Passing by young bucks and allowing them to grow to maturity pays off with more big bucks

Ever wonder what President Obama and the Quality Deer Management Association folks have in common?


Usually, it’s not much – but last week, both shared their annual state of the union reports.

The president covered trade, taxes and immigration reform, but the QDMA’s annual Whitetail Report covered almost anything you’d want to know about the continent’s most popular big game animal and the multi-billion dollar industry it supports.

The best news from the Georgia-based group’s 2014 report is that the number of yearling (1.5 year old) bucks that are allowed to survive toward maturity rose to the highest level in recent history, based on data from the 2012-13 season.

QDMA uses harvest data from 36 of 37 states in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast to compare, contrast and track deer hunting trends.

In 1989, the percentage of yearling bucks in the U.S. whitetail harvest was a whopping 62 percent. That percentage did not include antlerless “button bucks,” whose mortality further eroded opportunities to encounter a fully mature buck.

Since then, that figure has declined steadily over the decades, to an all-time record low of 37 percent during the 2012-13 season, the report said.

What does protecting or passing young bucks do? It grows more bigger bucks, as it has here in Georgia.

“Regionally, the Southeast averaged the highest percentage of bucks 3.5 years and older (49 percent), followed by the Midwest (27 percent) and Northeast (20 percent),” the report said. “Approximately half of the 1.2 million bucks shot in the Southeast in 2012 were 3.5 years or older”

Georgia’s figures indicate 28 percent of the antlered bucks harvested in 2012-13 were in the 3.5 year or older class, showing a continuous improvement from 26 percent in 2011-12 and just 20 percent 2010-11.

Among all states studied, the average percentage of the antlered buck harvest that was 3.5 years and older was 32 percent in 2012, similar to the 32 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2011. The states with the highest percentage of mature bucks in their harvests were Arkansas, with 65 percent; Oklahoma, with 66 percen; and Texas, with 76 percent.

“This is a testament to how far we’ve come as hunters and managers in the past decade,” the authors wrote.

Georgia, by the way, ranked fifth among all states studied in the number of bucks harvested, with 130,115. Texas was ranked No. 1 with 304,035 bucks; followed by Michigan’s 222,640 bucks; Wisconsin, 165,347; and Pennsylvania, 133,860.

The 64-page report, which is free, also includes data on deer predators, hunting methods, whitetail diseases, the economic impact of deer hunting, license sales, safety programs and other industry trends.

It can be downloaded at


WILDLIFE TAG BILL: Lots of people were annoyed in 2010 when the Georgia Legislature abruptly changed the way special license plates were sold in efforts to steer more money into the state’s general fund.

In particular, the addition of a $35 “renewal fee” to such tags prompted many Georgians to simply turn them in. Casualties included the important “Give Wildlife a Chance” tags that generate money for the state’s trout and bobwhite quail programs.

This session, however, a state representative from Dry Branch, Ga., has sponsored a bill that could restore some of that wildlife funding by reducing the fees and steering a higher percentage of the revenues to the wildlife programs.

Rep. Bubber Epps’ House Bill 730, which survived a second reading in the House Jan. 15, would reduce the $35 renewal fee to $25 and allocate all but $5 to the wildlife programs.

Currently, $25 of each $35 renewal fee goes to the state’s general fund.


CANAL TROUT: If you noticed a group of cold but excited kids near the Augusta Canal headgates Tuesday, it was the latest project in an ongoing effort to determine if the city’s famous man-made waterway could someday support a trout fishery.

Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School science teacher Carl Hammond-Beyer and his students teamed up again with Leesa Lyles’ class at Warren Road Elementary School, where an in-house hatchery provided about 1,000 rainbow trout fingerlings.

On Tuesday, both groups gathered to release the fish – barely 2 inches long – in hopes some of them might survive to grow into larger, catchable fish.

“They’re in the canal, up by the pavilion,” Hammond-Beyer said. “Right now, they’re all hanging out close to the shore. They made the transition very well and, hopefully, we’ll get some growth out of them.”

The release followed a more complex experiment last year in which trout fingerlings were kept in a submerged tank to gauge their ability to survive during the year’s warmest months, when higher water temperatures can reduce oxygen levels.

During that study, most of the fish died, but part of the mortality was due to having too many fish in the tank. Once they began to grow larger, they started eating one another.

The surviving trout grew to about seven inches and were released last fall.

The objective is to collect data to show the Georgia De­part­ment of Natural Resources that the canal could support trout sufficiently to allow a recreational fishery.



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