RALEIGH — Results from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s annual deer harvest summary indicate hunters across the state reported harvesting 161,854 deer during the 2017-18 hunting season – an 8 percent increase over the 2016-17 season.
Deer harvest increased in districts 2 through 9, ranging from 3.4 percent in District 3 to 13.3 percent in District 4; however, District 1 showed a 3.9 percent decline in harvest. Bladen County resides in District 4.
Of the deer harvested, 52.6 percent were antlered bucks, 5.6 percent were button bucks and 41.8 percent were does. The 2017-18 antlered buck harvest was:
Below (-13 to 25 percent) the 10-year average in Districts 1 and 3
Near the 10-year average in Districts 2 and 4; and
Above (13-60 percent) the 10-year average in Districts 5 through 9.
The variation in harvest from year to year and from district to district is something biologists expect to see and is due to a number of reasons that include weather, mast (acorn and berries) disease, hunter effort and hunter selectivity.
“We primarily focus on long-term trends rather than annual variations to monitor the population, and have observed increasing trends in deer harvest in western North Carolina, likely due to an emerging deer herd and improved deer habitat on private lands,” said Jon Shaw, the Commission’s deer biologist. “In some areas we have relatively stable harvest trends, while in large portions of Eastern North Carolina, we are observing declining trends in harvest and deer numbers.”
According to Shaw causes for deer declines can include:
Hunter harvest – Doe harvest opportunities have increased over the years, including most recently the addition of Sunday hunting with firearms in 2015.
Disease – Outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease have contributed to declines in some areas, and significant outbreaks occurred in 2012 in Districts 7 and 8, and in 2014, primarily in District 3.
Habitat – The quality of habitat may be in decline due to land use practices, including development and increased efficiency in land management, such as farming and forestry practices.
Predators – Coyotes and other predators have increased in numbers over the last two decades. They can have significant impacts on fawn recruitment, but these impacts are highly variable across time and the landscape. Predators alone will not decimate deer populations, but their impacts may be additive with other factors that cause declines.
However, Shaw notes that there are some possible solutions to address concerns about deer numbers in areas where they are declining, such as continuing to promote hunting and trapping of coyotes, habitat improvement, doe harvest management, and overall harvest timing.
“We believe the recent passage of a statewide antlered bag limit of 2 and antlerless bag limit of 4 is a big step forward in addressing concerns about deer numbers and the overall condition of the herd,” Shaw said. “Of course, we will continue to research and monitor data and trends, and continue to evaluate ways to improve deer management in the state.”
The Commission posts annual harvest summaries on its website, as well as live harvest reports, which are available anytime throughout the hunting season.