Great Plains Deer Hunting Forecast for 2014
October 01, 2014
Deer populations in the Great Plains states have declined drastically over the last five years. The herds have been besieged by a prolonged, intense drought in a couple of states. A series of severe winters and record, freak storms have affected others, while disease also has taken a toll, especially on whitetail deer.
Whitetail numbers in some states have been reduced to levels seen a decade ago. Doe permits have been slashed in most states to allow populations to recover, and disease seems to have impacted the number of mature bucks and eliminated them from the populations.
"Nebraska has been in a recovery mode (reduced antlerless harvest) in 2012, 2013 and 2014," said Nebraska Game & Park Commission Big Game Specialist Kit Hams.
Deer numbers may take another two years to recover to population levels that are acceptable to hunters and landowners, Hams said.
"Current population levels of both species are about where we were in 2003," Hams said. "Our goals are to increase both mule deer and whitetail herds. We have removed more than 100,000 antlerless permits and antlerless bonus tags to accomplish this goal."
Whitetail deer herds are rebuilding from the epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak of 2012 and 2013, said Hams.
"Mule deer herds are rebuilding from population declines over the past five years that likely are the result of drought, EHD, predation and brain worm losses," Hams said. "Buck harvest was down 10 percent in 2013, and similar success is expected this year."
Whitetail deer herds were at record high levels prior to the EHD event of 2012, and populations were above landowner tolerance prior in many units, said Hams. Whitetail herds are down about 30 percent statewide from population peaks of 2011. Deer management units in the southwest (Plains, Upper Platte, Frenchman, southern Platte and western Republican) were least affected.
"Mule deer herds were at record high levels in 2009. These numbers were at acceptable levels in most units at that time," Hams said. "The last three years have resulted in decreasing mule deer populations in the north-central part of the state, due likely to increased mortality from natural events, with populations down 40-60 percent."
Mule deer populations are stable or increasing in the southwest portion of the state, Hams said, though mule deer populations continue to decline in some areas because of habitat conversion to row crops and brain worm disease.
Nonresident demand for mule deer permits continues to increase as mule deer populations decline in other states. Permit demand exceeds supply in the Frenchman Unit, Hams said.
New regulations for the 2014-2015 deer season in Nebraska include:
'¢ 18,240 bonus antlerless tags are removed from 12 units
'¢ River Antlerless permit quota increased to 7,000
'¢ 8 percent of Frenchman Mule Deer Conservation Area permits allocated for nonresidents
'¢ 200 permits added to Frenchman MDCA
'¢ 500 antlerless-only whitetail bonus tags added in Frenchman Unit
'¢ Nonresident Statewide Buck permit eliminated
'¢ Pine Ridge closed to the harvesting of antlerless mule deer, except landowner permits
'¢ Long Pine Creek included in River Antlerless
'¢ MDCA permits not valid in archery season
'¢ 950 buck or either-sex permits removed from Elkhorn, Pine Ridge, Platte and Sandhills units
'¢ Archery season starts Sept. 1
'¢ Late antlerless season shortened to 15 days (Jan. 1 - 15)
"The good news is that while deer numbers are lower, hunters and landowners are supportive of this recovery and have reduced doe harvest to the lowest levels we have seen in 15 years for whitetail deer and in 30 years for mule deer (15,213 whitetail antlerless and 1,735 mule deer antlerless harvested in 2013)," offered Hams. "In addition, they continue to restrict their harvest of young bucks, so the proportion of older bucks in the harvest remains high (75 percent age 2 and older for whitetail, and 84 percent age 2 and older for mule deer)."
For more information go to the 2014 Big Game Guide-Nebraska website or call the NG&P office at 402-472-5442.
Hunters harvested fewer deer during 2012-13 and then 2013-14, than they did in 2011-12, said Lloyd Fox, Ph.D., big game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. "However, when we look at this over the long term, deer numbers in Kansas are still near their all-time highs," Fox said.
The harvest is about 90,000 deer, and active hunter success rates are good, Fox stated.
"As for EHD, we had a higher than normal outbreak in 2011," Fox said. "That was followed in 2012 by the largest die-off that I have seen in my 40 year career." There was only one reported case of EHD in 2013, he continued.
"Overall, it appears that the disease may have contributed to a less than 5 percent decline in the deer population and harvest," Fox said, noting that the affected area was primarily located in northern Kansas along the eastern border with Nebraska, and in eastern Kansas.
Drought remains a key factor for deer populations, observed Fox.
"We are in our fourth year of a severe drought," Fox said. "Most authorities place this drought as more severe than the droughts of the 1930s."
Drought reduces natural forage production, Fox explained, noting that the severity of the drought has allowed people to cut hay and graze CRP areas, which has eliminated their benefit to deer for fawning and escape cover. Effects of drought increase the impact of predators, like the coyote, on fawn production, Fox said.
"Changes for this year are that we are reducing pressure on antlerless deer," said Fox. "We eliminated eight days of antlerless-only deer hunting in seven DMUs, and we completely eliminated the whitetail deer antlerless-only deer permit from the permits allowed for hunters in DMU 18 (the hardest hit drought area of the state)."
Fox said monitoring of weather, habitat, herd populations and hunter success will continue and that pressure on antlerless deer will be reduced further if conditions merit that change.
"It is a hard concept for most Kansas deer hunters to accept that deer populations may decline," Fox stated. "Few people have accurate long-term recollections, which is why it is so important to maintain long-term trend monitoring."
The deer herd in Kansas increased for seven decades, and currently includes 600,000 deer, Fox said. "As a result, most deer hunters in Kansas have only seen deer numbers increase during their lifetime, and they are shocked and concerned when they go to their favorite hunting spot and find fewer deer than the year before."
