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Good start for deer season, but future debated
Nov 28, 2012 12:00 am
Some wildlife biologists predict a 25% drop in the nationwide deer population in coming years, but other experts believe the concern is exaggerated -- and early harvest figures support that in Tennessee.
During the first weekend of Tennessee’s gun season (Nov. 17-18) hunters killed 17,093 deer, compared to 14,176 during last year’s opening weekend.
Through archery season, muzzleloader season and the first week of gun season, the statewide harvest total surpassed 86,000, on pace to match the record harvest of 179,542 deer taken in the 2004-05 season.
Deer season runs through Jan. 6.
In the current issue of American Hunter, biologist Grant Woods makes the grim prediction of a declining deer herd nation-wide, and claims that it has already dropped by 10% in the past four years.
Woods attributes his projected decrease to a number of factors, starting with an increase in predators such as coyotes. He said one study found that fewer than a quarter of whitetail fawns born in the spring survived until autumn.
Coyotes – on the increase in Tennessee – accounted for 75% of the fawn morality.
Free-roaming dogs also take a toll on deer, especially during the spring fawning season, and are becoming more numerous as more residential developments creep into once-rural areas.
Woods also pointed to “aging habitat” that is not conducive to deer forage and continued outbreaks of such diseases as epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) that decimated deer herds in many Tennessee counties four years ago.
Other experts question his data, noting that deer populations fluctuate widely every year, from region to region, state to state and sometimes even county to county.
In Tennessee the deer population is thriving in most areas, especially in Middle and West Tennessee. The prolific animals have rebounded from the EHD epidemic that killed off as much as one-third of the herds in some counties.
The biggest threat to deer hunting in most states, including Tennessee, is not disease or predators, but destruction of habitat through development and urban sprawl.
Anti-hunting sentiment has not increased in recent years despite the propaganda of PETA and other radical groups. Surveys show that about 20% of the public is anti-hunting, about 20% is involved in hunting, and the remaining 60% is non-hunting but neutral in the debate.
A decades-long downward trend in hunting has slowed, but fewer youngsters are taking it up due to a variety of factors.
More and more private land owners are reluctant to allow hunting on their property, despite an over-abundance of deer that damage crops and landscaping and create traffic hazards on the roads.
Deer hunting has become a major industry in almost every state, including Tennessee.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are approximately 12 million deer hunters in the U.S. The licenses they buy raise about $600 million annually for state wildlife agencies, and the guns, ammo and gear they purchase generates $12.4 billion a year for the national economy.