The number of deer hunters who participated in Georgia's 2000-2001 season increased slightly, according to a new Department of Natural Resources study, reversing a decade-long decline.
The survey also found that fewer deer were harvested during the regular firearms season, while statewide harvests by bowhunters and muzzleloader enthusiasts increased for the second consecutive year.
"This survey is of great importance, as it provides biologists with valuable information that helps determine the needs of hunters for future seasons," said Dan Forster, assistant chief of game management.
The state's annual Deer Harvest Summary Report indicates the number of Georgia deer hunters - including modern firearms, archery and muzzle loaders - increased from 293,468 in 1999-2000 to 294,619 last season.
By comparison, the previous year's annual Deer Harvest Report reflected a decline of 23,059 hunters - from 316,527 in 1998-99 to 293,468 in 1999-2000.
State authorities who track hunter participation and license sales have known for years that Georgia's hunting population is declining - and getting older, too.
In 1986, there were 343,000 licensed resident Georgia hunters. A decade later, the figure had dropped to 314,000 and has declined ever since.
John Bowers, a senior Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who compiles annual hunter surveys, said one of the biggest factors is the absence of young people getting into hunting.
In 1986, one of every four hunters was 15 to 19 years old. A decade later, only one hunter in 10 fell into that age category. That computes to a 52 percent decline.
"There's all sorts of things we've talked about, but it's mainly that people don't have as much free time as they did 15 or 30 years ago," Bowers said. "Nowadays, if people aren't taking their kids hunting, most likely they young people will not be getting into it."
The loss of hunting and outdoor skills is disheartening, he added. "Besides harvesting animals, it teaches ethics, safety, responsibility, outdoor knowledge - basically interacting with the world we live in."
The slight increase could be due to any of several factors, Bowers said.
"It's not a big jump, so we're not sure why that happened," he said. "It could be people moving into the state. It could also be interest in the primitive weapons season" that was begun two years ago.
The annual Deer Harvest Survey concluded that 402,000 deer were harvested statewide last year, with 54.9 percent of those deer being does. Sportsmen and women averaged 22 hunting days with 56.3 percent of hunters taking at least one deer.
The majority of deer hunters - 96.5 percent - used modern firearms, while 21.1 percent used muzzle loaders and 37 percent used archery gear.
Harvest totals from muzzle loader hunts increased by 4,000 deer to 19,000; while archery harvests increased 5,000 deer to 50,000.
AVERAGE DEER PER HUNTER/1.35/1.4/1.4
AVERAGE DAYS PER HUNTER/15.7/13.4/22
PCT. SUCCESSFUL HUNTERS/58.3/77.8/56.3
TOTAL GUN HARVEST/383,000/343,000/333,000
TOTAL ARCHERY HARVEST/44,000/46,000/50,000
Total archers: 109,008 with 28.8 percent success
Total archery harvest: 36,000 does and 14,000 bucks
Muzzleloader hunters: 62,164 with 24.6 percent success
Muzzleloader harvest: 10,000 does and 9,000 bucks
Firearms harvest: 176,000 does and 157,000 bucks