Outdoor Notebook: Will our whitetail deer population decrease?
If you enjoy bow hunting for deer, you still can take your bow and pursue deer until Jan. 8. There are many area deer hunters who wait until we have tracking snow before they begin to go bow hunting. They feel that their chances of locating a deer once it is hit with an arrow are much better when we have snow on the ground.
Recently I found an article in the September issue of Outdoor Life magazine that is predicting that deer numbers are on the decline across the nation. This article quotes Dr. Grant Woods, who is a widely respected wildlife biologist whose land management work takes him around the United States. He is quoted as saying that at almost any way he looks at the deer herd from almost any region or perspective, America’s deer herd is in trouble. Dr. Woods said when looking at the nation’s deer population, we are nearing a crisis. He feels that the best case scenario is that the deer population will drop 10 to 20 percent over the next couple of years.
Dr. Woods admits that he formerly told hunters that they could not shoot enough antlerless deer during the past 20 years. Now he is telling hunters that perhaps they need to put on the brakes and shoot fewer antlerless deer. Part of the reason for his change is a combination of aging forests and a huge increase in the number of predators.
A concern raised by Dr. Woods is that as deer numbers decline, we will experience a decline in the number of deer hunters. That would mean a decline in the number of people buying licenses and hunting gear. Presently license income nationally, which funds state wildlife agencies, generates $600 million annually. It is estimated that deer hunters annually spend $12.4 billion on hunting gear. It is easy to see that deer hunting is a huge industry. The whitetail deer is the backbone of the hunting industry in the U.S.
My fear is that as deer populations decrease, youngsters who are starting to hunt deer will get discouraged when they do not see deer when they hunt, and they may quit hunting.
Wisconsin is in the second year of a comprehensive study of whitetail deer in the state. As I read and re-read the Outdoor Life article, it was encouraging to see that research is being done that is very similar to what our state is doing.
Recently DNR wildlife biologists have been quoted as saying that predator populations are at the highest point that we have ever experienced. The primary predators that are cutting into deer numbers are coyotes, wolves, bobcats and black bears. The news last week that wolves have been de-listed was good news for the residents of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. The de-listing process does not necessarily mean that there will be a hunting season in the three states. What it does mean is that the states now have the authority to manage wolves. Where wolves are killing livestock or otherwise causing problems, landowners may obtain permits to kill them. This action will not take effect until February 2012. During our frequent walks in the woods, we are seeing wolf and coyote tracks.
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Ice fishing is off to a good start on most area lakes. In those places where we have drilled holes in the ice, we are finding ice thickness about 8 to 10 inches. Although we have seen numerous trucks on the ice, it will be a while before our pickup ventures out.
Thus far the walleye bite seems to be just at dark, with very little action during daylight hours. As usual, the northern pike are hitting quite well on sunny days.
Now is a great time to review 2011 and decide how you want to change things for 2012. Remember, if you do as you have in the past, nothing will change. Happy New Year!
Longtime Northwoods outdoors personality Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column appearing in the Star Journal.