have led to intense hunting pressure on all deer and most hunters I've talked to are seeing less deer each year. That's the downside. The upside is that although we're seeing less deer, we are seeing more mature bucks.

My thoughts are that it isn't the 12 deer limit, rarely have I ever gotten that many in one season, nor do I know of folks who have. Coyotes probably have something to do with it. Personally, I shoot every coyote I see (for Deer and Turkey populations). Could it be illegal baiting? Possibly, but if deer are being seen less and less throughout the state, I doubt baiting is the issue. Although I don't know the GA hunting regulations, my guess would be that the lack of deer sightings is due to hunting pressure, especially during "hunters choice-either sex" seasons. Just my opinion.

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from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

gallajk,

With the exception of a handful of GA's 159 counties does are legal season long. GA DNR and UGA are conducting a study in my county to see if reducing the coyote population has an impact on game populations. They are employing professional trappers to remove coyotes from a local WMA that is now just over 30,000 acres. I'm very interested in the results. The program is slated to go on for 5 years.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from gallajk wrote 3 years 13 weeks ago

beekeeper,

I figured that was probably the case regarding doe days. It's the same thing here in AL, aside from a few counties, doe days are season long on private and leased land.

I too am interested in the results of that study. While I do believe decreasing the coyote population will increase the deer and turkey population, I only wonder if they'll be able to remove enough coyotes to get a noticeable difference. I'll have to remember to keep up with GA DNR in 5 years. Thanks for the info!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Janis Morris wrote 3 years 10 weeks ago

What can be done with the USDA coming into private communities and falsifying numbers, so they can just set up bait stations and kill deer with sharp shooters.
It seems like to me that the more space we allow for deer to migrate into non- hunting lands, the less deer you will have move into legally hunting areas. We would like to stop this practice in a community in North Georgia, but we don’t know how to fight the government. They not only receive compensation from our community, plus they receive funds from the Pittman Robinson Act. Is this getting to the point where only the government is allowed to kill the white tail deer.

If anyone out there knows how we can stop them, I would appreciate hearing from you.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from HogBlog wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

The idea of the liberal season was to reduce population in an overpopulated state. If the management goals are being met, then it's time to reduce the harvest in one way or another.

This isn't a negative thing. It's proof that hunting is working as a population control measure, which is what most of us have been saying all along. Let's not get greedy here and lose sight of the purpose of liberal seasons and limits. It's not just about letting folks kill more deer, or recruiting hunters... it's wildlife management.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Urbane_Redneck wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

I took a look at the GA seasons and limits and I'll bet the "solution" lies somewhere where the regulations are now, and the micro-managed (46 zones!) herd we enjoy in NJ.

Here's a link to our regs... http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/2010/regsets10-11.pdf

Don't be embarrassed if they make your hair hurt, I've lived here for 6 seasons and go crazy making sure I have the correct permits ($28 ea) and my dates straight.

UR

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

Perception is a big part of the groans and moans about deer hunting here in the Peach State. In 1985 we had between 1.5 and 1.9 million deer here in the largest state east of the Mississippi River. From '85 until about '95 that population slowly fell to about 1.2 million. The limit at that time was 5, 2 bucks (no antler restrictions) and 3 does or any combination that added up to 5 with no more than two being bucks. Doe days were also added. Many regard that period to be the so called hay day of Georgia Deer hunting. It was not at all unusual to see 12 to 15 deer in a morning or evening in the lower Piedmont and Upper coastal plain. Most of those were does. As a matter of fact there were so many does many were barren and taking up resources productive animals needed. To the average hunter that spelled prosperity or at least decreased boredom on the stand.
The woods in most of the state had an apparent browse line. In one word GA hunters became "spoiled" by watching the deer parade by.

Now to address the Northern & Southern Zone seasons. The zones roughly divide on the fall line from Augusta on the east border with S. Carolina to Macon in the middle to Columbus on the west border with Alabama. The Northern Zone traditionally has the larger deer population and also the larger human population. To mirror a comment from a blogger above, the whole state doesn't look like Hotlanta... The northern zone is also more woodland/pasture habitat vs. the southern zone which is row crop Ag, palmetto swamps, pine monoculture and gallberry/palmetto/pine flatwoods. The major reason for the longer season in the southern zone is that the deer on the western border with Alabama rut in late December - early January or even later in some cases. Georgia has been stocked with deer from all over the country and the genetics of the rut still persist. Our deer may rut from late September to late January depending on where they live.

One thing that paralleled the high deer populations in Georgia was deer auto collisions. The metro people pushed for lowering the population to help reduce collisions and thus the bag limits and doe days were inflated accordingly. GA DNR also wanted to knock down the herd to around 900,000 to reduce conflicts with Georgia’s expanding population and to help reduce deer Ag conflicts in the south. It also wanted to help reduce stress on habitat. No doubt the liberal bag limits have worked to a certain extent, but so have habitat loss to expanding development.

Metro populations continue to expand as Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the US. Georgia has also lost thousands of acres of timber company lands to said development. Weyerhaeuser sold over 4000 acres of land in my county alone. All of those 4000 acres is now divided up into subdivisions and 5-15 acre mini farms. The lost timberlands across the state were part of WMA's and also held a large majority of deer leases thus reducing overall access. GA DNR has also lost many additional thousands of acres of land formerly enrolled into the WMA system for public hunting as the owners find it more economically pleasing to lease it for high dollar to clubs. Another blow to access. I feel the rapidly expanding lease prices have also played a large part in eliminating hunters. When land leased for $7-$10 an acre many more hunters could afford a lease than they can at the present $15-$25 dollar range. Land in some of the quality buck counties goes for much higher prices than that.

