According to the number of deer officially measured from last year, the 2008-09 Deer Season was the best ever. Over 60 deer qualified either for the State Recognition Program or for the State Record List.
I have been involved with the records program since it began in 1979, and this was certainly a banner year for quality or record bucks. Either hunters are becoming very selective or the three-buck limit is beginning to produce results.
Certainly lots of landowners and clubs have been involved with quality deer management for many years, and this has produced results on many lands across the state.
While the harvest of record-class deer was great, the overall deer harvest last year was down. In fact, it was the lowest on record since the 1985-86 season (estimated harvest of 139,000 deer.) Last year, the harvest-survey estimate was 158,200 deer.
The Annual Harvest Survey is not designed to provide LDWF with an exact deer harvest number. It basically identifies trends, and it has revealed a downward trend since the 2002-03 season.
The total number of deer reported killed through the tagging program, and the WMA, DMAP and LADT programs was 116,571 deer. Last year was the first year that tagging was mandatory, and there was some concern that hunters did not always report and validate their harvest. I would think that certainly 75 percent or more of the hunters in this state did report and validate their kill, which is not too bad.
With the ability to now document the harvest at the parish level, hunters would greatly help the statewide deer management program by reporting and validating their kill. From the standpoint of the total number of deer killed the 2008-09 season was not that great. I was involved with the Annual Harvest Survey for many years, and always thought the deer harvest estimate was higher than what it really was, but again, the survey is mainly designed to identify trends in the harvest. Now with the tagging program perhaps we will get a more exact harvest number, if hunters report their kills.
No doubt Hurricane Gustav impacted deer hunters last year, and that certainly could explain the low harvest. Certainly a large portion of the hunters (baby boomers) have reached the point in their hunting career where killing a lot of deer is not a high priority. Basically they want to kill a good deer, and venison for the freezer is not a priority. This could explain the record-deer harvest and perhaps the overall decline in the harvest.
The poor economy has taken its toll on the hunting community, as well, and that would be another reason for the drop in the harvest. State biologists also think that changes in the statewide habitat conditions have resulted lower carrying capacity, resulting in a decline in the statewide population. This would be of concern since most of the state has a full-season either-sex deer hunting schedule that could create problems for areas with low deer numbers.
The 2009-10 season also has gotten off to a slow start, and the preliminary harvest estimates from reported and validated deer is less at this time than last year. The October rains have caused major problems for hunters on the primitive and gun-season openings in Area 2. There is still a lot of hunting to go, however, so we will have to wait and see what happens.
All of that said, there already have been several record-class deer killed and it will be interesting to see if the harvest of recognition and record book deer continues. If it does, I think the three-buck limit has to be a major factor contributing to the increased number of older bucks.