By Nick Simonson
With firearms deer seasons opening up across the United States, rolling down from the north in the next couple of weeks as the cool weather of mid-fall settles in and sparks rutting behavior across the map on into the southern states later this season, Chief Conservation Officer Kip Adams of the National Deer Association (NDA) thinks deer hunting as a whole is the best the nation has seen in more than a century. As part of his group’s efforts to educate hunters and arm them with biological facts, habitat management techniques and ways to foster a healthier herd, he hopes hunters will continue that trend in the decades to come.
“Things are pretty good. Deer herds are pretty high in many cases. Winter wasn’t all that bad, and hemorrhagic disease, it was a pretty light year cross the range. So, we have some really good numbers of deer and we have undoubtedly better age structures on the buck side than we’ve had in the last 100 to 150 years,” Adams explains of the nation’s current deer hunting opportunities.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity at this time nationwide is the increased ability for hunters to encounter bucks with larger antlers in their scouting and hunting adventures. Through improved science, public outreach, and harvest goals based on sound management processes, agencies which manage game and fish populations, along with seasons and public land access for hunting, have been able to sustain and even increase hunting opportunities on a changing landscape. This in turn has helped hunters see more success – and more deer – in the field each fall.
“We’re big fans of the state wildlife agencies gauging where deer herds are relative to goals; and then from a hunter’s end, if there’s opportunities to shoot antlerless deer or your agency is asking you to do that in an area, let’s do that. Let’s make sure that we keep deer herds balanced with what the habitat can hold. That’s healthy for deer. That’s healthy for habitat. That’s great for other wildlife species, and ultimately, that’s what’s best for us hunters,” Adams relates.
The biggest challenge to the future of deer hunting according to Adams, is the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD. The prion-based disease affects the brains of deer and is always fatal. Transferred by mucous and saliva, along with other fluids in the deer’s body, the malady has been known in some areas to shorten a deer’s lifespan to less than two years, if acquired shortly after birth in a region where it is prevalent. Testing for the disease and knowing the signs, so that hunters can report it to management agencies is a big part in isolating cases and preventing their spread to other animals. As part of its educational efforts, NDA has expanded its push to provide information to hunters through many media avenues, including videos, social media, and online articles.
“That’s the number one challenge out there for deer herds right now is that darn CWD,” Adams states, “We want to let hunters know all that they can do to help in that fight. We have videos showing how you can pull the lymph nodes from deer if you’re in a disease zone to submit them for testing. We talk to people about the importance of testing, how that helps the resource and how that helps hunters. Some folks get pretty down about the disease and think all is lost. We don’t agree with that at all. We think every single hunter has the opportunity to engage in that fight every day they go afield,” he concludes.
In addition to informing hunters about that major challenge, NDA provides information on deer biology, the animals’ habitat preferences, the effects of seasonal changes on their behavior, and the power of their senses, in order to help hunters know more about their quarry and ultimately how to better hunt them. Additionally, the organization strives to help hunters better manage the deer on their hunting properties, employ habitat modifications and establish food plots for healthier animals and improved hunting success. More information on the organization and an archive of media on many of these topics can be found online at deerassociation.com.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: Solid Opportunities As agencies manage deer herd populations through disease control, antlerless tags and other levers to meet hunter demand and carrying capacity, better hunting opportunities are created. Simonson Photo.