Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not make clear the change would refer to female deer.
ATLANTA—Georgia’s deer hunters would get 25 fewer days to seek does, but they don’t mind the reduction. They requested it.
“I think that’s an outcry of the hunting community,” said William Woodall, a spokesman for the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation.
The hunting community asked the Department of Natural Resources to shorten the deer season because they were finding fewer deer.
The department’s data also showed that a longer hunting season during the past 10 years has reduced the deer population from 1.4 million to slightly less than 1 million. Those 400,000 animals are the difference between overabundance and a balanced herd that matches the food and dens available.
“We could, if that continued, see a further decline in the deer population, which is not our goal,” said John Bowers, DNR’s assistant chief of game management. “Our goal is to stabilize the population around a million animals.”
Now that the extended hunting period has thinned the herd, DNR biologists are seeing a 26 percent drop in fawn “recruitment” – the rate at which fawns survive to six months of age before the start of hunting season. At the same time, the doe harvest rate has increased in the past two years to 65 percent because some hunters spare young bucks in hopes they’ll grow bigger antlers, becoming a more valuable trophy.
The department data and hunter sentiment came together just as DNR was preparing its biannual revision of the hunting regulations. It invited hunters to meetings around the state to get their thoughts.
“The No. 1 public input we received this cycle was concern over the declining deer populations,” Bowers said.
Hunters don’t want to see a repeat of the near depletion of the 1900s. Efforts to restock the state’s herd in the 1930-60s slowly took hold, but older sportsmen remember when seeing a deer was rare, and they don’t want their children or grandchildren discouraged by fruitless hunts.
“To get more kids out in the woods is an important thing,” Woodall said. “We’re competing with XBox and the Internet.”
The DNR board will vote on the proposed regulations at its May meeting. In the meantime, the public is welcome to submit comments.
The revision also moves the Middle Georgia bear season from two days in November to one Saturday in December when females are likely to be in their dens – they were more than half of the harvest in recent years. It also adds rules for hunting deer with primitive weapons and establishes rules for hunting fox, grouse, opossum, quail, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel and sets bobcat bag limits.