The damp spring and summer that followed Louisiana’s uncharacteristically cold winter bodes well for the state’s estimated population of 500,000 deer heading into the 2014-15 season, according to a biologist with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
“I feel like we had a nice consistent rainfall all through the growing season, and to me that’s a critical period — the spring through the summer when fetuses are developing, when fawns hit the ground and lactating starts,” said Scott Durham, the state’s deer study leader. “That’s when you need to have good nutrition available, and I think we’ve seen that this year, so I think we’ll have a little increased recruitment.
“I think the ‘state of the union’ of the deer population is actually pretty good right now.”
What’s not so good right now is the continued statewide spread of feral hogs, which Durham described as “walking disease reservoirs.”
“They are definitely a competitor for space and for mast,” he said. “That’s probably one of my number one concerns: How are deer herds adjusting to the new level of hogs across the landscape?”
In the 2013-14 Louisiana Deer Report, Durham cited a recent study indicating deer detection rates are about half of what they might have been when hogs are present.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that it reduces deer numbers, but in the study that was done the deer were just not as easy to observe. I’m not saying you won’t get a picture of a deer and a pig together, because I’ve seen that, but I’ve also seen deer kind of freak out when they smell pigs,” he said.
“They just don’t mix real well. I’m not saying they entirely push each other away, but it’s just another stressor deer have to deal with, in addition to coyotes, other predators and things going on out on the landscape.”
The 500,000 deer population number, which Durham called a rough minimum estimate, is derived from crunching the numbers compiled from the annual mail survey sent to a 6-percent sampling of the state’s deer hunters.
“It’s a technique called harvest reconstruction. It’s definitely less than my predecessors used to estimate back in the late 90s and early 2000s when we kind of peaked, but it’s a different landscape now,” he said. “We get a certain number (of surveys) back and it’s an extrapolation based on responses from those hunters on how many deer they killed, and how many days they hunted.”
With data from the survey, Durham pegged last year’s harvest at 166,200 deer, a far cry from the 68,988 deer counted on WMAs and public and private land, as well as on Deer Management Assistant Program lands, through the state’s deer tagging program.
“At one point, we estimated only about 55 percent of the people were reporting based on a survey we did,” Durham said. “I’m hoping our enforcement guys are upping their efforts to catch people that don’t, because it’s bad data in and bad reporting out.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before the next generation of hunters realizes that reporting is normal, and it’s easy to do now. We have a live person on the phone now. No automated voice — that was a mistake.”
Plans are in the works for a smart phone app that will make calling in tags even easier, he said.
“People tend to want to report with their phone and we’ve learned that, so hopefully we’ll have that app eventually,” Durham said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In an upcoming second story from this interview, Durham discusses the number of Louisiana deer hunters, the outlook for this year’s mast crop and the health of the overall herd. Look for the story soon on LouisianaSportsman.com.