COLUMN: Seriously, it’s time to start harvesting more does

The preliminary whitetail harvest numbers for the 2019-20 season have been released, and they show a continued downward trend in overall kills.

The report shows that hunters harvested 99,437 deer, a 9% drop from the 2018 harvest of 108,856. It is also 13% lower than the 5-year average of 114,520.

During the traditional buck firearm season that ran from Nov. 25-Dec.7, 2019, 36,472 deer were harvested. As for does, 28,336 antlerless deer were harvested over each firearm season (Oct. 24-27, Nov. 25-Dec. 7, Dec. 28-Dec. 31). The anterless firearm seasons also include the split youth season that ran over four days from Oct. 19-20 and Dec. 26-27.

Further, bow and crossbow hunters harvested 29,508 deer from Sept. 28-Dec. 31 (11% higher than in 2018 and 10% above the 5-year average), and 4,522 deer were taken in the 7-day muzzleloader season (7% more than last year and 7% lower than the 5-year average). Finally, 599 deer were killed during the 3-day Mountaineer Heritage season last month.

Aside from the overall harvest number drop, doe kills declined as well with hunters taking 13% less than in 2018. The 2019-20 harvest was 21% below the 5-year average of 36,082.

“It is important to note that the antlerless harvest is the key component to any deer management strategy, as it controls the future deer population,” Chief of the Wildlife Resources Section Paul Johansen said.

Should hunters continue to kill fewer does than bucks, it could lead to a carrying capacity issue. Statistically, does are 13% more likely to give birth to a doe-fawn rather than a buck-fawn. That, coupled with hunters killing young males, not only lessens the chance bagging a trophy buck but can cause less births overall. More doe kills typically lead to more chances of a buck-fawn being born, a line right out of the Quality Deer Management book.

I don’t know what our current buck-to-doe ratio is, but logical thinking says it’s much higher than the perfect 1:1 ratio we strive for as hunters and conservationists.

If you have your own thoughts and opinions concerning the anterless deer harvest, the DNR will be holding 12 public meetings on March 16 in Fairmont, Martinsburg, Milton, Princeton, Spencer and Summersville, and on March 17 in Buckhannon, Fayetteville, Glen Dale, Logan, Moorefield and Parkersburg. For specific locations, contact your local DNR division.

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