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Surprising 2015 Deer Harvest Results

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By Don Mallicoat- The NC WRC has released data from last year’s deer season and you’ll be surprised (or maybe not) at the mountain results. During the 2015-2016 hunting season, hunters across the state reported harvesting 162,558 deer, a 5.8% increase over the previous season. Though the amount of deer harvested grew, it was 3.9% below the 10-year average.

“Although trends vary by county and region, the deer harvest appears to be pretty stable on a statewide scale,” said Jonathan Shaw, the Commission’s deer biologist. “Things have certainly rebounded a bit since 2014-2015, where we saw a decline in the statewide harvest.” One contributor to the increased harvest was the expansion of hunting on private lands to Sundays. During the 2015-2016 season, deer harvested on Sundays accounted for 7.3 % of the total harvest.

Findings from the regional breakdown of the 2015-2016 harvest report include: The coastal region harvest decreased from the previous season in all districts, including an 8.4% decline in District 1. The piedmont region harvest increased in all districts, including a 16.3% increase in both Districts 3 and 5 where high levels of hemorrhagic disease activity contributed to depressed harvest during the 2014-2015 season. The mountain region saw an increase in harvest compared to the previous season in all districts, including a 33% increase in District 9. “We’re happy to see the herd numbers improving on private lands in the mountains,” said Shaw. “We will continue to monitor harvest numbers in the coastal region and across the state to ensure deer numbers remain in balance with the habitat while still providing ample opportunity for hunters to see and harvest deer.”

As the quote indicates, that increase in harvest was on private land. So why the increase? Here’s what a friend postulates and it makes sense. It is due to a change in farming practice. Over the last fifteen years since farmers sold their tobacco allotments there has been a shift to corn crops, hayfields, and cattle pastures? Mix that with forests on private land holding oak trees for winter hard mast and it is a great combination of factors that draws and grows more deer. We’ve had several folks bring 8 – 10 point bucks with good body mass come by the store; most of them taken in Hominy Valley and the French Broad River basin.

The down side to the report is that even with nearly 1 million acres of National Forest very few deer are being taken on public land which is not being managed for wildlife habitat. The forests are too mature providing only autumn and winter acorn crops for deer. That is why it is so important that hunters give feedback to the USFS on their current plan to manage the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forests for wildlife. You can do that by sending an email to NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us with Subject: Summer Building Blocks. Simply tell them in the body of the email you want to see a majority of the forest managed for wildlife habitat.

By all indications the dove season opener over Labor Day weekend was less than stellar. Several hunters at Sandy Mush Game Lands harvested some birds but I didn’t hear of many getting limits. One hunter I know got seven birds. Hunters that followed up on Labor Day, Monday, had even less success, most getting only a handful of birds. I talked with several folks who hunted private or paid shoots in the mountains and foothills and there were not many birds flying. I did not hunt on Saturday but did on Labor Day with my son near Fayetteville over a sunflower field that had been hunted hard on Saturday. We only got a few birds. The following Wednesday I went to Sandy Mush and only killed three birds, when on the corresponding day last year I killed seven.

Why the difference? The only explanation I can come up with is the collision of a cold front and Hurricane Hermine over North Carolina the day before the season opened. It pushed the birds from their normal areas or chanced their pattern, maybe even pushing them out of the area. We probably won’t know, but it has happened before most recently about 3 – 4 years ago. But that’s why they call it hunting! Now to concentrate on geese for the next few weeks before grouse season opens. I promised my wife a goose for Christmas and can’t let her down.

Don owns Wings & Clays Guns ‘N Gear and can be contacted at don@wingsnclays.com or 828.633.1806

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