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Deer Hunters - Curtailed Season and Bag Limits possible



A Citizens Science Exclusive -

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Releases Deer Hunter Survey Results and Presents Possible Management Options at Public Forums
By Mike Marsh
​In May 2017, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission held nine public forums to solicit input on the direction of white-tailed deer management that could include possible changes to hunting seasons and bag limits. These forums were the second phase of a three-pronged approach to bring management of the state's white-tailed population into a modern era where hunting seasons strike a better balance between deer biology and human desires.

​The three phases include: conducting new research into deer biology and presentation of the conclusions to the public (completed in summer 2015), conducting a Deer Hunter Survey to gauge public perception about possible management strategies (completed in May 2017) and possibly presenting new season frameworks at the Commission's regularly scheduled public hearings (January 2018). If the public buys into any proposed changes to seasons and bag limits, they could become effective during the 2018-19 hunting seasons.

​During the first phase, the Commission completed biological research, including fetal sampling data from 1,468 does over the five years prior to 2015, and presented the biological assessment at public forums. The focal point was peak breeding dates because this factor has highest impact on a deer population that stands at about 1.2 million. Over the past decade, the deer harvest had been relatively stable until a statewide decline of 7 percent occurred in 2016-17 with the decline observed in all nine wildlife districts. The decline shows the Commission may have timed its new approach perfectly.

​Jon Shaw, the Commission's Deer Biologist, said the May 2017 forums were the Commission's vehicle for presenting the results of the 2016 Deer Hunter Survey. The Commission invited about 200,000 hunters, including those who said they hunted deer in previous surveys and some selected by other methods, to participate. The survey presented various season and bag limit options each of the four existing deer regions.

​"We presented the Deer Hunter Survey results at the public forums," Shaw said. "The survey had 33,750 participants, representing 17 percent of the hunters we sent the survey to. We received an average of 300 surveys per county, so it was a good overall response."

​Shaw said prior to the Commission concluding its biological evaluation in 2015, existing seasons and bag limits were sound, based on the conditions when they were established. However, the new data showed reducing young buck harvest, shifting buck harvest later and adjusting doe harvest rates would result in a more biologically balanced deer herd. He said deer harvests have been declining in the Eastern Region, stable in the Central Region and increasing in the Western Region.

​"Statewide, hunters are reporting seeing fewer deer," Shaw said. "Since 2008, antlered buck harvest has gone down 24 percent. In 2007, when we implemented bonus antlerless harvest report cards, the antlerless deer harvest increased 28 percent. Prior to that, it had been increasing six percent annually. Since 2007, antlerless harvest has declined about one percent per year. We have confidence that the population is going down due to multiple contributing factors. Predators, including coyotes, are one factor, but predator management is not a viable option. Pulling back on doe harvest is the most effective way to stabilize the population."

​For more effective management from a biological and geographical standpoint Shaw said the state should be divided into five deer management zones rather than the existing four, with Cleveland, Rutherford and Polk counties aligned with the Northwestern Zone and the current Eastern Deer Region divided into Northeastern and Southeastern zones.

​To prevent disrupting breeding effort, black powder seasons should be one week shorter and regular gun seasons should shift back. This is where hunter buy-in is important because the Deer Hunter Survey showed the length of the gun season is hunters' main concern. To compensate for shortened gun seasons up front, the Commission could extend deer hunting seasons through the first Sunday in January, which, depending upon the year could result in six more hunting days. The least impact would occur in the Southeastern Region, which could lose one week of gun season and the Northeastern Region, which could lose two.

​Other biologically sound changes would be extending the two-buck limit statewide and implementing a statewide bag limit of four antlerless deer, eliminating bonus antlerless harvest report cards and continuing the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), for which demand may increase.
For more information, visit
As of this writing, the Hunter Survey Results and Potential Management Options presented at the 2017 forums is not available, but it will be available soon on the commission's website at


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