Georgia's fall deer season is expected to yield harvests similar to past years, despite a 60 percent increase in the per-hunter bag limit this year.
Legislation to increase the limit from five to eight deer passed the General Assembly earlier this year and was affirmed this summer by the Board of Natural Resources. Hunting licenses will include the extra tags.
Dan Forster, assistant game management chief for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division, said the increase provides an optional tool for game managers who wish to exercise greater control over deer herds.
"Like most natural resources, deer are not not equally distributed," he said. "Some areas have few deer, and others have an overabundance of deer, due mainly to lack of access by hunters."
State officials want to provide flexibility to hunters and landowners to manage deer effectively, he said. The increased limit allows hunters to harvest three additional does and leaves the buck limit at two.
"The reality of the situation is, the five-deer bag limit is not an effective limit because very few people ever achieve that number of deer," he said.
Statistically, fewer than half of Georgia's 320,000 deer hunters harvest even a single doe, he said.
"About 12 percent harvested three or more does, and of those, I would guess maybe 2 to 3 percent killed five does," Forster said. "The question is, how many people came to that limit in the past and stopped because of the limit?"
Those few hunters who succeeded in reaching the five-deer limit, and who stopped because they could take no more, are the only ones likely to be affected by the new law.
"That's the percentage of people this bag limit will impact," Forster said. "The difference will be almost negligible. We don't anticipate any major changes in harvest as a result of this change."
During the 1998-99 season, Georgia hunters harvested 82,000 fewer deer than the previous year, and last year's harvest was down slightly as well.
The Wildlife Resources Division's figures, which include gun and archery harvests statewide, indicate the 1998-99 harvest totaled 427,000 deer, of which 53.2 percent were does.
By comparison, the 1997-1998 season's harvest was 509,533 deer, which included 275,828 does and 233,705 bucks. That season was an all-time record for Georgia.
Last year's season was average, Forster said, and represented a slight drop from the previous year.
"Right now our estimate for the harvest last year is just over 400,000 deer," he said. "It's running just over 50 percent does in the harvest. From our perspective, that's excellent."
Harvesting such a high percentage of does shows the adequacy of management and education programs, he said. "We're tickled with that level of harvest, and it's somewhat in line with previous years."
State officials estimate Georgia's deer herd at about 1.1 to 1.2 million animals statewide, which is consistent with where it's been in the past few years.
"We had higher populations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the population has been reduced to more reasonable levels."
Other changes in statewide deer regulations this fall include the addition of Troupe County to the growing list of counties that practice countywide quality deer management.
Troupe is Georgia's sixth quality deer county, where bucks must have four or more points on one side to be legal. Existing QSM counties were Macon, Dooly, Harris, Meriweather and Talbot.
Georgia's 2000-2001 deer seasons are as follows: archery, Sept. 16 to Oct. 20 statewide; primitive weapons (muzzleloader) Oct. 21-27 statewide; and firearms, Oct. 28 to Jan. 1 for the Northern Zone and Oct. 28 to Jan. 7 for the Southern Zone.