Mature buck harvest on the rise

By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show

I hosted Kip Adams of the National Deer Association on Buckeye Sportsman earlier this month, and the organization’s Chief Conservation Officer had some interesting information to share. According to the organization’s 2021 Deer Report, hunters in the United States took more adult and mature bucks in the 2019-20 hunting season than ever reported, based on a near-record buck harvest of 2.9 million and a record 39% of those bucks estimated to be 3.5 years or older. 

“Hunters now shoot far more bucks that are at least 3.5 years old than 1.5 years,” said Adams, adding “This is very different from hunting seasons a decade or two ago.”

He explained that the steadily climbing percentage of 3.5-and-older bucks in the harvest is the result of steadily declining pressure nationwide on yearling bucks (1.5 years old). Only 28% of the 2019 antlered buck harvest was yearlings, the lowest rate ever reported. The total buck harvest of 2,885,991 was only 2.5% down from the record buck harvest of 2017. As a region, the Northeast bucked this trend, increasing its buck harvest 4% over the 2018 season.

The new Deer Report covers data for the 2019-20 hunting season, the most recent season with complete harvest data available from all major deer states, including Ohio. It revealed that nationally, the antlerless harvest (which includes does and buck fawns) declined 1% from the previous season to 2,864,698 and for the third year in a row was lower than the antlered buck harvest. Modern antlerless harvests first surpassed the buck harvest in the 1999 season and remained higher until 2017.

The antlerless harvest has now declined 12% in the decade from 2009 to 2019. The decline was felt most sharply here in the Midwest, where the decline over that period was 27%. Long-term reductions in buck and antlerless harvests have many hunters concerned, and for good reason, according to Adams. Harvest declines of 20% to 50% are significant and state wildlife agencies and legislators hear the brunt of this frustration from hunters, according to the report. 

Deer management is in a very different period today than a decade ago, and how closely legislators, wildlife agencies and hunters work together will dictate our future deer management successes, according to the association.

New this year, after 12 years of this report, the National Deer Association has expanded the scope beyond whitetails to include whitetail subspecies like Coues and Key deer as well as other important deer species like mule and black-tailed deer. That’s also why the report has been renamed from the Whitetail Report to the Deer Report. A special section of the 2021 report 12th annual contains information and harvest statistics on those other deer species.

“With respect to mule deer, all Western states that provided data reported spending more time and money on managing mule deer as opposed to white-tailed deer, and mule deer were hunted more than whitetails in all but one Western state,” Adams said.

Among other facts to be found in the new Deer Report:

• 64% of deer taken in the 2019-20 season were killed with a firearm compared to 25% with archery equipment and 10% with a muzzleloader.

• New Jersey had the highest percentage of deer harvest with archery equipment at 63%, Rhode Island was highest with muzzleloaders at 48%, and Idaho was highest in rifle/shotgun deer harvest with 94%

• Texas had the highest total buck harvest at 460,242.

• Michigan killed the most bucks per square mile at 3.7.

• Mississippi killed the most bucks per 100 hunters at 70.

Complete state-by-state estimates of total buck harvest, buck age structure, and other interesting harvest parameters are available in the full Deer Report, which also includes a look at numerous other critical issues for deer hunting. It’s available for free download at deerassociation.com/2021-deer-report/

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