Fears of any after effects of the worst EHD epidemic in state history are fading fast now that North Carolina deer hunters set a new harvest record during the 2013-14 season. Hunters again showed an increased preference for harvesting more antlerless deer than antlered bucks, but the numbers for all deer increased substantially.
The antlered buck harvest of 86,558 was up by 7.0 percent over the 2012-13 harvest of 80,883 and was 8.2 percent higher than the 2011-12 harvest of 80,014.
The total deer harvest increased from 167,249 to 188,130 (12.5 percent), and while the antlered buck harvest increased, the buck-to-doe harvest ratio fell from 48.4 to 46.0 percent. This is about the same ratio as occurred over the previous four seasons. The 2009-10 season was the last time that bucks comprised more than 50 percent of the harvest.
Most hunters who take only one deer tend to harvest a buck, and they may not have even seen a doe or button buck during the 2012-13 because of EHD deaths. Now that the hunters in regions hit hardest by EHD are seeing deer numbers restored, they are taking more does, and that is what dipped the harvest ratio of bucks-to-does back down to 46 percent while at the same time the total buck harvest hit a record high.
Evin Stanford is the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Deer Biologist. He compiles and analyses deer harvest reports each season.
"The increased overall deer harvest and the buck harvest in particular was widespread across all geographic regions," he said. "Some of the counties that had the biggest declines (from EHD) were the counties where harvests reverted back to their formerly high levels. Apparently, hunters no longer saw the need for 'trigger control' (as they had during the EHD outbreak) and resumed their normal hunting practices."
Stanford said that any substantial decline in deer numbers increases the habitat quality. Therefore, hunters in the areas of highest EHD incidence may actually have the best chances of harvesting trophy bucks until the population again reaches its carrying capacity.
No regulations changes occurred that would account for the increased ratio of bucks to antlerless deer in the harvest. Stanford said hunters continue to ask the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to enact such regulations as "earn-a-buck" that require taking an antlerless deer before harvesting an antlered buck, and for antler-point restrictions that could increase recruitment of older-aged bucks, and for an extension of the two-buck rule in effect for the piedmont and mountain districts to the coastal plain.
The top 10 counties in terms of total antlered buck harvest were: Northampton, 2,529; Halifax, 2,504; Bertie, 1,905; Wake, 1,717; Bladen, 1,680; Wilkes, 1,680; Franklin, 1,662; Duplin, 1,635 and Moore, 1,616, displacing four of the previous season's top counties (Bladen, Craven, Edgecombe and Pender).
A better way of gauging hunter success than total buck harvest within a county is the "antlered buck harvest per square mile of manageable habitat" (abpsm). This statistic is the number of bucks harvested per square mile of habitat where hunting and hunting regulations can have an impact on the deer population. Hunters can see these manageable habitat areas by checking the Commission's deer density maps, which are adjusted every five years to compensate for expanding cities, water bodies and parks where hunting can have little impact or where no deer exist. (Deer Density maps are available at www.ncwildlife.org.)
This way of presenting the harvest data reveals some interesting facts. It helps level the playing field for small counties (compared to large counties that have high harvests simply because they have lots of acreage). It also shows that many counties with extremely high human densities also have some of the highest total deer harvests and abpsm harvests due to high hunting pressure on the smaller acreages that are available for hunting (and perhaps the "migration" of deer from "no hunting" areas that surround the properties that can be hunted).
Counties that made the 2013-14 top 10 in terms of abpsm included: Vance, 5.37; Northampton, 4.83; Wake, 4.06; Mecklenburg, 3.83; Alleghany, 3.66; Halifax, 3.63; Forsyth, 3.53; Franklin, 3.51; Edgecombe, 3.28 and Warren, 3.17. Bumped from the top 10 were Gaston and Chowan.
The top two counties in each district in terms of abpsm included: District 1, Hertford, 2.84 and Bertie (replaced Chowan), 2.79; District 2, Craven, 2.44 and Pitt, 2.42; District 3, Vance, 5.37 and Northampton, 4.83; District 4, Bladen, 1.96 and Harnett, 1.77; District 5, Caswell, 2.97 and Person (replaced Alamance), 2.80; District 6, Mecklenburg, 3.83 and Richmond (replaced Montgomery), 3.03; District 7, Alleghany, 3.66 and Forsyth, 3.53; District 8, Gaston, 3.13 and Lincoln, 2.79 and District 9, Polk, 2.22 and Madison, 1.12.
