By now most deer hunters have learned that the 2014 Buck Season dropped off quite a bit from the year before. The Department of Natural Resources announced that 37,277 antler-ed deer were harvested – a decline of 34 percent from the 2013 kill. Pocahontas County hunters suffered only a 14 percent drop, much less than many other county totals.
The DNR has chosen to blame the decrease on the weather – warm and windy the first couple of days, followed by heavy snow in some places on the third day of season. The second week of season was rainy and damp and may have kept hunters out of the woods. Also, the very good mast crop caused the deer to be scattered, well-fed and hard to find.
These are the usual line of excuses that the DNR uses to explain away the decrease, but maybe it is time to take a look at the “Bigger Picture.”
The 825 bucks taken in Pocahontas and the modest 14 percent drop also represent one of the lowest kills in the last 20 years and reflects a slow and steady drop off. Looking back at the records over the last 16 years showed the harvest from year 2000 produced 2,907 bucks, possibly the best take ever for Pocahontas. A comparison from then to now shows a 72 percent decrease. And the decline continued with:
*2002 yielding 2,638
*2006 yielding 1,410
*2008 yielding 1,223
*2012 yielding 1,152
*2013 yielding 961
This would show a steep decline in anybody’s book.
Likewise the statewide numbers reflect the same decrease in the buck kill. From the late 1990s when the five year average hovered around 100,000 bucks per year to the most recent five year average, 50,760, or nearly a 50 percent decline.
Several questions come to mind after looking at these numbers. First and foremost, why? What has caused the buck harvest to drop so precipitously?
Secondly, is the DNR managing the deer herd correctly? Do we really need to increase the deer herd or are deer populations about where they should be?
Thirdly, how low will the buck harvest numbers go?
More questions probably will be raised, but next week we hope to address these issues and maybe come up with some answers.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org