When you combine population growth, habitat loss, increased lease prices, reduced public and private access and a high bag limit you get a deer population that is around the target goal of 900,000 deer. Hunters spoiled by the days of seeing deer after deer now feel cheated and assume something has happened and automatically blame just the bag limit. I will point out the our neighbor the great state of Alabama has a deer a day limit in some counties and very liberal bag limits in other areas and they have a thriving deer herd. They also have a stable to slightly falling human population level.

I will offer that the liberal bag limit has had the least effect on our Georgia deer herd. Few people take advantage of the full limit and those that do... well... they probably took advantage of a liberal bag limit before we had one...

Georgia is changing folks and not for the better the way this old country boy looks at it. My people have been here since 1760 and I'm getting an itch to move on as Atlanta and its millions now control the politics and resources in the state.

On a brighter note, less herd competition for resources has enabled the deer in many areas to grow in body size and antler development. GA now produces loads of dandy bucks. If you don't believe it check out the pages of Georgia Outdoor News Magazine and their Truck-Buck contest. Personally I know of 16 deer killed in the last two years in my county that scored 150 to 160 or better. That is not rumor I saw the deer. Yes, I see less deer now and some days I don't see any. But, the does I see now generally have 2 fawns following them and all three deer are fat. The bucks I see are better and younger bucks seem to be more numerous in ratio to does. I miss seeing the deer parade but I am also enjoying healthier deer.

Just my 2 cents worth as a 40 plus year veteran of Georgia’s deer woods.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

gallajk,

With the exception of a handful of GA's 159 counties does are legal season long. GA DNR and UGA are conducting a study in my county to see if reducing the coyote population has an impact on game populations. They are employing professional trappers to remove coyotes from a local WMA that is now just over 30,000 acres. I'm very interested in the results. The program is slated to go on for 5 years.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mad_dog9999 wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

12 deer limit is a lot

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jcarlin wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

yeah.. how long does it take to decide that maybe we should roll it back a little. 12 deer a year isn't quite market hunting, but wow..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from finnyk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

McDuffie County is on the border of where the Northern Zone meets the Southern Zone in Georgia DNR regulations. The Southern Zone has a season that lasts 1/2 month longer into January (North Zone Oct. 16 - Jan. 2, South Zone 10-16 to 1-15). That could also be a part of the problem experienced by this particular hunt club, depending on location within McDufffie County itself. Reports from NW Georgia show one county having 88 "roadkills" in November and December of 2010 - the height of the season here. At least in north Georgia, I think part of the problem is the "let's build" frame of mind. People seem to think all of Georgia has to be like Atlanta (ughh). It's gotten pretty bad - almost like "Hey, there's more than 5 trees on that lot, we better build something there so more don't grow." We have an area in NW Georgia where the deer are protected by virtue of being on a very large tract of private property (a college). Part of that property is leased to DNR for management and hunting, but the deer seem to have figured out that they are bulletproof while on the campus or the boundary area. Many does. Large bucks. All on campus sticking their tongues out at the hunters. In the end, it's all a matter of perspective. 12 deer may be a bit high for a limit, but I would imagine that part of the problem has to do with "If it's brown, it's down." Letting an immature deer walk seems to be a foreign concept to a lot of folks I talk to. It may be that lowering the limit is what it will take.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from finnyk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

FYI - Ga. limit is 12 deer with a 2 buck max (at least one of the bucks must have 4 points on one side) included in the 12. Lowering the overall doe limit, not necessarily the number of either sex days, seems like a reasonable solution.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from prairieghost wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

12 deer limit?!?! duh!?!? coyotes may be a factor but change the limit to one antlered deer and maybe a couple of does and see how quickly a whitetail population can respond.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gallajk wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago

It's probably a combination of all those things. Here in Alabama we have a 3 buck limit for the season (1 of which has to be 4pts on one side), but we can take up to 2 does a day for the whole season (Nov. 20-Jan. 31 for gun season) on private and leased land. The reason these limits were implemented is because our buck to doe ratio is extremely unhealthy. I believe I read that in some areas it's like 5-6 does to every 1 buck. Unfortunately, these regulations have led to intense hunting pressure on all deer and most hunters I've talked to are seeing less deer each year. That's the downside. The upside is that although we're seeing less deer, we are seeing more mature bucks.

My thoughts are that it isn't the 12 deer limit, rarely have I ever gotten that many in one season, nor do I know of folks who have. Coyotes probably have something to do with it. Personally, I shoot every coyote I see (for Deer and Turkey populations). Could it be illegal baiting? Possibly, but if deer are being seen less and less throughout the state, I doubt baiting is the issue. Although I don't know the GA hunting regulations, my guess would be that the lack of deer sightings is due to hunting pressure, especially during "hunters choice-either sex" seasons. Just my opinion.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gallajk wrote 3 years 13 weeks ago

beekeeper,

I figured that was probably the case regarding doe days. It's the same thing here in AL, aside from a few counties, doe days are season long on private and leased land.

I too am interested in the results of that study. While I do believe decreasing the coyote population will increase the deer and turkey population, I only wonder if they'll be able to remove enough coyotes to get a noticeable difference. I'll have to remember to keep up with GA DNR in 5 years. Thanks for the info!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Janis Morris wrote 3 years 10 weeks ago

What can be done with the USDA coming into private communities and falsifying numbers, so they can just set up bait stations and kill deer with sharp shooters.
It seems like to me that the more space we allow for deer to migrate into non- hunting lands, the less deer you will have move into legally hunting areas. We would like to stop this practice in a community in North Georgia, but we don’t know how to fight the government. They not only receive compensation from our community, plus they receive funds from the Pittman Robinson Act. Is this getting to the point where only the government is allowed to kill the white tail deer.

If anyone out there knows how we can stop them, I would appreciate hearing from you.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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