In District 1, Hertford and Bertie counties have excellent deer habitat in the lowlands along the Chowan River, and have a good mix of farmland and forestland on the uplands.
Three ingredients — river floodplains, farmland and extensive forestland — create the top hunting opportunities in most of the state's best antlered buck hunting counties.
Chowan Swamp Game Land has 21,156 acres in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Chowan counties where hunters reported harvesting 97 deer, of which 41 were antlered bucks. Hunters reported harvesting 17 deer, including six antlered bucks, at the 30-acre Chowan Game Land. This, however, is most likely an over-reported harvest due to hunters mistaking the name of the smaller tract for the name of the larger game land.
In District 2, Croatan Game Land offers 160,724 acres of excellent deer hunting in Carteret, Craven and Jones counties. Hunters reported harvesting 572 deer, of which 278 were antlered bucks, at Croatan. Also located in Craven County, the 3,100-acre Dover Bay Game Land produced six deer, including three antlered bucks, and the 4,925-acre Neuse River Game Land produced 30 deer, including 15 antlered bucks.
Pitt County has no game lands. However, excellent deer habitat occurs along the Tar River and Contentnea Creek, as well as on expansive private timberlands in the northeastern and northwestern areas of the county.
In District 3, Vance and Northampton topped the abpsm category thanks to an excellent mix of farmland and timberland. The Roanoke River floodplain provides excellent habitat in Northampton County. Roanoke River Wetlands Game Land has 35,772 acres of floodplain along with some upland habitat in Bertie, Halifax, Martin and Northampton counties. It is open for deer hunting by permit only. Permits are assigned by lottery, with hunters specifying their preference for hunting various tracts on the Upper Roanoke River and Lower Roanoke River units. Hunters took 179 deer, including 99 antlered bucks, on the upper unit and 140 deer, including 87 antlered bucks, on the lower unit.
For hunters who don't have access to private farms and forests in Vance County, the 752-acre Vance Game Land is located on a peninsula in Kerr Reservoir. Hunters reported harvesting 75 deer from Vance Game Land including 42 antlered bucks.
In District 4, Bladen and Harnett counties topped the abpsm category. Bladen County borders the Cape Fear River and the river's floodplain has excellent deer habitat known to produce heavily antlered bucks. The county also has the 32,263-acre Bladen Lakes Game Land and 9,588-acre Suggs Millpond Game Land. Hunters took 105 deer at Bladen Lakes, including 43 antlered bucks.
Hunters reported harvesting 21 deer at Suggs Millpond, including 11 antlered bucks. Special regulations pertaining to the Singletary Tract of Bladen Lakes prohibit centerfire rifles and hounds for hunting deer. For hunting at Suggs Mill Pond, deer hunters must buy an over-the-counter permit for hunting with primitive weapons or apply for a lottery permit for modern firearms hunts.
Located in Cumberland and Harnett counties, the Fort Bragg U.S. Army Post has an intensive deer-management and deer-hunting program. Fort Bragg has the highest potential for producing trophy bucks of any public hunting area in the coastal plain. Hunters must attend Fort Bragg's mandatory hunter orientation and obtain the post's special hunting license. All hunters must check in and out and adhere to other protocols covered in the orientation class. All hunters, regardless of age, must have a hunter safety certificate.
In District 5, Alamance and Person led the abpsm harvest. These counties have large areas dedicated to timber and agriculture. In Person County, Hyco Game Land's 4,229 acres produced 59 deer, including 29 antlered bucks. Mayo Game Land's 7,128 acres produced 27 deer, including 20 antlered bucks. Both are accessible by land as well as water. At Caswell County's 17,198-acre R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell Game Land, hunters reported harvesting 217 deer, including 120 antlered bucks.
In District 6, Mecklenburg and Richmond counties led the abpsm category. Mecklenburg has comparatively little deer habitat. However, it has a high density of hunters that saturate the county's available habitat and take many bucks. Pee Dee River Game Land is located in Anson, Montgomery, Richmond and Stanly counties and has 6,829 acres in tracts scattered along the river. It has river access to the floodplain tracts and is one of the best game lands for producing trophy bucks in the piedmont.
Hunters harvested 65 deer, including 35 antlered bucks, from Pee Dee River Game Land. Hunters should also check into permit hunts at Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, which produces some great bucks. While hunters must apply for gun hunt permits during the summer, the refuge also hosts a late-season archery hunt in December.
