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Field Notes

By the Numbers
It’s that time of year again.
Hunting season is mostly over and fishing season will have to wait for better days. Outdoorsmen congregate around the wood stoves and water coolers and discuss past triumphs and near misses. Optimism abounds as plans are made for future hunts and fishing trips.
Most of the information coming from the Department of Natural Resources these days is heavy on statistics and can easily become confusing. In fact, it closely resembles a Stock Market Report. Imagine:
Bears last year were down 11 percent while the fall harvest of turkeys remained steady. The formerly blue chip deer harvest was down by 31 percent from the previous year, or 23 percent below the five year average. Elk futures are on the rise in the south western part of the state and potential returns have a huge up-side. Dividends here could certainly pack a freezer.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these numbers. Though bears were off a bit last year, the harvest of 2,385 was still very good and also ranks as one of the top three harvests of all times. Had the weather not been so cold in November and put some bears into hibernation, the harvest may have been even higher. But the future for bear hunters still seems bright as the bear population is expected to remain steady. There are still areas in the central part of the state were bruins can expand their range.
The fall turkey take of 1,016 was nearly the same as 2013 when 999 were harvested. Turkey populations are particularly dynamic and tend to yo-yo up and down over the years but this one was very near the five year average. Good hard mast from last fall and light snowfall so far this winter may bode well for the upcoming spring gobbler season.
Now, let’s revisit the deer herd. The statewide buck harvest of 37,766 was down a good bit from the 56,523 bucks of 2013. That 26 percent drop below the five year average (of 50,858) is significant, but even more so when compared to the late 1990s when the kill was regularly over 100,000. The most recent five year average is barely half of the five year average from the late 1990s.
Let’s also note that the five year average for antlerless deer in Pocahontas is near 400 per year. Removing that many does also removed maybe 600 fawns each year for each of the last five years. That is 3,000 fawns and nearly 2,000 does gone from the population. A significant number for sure.
So, that brings up a couple of questions.
First, does removing 5,000 –a conservative figure at best – female and young deer over a five year period from the general Pocahontas County herd, have an impact on the population? Maybe. After all, it’s a big county and nobody knows the total number of deer that choose to live here.
Secondly, what can be done? The DNR can choose to tighten up the requirements or control the number of antlerless permits that are issued. They, no doubt, will be taking a long hard look at these numbers and outdoorsmen can expect much tighter control if not total elimination of doe season for a while.
As for the developing elk herd in the south western part of the state, expect a long, slow slog. There are few public properties in that area and private lands that may be huntable one year may be posted the next. Elk probably won’t have any better luck than the wild boar which was introduced there more than 30 years ago and has had only moderate success. So, if you are betting elk futures, be prepared to go in for the long haul, as they say in the market.
For the birds
It’s time, once again, for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count and anyone with an interest in birds or science can participate. All one needs to do is sign up at the website, or Then grab your binoculars and take a walk or park yourself near an active bird feeder, record and count the birds that you see or hear, then submit the results on your home computer. The GBBC is set for this coming weekend, February 13-16, and it is a great way to turn curious youngsters into citizen scientist. Last year more than 144,000 observations were turned in and collected data contributes to the overview of bird health and distribution.
Most of all, it’s fun.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and can be contacted at

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