"So where do deer hunters go from here?" asked Fox. "I think these are exciting times for deer hunters. No longer can they expect more deer every year regardless of what they do personally. Deer hunters will have to be responsible for that future "good" spot. That means they will need to be responsible for habitat improvements and management. That can be rewarding in itself."
For more information on Kansas deer populations call (620) 342-0658 or visit Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
"Even after five years of reducing gun licenses, and harvest, survey data revealed that deer populations are still below management objectives in most units," shared Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Dickinson. "The statewide hunter success rate in 2013 was 55 percent, which is lower than 2012 (63 percent), and well below our goal of 70 percent. The winter of 2013-2014 was long and colder than normal, but adequate snow cover needed for aerial surveys only occurred in the northeastern part of the state (hunting units 2C and 2D). Aerial survey results showed that deer numbers were down 21 percent in 2C and 29 percent in 2D. Hunter observation and harvest data indicate deer numbers are still declining, especially across the eastern part of the state."
Deer numbers remain below objectives due to the prolonged effects of severe winters during 2008-2010, which not only increased adult mortality but also reduced fawn production, Stillings said.
"In addition, the northeastern part of the state experienced severe winters during 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, which continues to impede population recovery. Further, high- quality deer habitat continues to be lost statewide (e.g., conversion of CRP acres to cropland, removal of shelterbelts, burning and draining of cattail sloughs, unprecedented oil development in the badlands) and will limit the potential for population recovery."
Currently, Stillings said, all hunting units in the state are below management goals except in 3F1, 3F2 and 4F. The decrease of licenses in 2014 is necessary to encourage deer populations to increase toward management goals, he said.
The 2014 North Dakota deer hunting season will include 48,000 licenses, 11,500 fewer than 2013 and the lowest number since 1980. A concurrent season will not be held again in 2014, and hunters will be allowed only one license for the gun season.
North Dakota License Reductions for 2014:
'¢Any Antlered licenses reduced by 3,900
'¢Any Antlerless licenses reduced by 6,550
'¢Antlered whitetail deer licenses reduced by 250
'¢Antlerless whitetail deer licenses reduced by 1,000
'¢Antlered mule deer licenses increased by 200
"Deer populations across the state of South Dakota have been reduced substantially in recent years," said Andy Lindbloom, senior big game biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. "Part of this was by design, with liberal hunting seasons and regulations promulgated to increase harvest rates and lower populations."
Three severe winters caused substantial overwinter mortality of deer herds in many areas of the state, bringing population levels below objectives in most management units, Lindbloom said, adding that summer drought also likely impacted deer recruitment and herd health in areas west of the Missouri in 2012.
Record EHD outbreaks in 2011-2013 likely exacerbated the problem, Lindbloom said.
"Lastly, record habitat losses in terms of agriculture conversion of grasslands will impact the biological and social carrying capacity of deer in many prairie management units, and changes in predator densities may slow the rate of recovery in some areas," Linbloom added.
Total deer harvest in 2013 was about 56,100, Lindbloom stated. "Species harvest was about 49,100 whitetails (25,600 bucks, 23,500 does) and about 7,000 mule deer (4,300 bucks, 2,700 does)." The top harvest units in 2013:
Unit 49B (584 harvested)
Unit 60A (536 harvested)
Unit 02A (502 harvested)
Unit 03A (1,907 harvested)
Unit 28A (1,839 harvested)
Unit 60A (1,828 harvested)
Lindbloom stressed that these were the leading hunting units for 2013 based solely on total estimated harvest. They are not necessarily the best places to harvest trophy deer.
With decreased deer populations across the state, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission has proposed to reduce the number of licenses and tags for many of the state's deer hunting seasons.
"For EHD, in 2012 we had about 3,714 dead deer reports, which was a record for South Dakota," Lindbloom said. "In 2013, reports were fewer at 850 (828 deer, 19 pronghorn, 3 elk). In response to reported deer losses, SDGFP offered license refunds in certain units; a total of 832 licenses and 1,730 tags were refunded. In addition, about 245 licenses (431 tags) were removed from the lottery prior to the draw."
The East River deer season would result in a reduction of 7,240 licenses and a reduction of 20,560 tags compared to 2013. A substantial decrease in antlerless tags is intended to increase deer populations in several management areas. This management response is being implemented where deer populations have declined over the past few years due primarily to outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), habitat loss and weather.
The West River deer season would result in 3,775 fewer licenses, with a corresponding reduction in tags by 25,120 (56 percent). Similar to the East River deer season, the most significant reduction in tags for the West River season will be antlerless tags; which are proposed to decrease by 86 percent, or 23,145 compared to what was available in 2013.
The Black Hills deer season would have no antlerless licenses for 2014. The Black Hills proposal calls for 200 resident and 16 non-resident any deer licenses and 3,000 resident and 240 non-resident any whitetail licenses.
The Department of Game, Fish and Parks recommended no changes to the Custer State Park deer hunting season and will again have 10 any whitetail licenses and 20 antlerless whitetail muzzleloader licenses.
The 2014 archery deer-hunting season would only allow the harvest of whitetail deer on antlerless deer licenses. Each hunter could only have one antlerless license. Several management units in both the eastern and western parts of the state would be closed to antlerless archery deer licenses.
As proposed for the archery season, only whitetail could be harvested with antlerless licenses during the muzzleloader season. Hunters would be limited to one antlerless license.
Youth hunters could have one antlerless license, which would be valid statewide under the Commission's proposal.