The 2010 deer season is over, and it is a good time to see how it went; statewide the total harvest was 188,205 deer. This is about 10 percent below last year’s harvest of 193,155 deer. In the three counties of the Current River DCT, Carter checked a total of 1004 deer, Ripley checked 2005 and Shannon checked 1564. These totals are down 24 percent, 15 percent and 21 percent, respectively, from the previous five-year averages for each county. This is certainly not any surprise to local conservation agents, who heard from many people they checked during the season, “We’re just not seeing the deer like we usually do.”
Most of us understand that in the Ozarks acorns are the preferred food for whitetailed deer. When we have an abundance of acorns deer tend to congregate on the food source and do not move around much. This means the bucks are less likely to be roaming in search of breeding does and may, in fact, stay put when a “hot” doe is encountered. All this means hunters are far less likely to see deer, particularly if hunting over a food plot. This translates into a decrease in the deer harvest for that particular year.
While this situation can be disappointing to local hunters, it is not all bad. Hunters who did manage to kill a deer likely found it to be in excellent shape and carrying a lot of fat. Those deer remaining after season will also be in excellent shape for the coming hard months of winter, and will also be in better shape for gestation and fawning come May and June. Another positive is that many more antlered bucks survived the season and will grow another year--next year’s harvest of antlered buck will no doubt include some of these that have had time to grow quite impressive “head gear."
Consider that the previous five-year average harvest of antlered bucks for Carter, Ripley and Shannon counties is 635, 860 and 808, respectively, for a total of 2,303. When you subtract the antlered deer taken in these counties this year (1,894) from that total, there are roughly 409 mature, antlered bucks left in the Current River DCT population. Of those 409 bucks only a few will die between now and next firearms season--the rest will be here and “bigger and better.” Furthermore, they will be joined by many of the roughly 149 “extra” button bucks that lived through this season to also become “antlered deer” for next season.
Minor fluctuations in the annual harvest of whitetailed deer are to be expected. They may be caused by weather events, disease outbreaks, availability of various food sources and even the economy. An “increase” in one year’s harvest may result in a “decrease” in the next--then again, it may not. A decrease like we’ve seen in this year’s harvest, however, will almost certainly result in an increase not only in the size of the harvest next year but also likely in the quality of the individuals harvested. Just hang on and wait.