October 23, 2011
Like many states in the South, Arkansas has a lot of deer. A mild climate, agriculture, fertile soil and fewer people than other states in some respects make Arkansas a deer haven. One way to look at it: Dick Baxter, Arkansas' deer program coordinator, estimates there may be a million deer in the state, and less than 200,000 are checked annually.
He said deer densities are at or above carrying capacity "virtually everywhere in the state," making Arkansas a great place to hunt for more than just waterfowl.
Deer Population: 800,000 to 1 million. "That's just a guess," Baxter said.
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $600 million
"For numbers it's south Arkansas, what we call the west Gulf Coastal Plain," Baxter said. "If you go from Little Rock to the southwest corner of the state and Little Rock to the southeast corner, it's that area there."
The reason: habitat. "It's mostly pine plantation with enough disturbance that you have different stages of forest [growth]. It's just a deer factory."
"I'd say eastern Arkansas is sort of a trophy area, what we call the Delta, the Mississippi alluvial valley. That's tied to our agricultural centers. Eastern Arkansas has a lot of agriculture with just enough deer habitat to support good deer densities."
Current Status of the Deer Population: > 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
"For numbers I'd give it a 4, and for trophy hunting I'd probably say a 3," Baxter said.
"From a numbers standpoint, we have densities at or above the carrying capacity so I can't give it a 5 – but in a few areas hunters think we should have more deer. They have to realize that some places that have low deer densities – like the Ozark National Forest – also have lower-quality habitat."
About the trophy number, he said, "I guess the main thing is there's only a limited area in Arkansas where you can expect to kill a three-and-a-half- to four-and-a-half-year-old deer."
Status 5 Years From Now
"I don't think anything will change in five years," he said.
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
A big factor in Arkansas is that hunters simply don't kill enough deer. "We have about 300,000 deer hunters with about 1.1 deer killed per successful hunter, so we're not killing enough deer," Baxter said. "The deer population definitely needs to be cut back."
Right now the season goes through February and next season archery will start in September, so the state is taking the appropriate steps. But so far "it seems like when hunters kill a deer or two, they're done," he said.
Arkansas also has been a mostly rural state, but that's changing. "Urban sprawl is really coming in Arkansas," Baxter said. "The human population is really growing, so we're seeing more human-deer conflicts. Dealing with that is going to be a challenge in the future."
Any Doom and Gloom?
Given the abundance of deer, relatively stable habitat and urban sprawl, it's no surprise Baxter doesn't see any areas of his state having a large deer decline or crash at some point in the future.