Uwharrie Game Land is comprised of many tracts totaling 50,189 acres in Davidson, Montgomery and Randolph counties. Hunters reported harvesting 358 deer from Uwharrie, including 160 antlered bucks.
Sandhills Game Land, with 61,526 acres in Hoke, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties, is open three days per week. Hunters took 143 deer from the game land, including 113 antlered bucks. It is a known hotspot for trophy bucks, due to soil conditions that produce good-quality antlers.
In District 7, Alleghany and Forsyth counties topped the abpsm harvest. In Alleghany County, the New River corridor and adjoining farmlands and timberlands create exceptional buck habitat. Located in Alleghany and Wilkes counties, the 6,403-acre Thurmond Chatham Game Land offers excellent trophy buck hunting due to its location adjoining to a state park that allows bucks to grow old. The game land produced a total of 13 deer, including nine antlered bucks.
Forsyth has a dense human population center at Winston-Salem that produces high hunting pressure on the county's limited deer habitat. The Yadkin River and rolling hills near Belews Lake have undeveloped timberlands that produce excellent hunting for antlered bucks. While there is no game land in Forsyth County, the 982-acre Perkins Game Land in Davie County is a good bet. Hunters took 12 deer, including seven antlered bucks, from Perkins last season.
In District 8, Gaston and Lincoln counties led the abpsm category. These two counties have high hunting pressure, resulting in high antlered buck harvests considering their relatively small areas of huntable habitat. While Gaston and Lincoln counties have no game lands, Catawba Game Land has 1,099 acres along the Catawba River in Catawba County. This game land produced 16 deer, including nine antlered bucks. Also located in District 8 is South Mountains Game Land. It has 19,942 acres in Burke, Cleveland, McDowell and Rutherford counties and produced 32 deer, including 15 antlered bucks.
Also in District 8, Pisgah Game Land, with 505,217 acres in Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties produces plenty of deer. Pisgah hunters harvested 401 deer, including 283 antlered bucks.
In District 9, Polk and Madison led the abpsm harvest. Polk County is always the best buck-producing county in District 9 because it consists primarily of foothills habitat rather than the steeper mountain terrain of other counties in the district. The 14,308-acre Green River Game Land produced 92 deer, including 48 antlered bucks. Madison County has lots of acreage in Pisgah Game Land.
In District 9, the highest deer harvest comes from Nantahala Game Land, which has 528,782 acres in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania counties. Hunters harvested 418 deer from Nantahala, including 333 bucks.
Over his years of chasing whitetails, A.J. Downs of Conroe, Texas, has taken a number of big bucks with his bow. But none of the other mounts in his trophy room can match the size, or the meaning, of the freak whitetail that fell to his arrow shortly after daylight on opening day of the 2012 archery season.
Thirty-five years of bowhunting have taught Bill Ullrich a few things about chasing whitetails.
Several seasons ago, Bill had made up his mind to take off work early to spend an afternoon in the woods, and he knew exactly which tree he was headed for that afternoon. He was almost to the tree when something told him he needed to turn around and, instead, opt for a tried and true setup he had long-ago named the 'good luck tree. '
One hour and ten minutes later, he realized that was the best decision he had ever made, as he watched his arrow bury to the nock in the largest whitetail buck he had ever shot at.
Bill Winke has earned himself a spot as one of the best Midwestern whitetail hunters of all time with this massive double G4 Iowa giant.
The huge Iowa non-typical Bo Russell took is testimony to the rewards of smart scouting and hard work. Not to mention being adaptable enough to overcome some outside interference — including a crew of archeologists!
Russell's giant had a gross score of 246 4/8 inches and a net of 231 4/8. That made him the second-largest bow kill entered from the 2012 season.
After many years of chasing the same buck and coming up empty, Brian Hollands' luck finally turned around. On a fateful morning two seasons ago, Hollands not only found a lost little girl wandering the back roads of Missouri, he also found the buck of a lifetime.
Brian Herron fought numerous obstacles and setbacks to eventually bag this 184-inch bruiser.
The 16-point Daigle buck, scored by Boone & Crockett measurer Lonnie Desmarias, grossed a whopping 197 0/8 inches gross and netted 191 0/8 inches as a non-typical, breaking the existing Massachusetts state record by seven inches, according to the Northeast Big Buck Club records.
