Re: The Whitetail Report
Once in a while this outdoor rag actually has a good article!
Harrisburg - Buried amid the statistics that make up Pennsylvania's estimated 2010-11 deer harvest are some numbers that point to a balanced, stable deer herd that is not suffering increased levels of predation, according to the state's lead deer biologist.
Figures recently released by the Game Commission, show hunters harvested an estimated 316,240 deer in the 2010-11 seasons, which is an increase of 2 percent from the previous seasons' harvest of 308,920.
The commission reported that hunters took 122,930 antlered deer in the 2010-11 seasons (an increase of 13 percent from the previous license year's harvest of 108,300) and 193,310 antlerless deer in 2010-11 (a decrease of 4 percent from the 200,590 antlerless deer taken in 2009-10).
Drill a bit deeper into those numbers, and there are some important statistics that bode well for the herd, noted Chris Rosenberry, chief of the commission's deer and elk section.
First, according to the commission's report, yearling bucks comprised 48 percent of the 2010-11 antlered harvest, and 2.5-year-old or older bucks comprised 52 percent. This year's harvest marks the highest percentage of 2.5-year-old or older bucks recorded in the last 30 years.
That shows that antler restrictions have changed the harvest age structure as intended, Rosenberry pointed out.
"As a result, Pennsylvania hunters are harvesting more 2.5-year and older bucks than they did prior to antler restrictions," he said.
"Last year, with 52 percent of 122,930 bucks being 2.5 and older, hunters harvested about 64,000 adult bucks. In the five years prior to antler restrictions, hunters harvested, on average, less than 40,000 adult bucks."
In addition, Rosenberry noted, hunter success rates are comparable to the past. From 1982 to 2003, an average of 17 percent of Pennsylvania deer hunters harvested a buck. "In recent years, 16 percent of Pennsylvania deer hunters have harvested a buck," he said.
"Hunters are as successful harvesting a buck as they have been over the decades, but now, more are taking an adult buck."
Second, button bucks represented 23 percent of the antlerless harvest, according to the commission harvest estimates, which is similar to the long-term averages, Rosenberry noted.
"Each year we hear anecdotal reports of high percentages of the harvested antlerless deer being button bucks," he said.
"Yet every year, when trained deer agers physically check thousands of harvested deer, the actual percentage of button bucks in the harvest is between 21 and 24 percent."
And lastly, because the percentage of fawns in the latest harvest is about the same as other years, it appears that predation is largely unchanged as well.
"Since 1997, on average, 23 percent of the antlerless harvest was button bucks; 19 percent of the antlerless harvest was doe fawns. Clearly, there is no evidence from this year's harvest that the proportion of fawns in the antlerless harvest has changed."
Based on field studies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Rosenberry explained, fawns are most vulnerable to predation within the first few months of life.
"Six-month-old fawns harvested in December were not killed by predators when they were two months old," he said. "Despite changes in the predator populations, hunters continue to harvest fawns in a similar proportion to long-term averages."
If predators were killing significantly more fawns, we would expect the proportion of fawns in the harvest to decline, Rosenberry pointed out. "This has not occurred."
Given the nature of the state's bitter debate over deer management, it's no surprise that many hunters don't agree with Rosenberry's assessment of the harvest.
Randy Santucci, a Pittsburgh businessman and board member of the Unified Sportsman of Pennsylvania - the group whose lawsuit against the Game Commission over deer management was recently dismissed - contended that the commission's harvest numbers are not believable.
"Pennsylvania consists of 44,055 total square miles of area," he said.
"Subtract 1,239 square miles of water area, approximately 8,000 square miles which are unhuntable for various reasons, you are left with approximately 36,816 square miles of huntable land."
Now take that 36,816 miles and divide it by 316,240 deer, which the Game Commission claims to have been harvested this season, Santucci suggested. "You are left with an average of 8.5 deer harvested per square mile - and an average 3.3 of those were bucks!" he said.
"Every single square mile? C'mon man! Try to tell the guys from units 2G or 2F and many other northern tier units that there were five does and three bucks killed in about a half-mile radius all around them.
"So this means some areas must harvest five or six bucks per square mile to achieve the average. No way that happened."
On the other hand Ted Onufrak, of Bellefonte, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, the state's largest sportsmen's group, was satisfied with the harvest numbers.
"The buck harvest was up but the doe harvest down - which makes sense since the Board of Game Commissioners cut the doe allocations and shortened the concurrent season in some wildlife management units to one week," he said.
"There will always be those who don't believe the harvest numbers if they aren't what they were hoping for them to be."
At the recent federation conference, Onufrak recalls, surprisingly, there weren't many comments about the proposed deer seasons and bag limit changes.
"I believe there are many members who think the Game Commission is on the right track," he said.
In an age of universal lies, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act - George Orwell