2017 North Carolina Deer Forecast
September 21, 2017
North Carolina hunters reported harvesting 149,811 deer last season, down 7.8 percent from the 2015-16 season harvest of 162,558. Hunters killed fewer deer in every district of the state, with declines ranging from a 1.2 percent drop in District 9 to 14.1 percent in District 5.
Almost exactly half of the deer that hunters killed were bucks; about 6 percent were button bucks, and 43 percent were does. The age and sex percentages have remained the same for many years.
"We have roughly 1 million deer," said Jon Shaw, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Deer Biologist. "We gained some control of the population by doe harvest, finally reaching the tipping point. In 2007, when we implemented bonus antlerless harvest report cards and unlimited antlerless harvest, antlerless harvest increased 28 percent. It has remained high, decreasing less than 1 percent annually."
Besides liberalized antlerless deer harvests over time, other factors influenced the harvest decline. Hemorrhagic disease contributed to declines, with significant outbreaks in 2012 in Districts 7 and 8, and in 2014 in District 3. Hemorrhagic disease is a common virus that midges transmit. Some deer die from HD every year, usually in late summer and early fall.
"We are seeing bigger outbreaks occurring more frequently than they used to," Shaw said. "We did not have any severe outbreaks last season, but Dist. 5 had the most noticeable, with around 20 confirmed cases in nearly every county. Another county with high HD incidence was Robeson, in Dist. 4, where we had 40. For every deer found, a many more infected deer die where no one sees them."
The quality of habitat may be in decline due to land use practices, including development and increased efficiency in land management, such as farming and forestry practices. Shaw said a study is underway to tweak the model that determines the acreage of huntable deer habitat, which may be higher than has been used in the past.