In 2009, Dean Partridge started having encounters and getting trail camera photos of a small 4Ã—4 whose back tines were a little bladed. There was nothing out of the ordinary at the time, so Partridge and crew carried on filming that fall and finished off the season. The next summer, he was back in the woods, checking to see which bucks had made it through the harsh winter. And much to his surprise, the buck that seemed ordinary had grown into an extraordinary buck with a large droptine that he aptly named "Droppy."
You need only skim the pages of the record books to understand why the majority of hunters pick the November rut as the prime time to hunt giant whitetails. Mature bucks are never a pushover, but they are more vulnerable when their nose is glued to the ground trailing an estrus doe. Fred Swihart proved, however, that you can have success outside the rut — sometimes it's just a matter of persistence.
Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas' Shane Frost in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene, which ended with a 216-inch trophy on Frost's wall.
Garry Greenwalt teamed up with North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington to kill this amazing Washington buck, known to Greenwalt as "The Ghost." Greenwalt spent a good deal of time tracking down the amazing 172-inch Washington giant, but it was all worth it.
It was mid-afternoon on Nov. 13, 2009, and Gary Morris of Winslow, Ark., was heading south out of Iowa. Driven by a haze of internal frustration, he was headed back to Arkansas six days early. The last three years of planning, anticipation and excitement for his Midwestern hunt had been stolen by an encounter with a 170-inch behemoth buck and a blown 12-yard 'chip-shot. ' After his miss, Morris thought about giving up bowhunting altogether. But it's a good thing he didn't.
With the help of her husband, Kevin, Ohio resident Lindsay Groom scouted this buck for two weeks before coming across its path again. Lindsay shot the buck with her crossbow at about 10 yards, but was unable to locate the buck.
After watching the kill shot again on film, the couple decided to track it the next morning, finding the deer just 30 yards away from where they stopped looking the night before.
Jeff Iverson hunted this particular buck for three seasons. In 2010, when the buck was a six-by-six typical, he missed a shot at it with his bow but Iverson's persistence eventually paid off.
On Nov. 14, 2012, the wind was right for hunting, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below. It was the buck he had named "Cyclops."
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
After years of hunting other people's property, Schmeidler finally got his own in 2010, when he purchased a 750-acre property consisting of river bottom cover and cropland. He immediately planted multiple food plots, his favorite being milo, and two seasons later, nine straight days of hard, smart hunting gave Schmeidler his trophy.
Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 Jim Cogar's expectations for deer season in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm.
After discovering a giant on his trail camera, that he aptly dubbed Conan, Cogar set out on a mission to bag Conan before the end of the season.
It was Super Bowl Sunday before the opportunity presented itself to Cogar. As Conan led two young bucks down a hill, a distraction opened the door for Cogar to bag his buck of a lifetime.
Joshua Earp's Georgia giant scored 187 inches green, weighing in at 235 pounds, and was a great October surprise.
'I've hunted 25 years for this," Earp said. "I give all thanks to God and my father for teaching me and introducing me to this sport I'm addicted to. '
Lucas Cochren killed an amazing 238-inch Kansas trophy, but it all started with a blood trail gone cold. Fortunately, Cochren stuck to it and bagged the trophy of his lifetime.
Mike Moran's Saskatchewan buck was a dream come true for the hunter who'd spent 27 years looking for a deer of that quality. He finally got his wish one Thanksgiving day, an experience he won't forget.
Payton Mireles, age 10, of Indiana, with her first buck: a 154-inch bruiser.
Having two years of history with this particular buck, Rhett Butler was able to track where he had taken pictures of "Hercules." The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.
When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.
Killing the buck that had come to be known to the Taylors as 'Big Daddy ' was Robert's primary focus in the fall of 2012. He arranged his work schedule so he could be in a deer blind most mornings and afternoons during the waning weeks of the season.
After a sleepless night and an unsuccessful afternoon tracking a blood trail, Ryan Dietsch was sure he'd squandered the opportunity of a lifetime. He and friends went back to track the deer he thought he'd hit, but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood. His luck all changed, however, and the rest — along with his 219-inch trophy — is history.
Stanley Suda with his Southern Ohio buck, estimated between 235 and 240 inches.
"The shot was perfect," he said. "I watched my dream buck run across the field and pile-up about 20 yards inside the wood line. This was definitely my finest moment in the treestand. '