Along The Trail 2-14-13

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I have a question for all my fellow deer hunters that follow “Along the Trail” – How was your 2012 deer season?

Not necessarily if you were successful in harvesting an animal of not, but did you see many deer?

How were you’re sightings?

More deer, fewer deer?

It’s obvious that I enjoy talking “deer”and in conversations that I’ve had with fellow hunters, either in person or online, the discussion always seems to gravitate towards the number, or in this case, the lack of numbers of deer seen during the past season. My impromptu surveys are far from scientific. For the most part, the results are the opinions of other hunters based on what they’ve experienced and from what I’ve seen myself and the consensus seems to be that our numbers of deer in Southeastern Indiana are down.

I am no expert in whitetail deer management and don’t claim to be. I have a few credit hours from college in wildlife-related studies, but a lot of that knowledge has long since been forgotten and replaced with other useless bits of information.

But I do consider myself a student of the outdoors and enjoy the “study” of animals and especially deer. My deer season runs 365 days a year. Even when I’m not hunting, I’m thinking about hunting. Scouting, shed hunting, hanging tree stands, comparing notes with other hunters, setting trail cameras,visiting trade shows and hunting seminars, reading books and articles about whitetails. It all adds up to a year ’round deer season. Does that qualify me as being knowledgeable about deer hunting?

Who knows? But I am opinionated, especially when it comes to this topic.

I’m certain there are some who will disagree, but the “good old days” of deer hunting are behind us. It was not uncommon in the late ’80’s through the mid 1990’s to see 10 or 20 deer during a hunt.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen those numbers of deer from my treestands. I have hunted the same area for over 20 years and have seen a steady decrease in the number of deer. At this stage in my life as a hunter, it’s not all about the taking of a buck, but I do still enjoy seeing and watching deer while I’m in the woods and having an opportunity to harvest one.

Why do I think there are fewer deer?

That’s a tough question, but I have a few thoughts.

The first answer is the overly liberal bag limits. This past season, a hunter could take up to eight antlerless deer in most Southeastern Indiana counties. I know that makes most of the farmers happy and I understand that, but when you do the math on killing just one doe, you’re actually taking several deer out of the herd when you figure in her future offspring. Not to mention the fact that studies have shown that 50-percent of the fawns she would have reared would be bucks.

The DNR’s own numbers bear out the fact that Indiana has taken a chunk out of the herd. Since 2011, three of the past five years, deer hunters have taken record numbers of deer.

Those numbers began to drop in 2011 and I’m guessing 2012’s numbers will be lower still. I’m all for herd management and understand crop depredation and the theory behind a healthy buck to doe ratio, but Indiana’s deer herd cannot take many more years of huge numbers of does being taken and not have a negative impact on the herd overall.

I firmly believe that our State’s management plan when it comes to whitetails is driven more from the insurance and agriculture lobby in Indianapolis than from all the sportsman’s groups combined. I’ve seen how the statehouse operates firsthand and the money behind it all, I’ll just say that hunters, outdoorsmen and fishermen are a mere drop in the lobbyist bucket compared to the car insurance industry and the huge corporate/commercial Ag industry.

Like I had said in a previous article, “Money talks.”

Another issue to the lower numbers deer is the increased number of coyotes. Predator/prey relationships are typically cyclical in nature. Numbers of animals increase and decline and then the circle starts over again; not so much with the boom in the coyote population. Song dogs have steadily increased in our area the past several years. What was once a rare occurrence to see a coyote is now a regular scene, whether in the deer woods or driving the rural roads to work.

All you have to do is step out your back door if you live in the county and listen to their eerie calls at night. Although ‘yotes are capable of taking adult deer, their biggest impact is predation of the fawn crop each spring. Coyotes make up the bulk of their diet with small animals, but they can reek havoc on the young of the year when it comes to deer. If you’ve seen a group of coyotes hunting as a team, you’ll know what I mean.

Next, for the last several years, different parts of the state have been hit with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) or commonly called “Blue Tongue”.

EHD is more prevalent during dry years or drought conditions. As deer congregate around water sources to beat the heat and to satisfy their thirst, they put themselves at risk to be infected. EHD is transmitted through small, biting flies. We know them as midges, but in other parts of the country they are called “no-see-ums”. The midges are more common around the receding water sources, the deer tend to bunch up around the water and there you have to perfect opportunity for a deer to become infected. In some parts of the country, EHD has wiped out over 25-percent of the whitetail herd.

Indiana hadn’t been hit that hard, but there have been several confirmed EHD deer deaths and those are only the ones that have been found and reported.

I could go on and on about why I believe we are seeing fewer deer out in the woods. Issues with carrying capacity, loss of habitat, the urbanization of rural areas,overly long firearms season, etc., - again, I’m far from an expert.

I’m just a ordinary guy whose passion is hunting deer and I want to see my kids and future grandkids and your’s as well to be able to experience the same things I have. My hope is that Indiana will follow the lead of several other agricultural based states like Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Kansas and create a meaningful deer management plan. Maybe the state will realize that deer aren’t just the scourge of the farmer and the auto insurance industry, but can be a real, sustainable, renewable source of revenue and tourism through the thousands of deer hunters we have in our great state.