There is good news and bad news for Georgia's deer hunters this season.
First off, the bad news: whitetail harvest fell by 68,527 deer during the 2004-05 season, leaving wildlife authorities scratching their heads over what appears to be a major reduction in harvest.
The good news, according to senior wildlife biologist Scott McDonald, is that lower harvest last season increases the likelihood of more mature, older deer available this fall.
"The harvest we have estimated from last season is just over 348,000," he said. "It's not what we anticipated at all."
This despite a slight increase in the number of deer hunters - from 263,552 in 2003-04 to 268,571 last season, according to a report prepared for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.
The figures are raising eyebrows among wildlife managers, who wonder aloud whether the changes could be due, at least in part, to a new research organization that conducted the department's annual surveys.
If the figures are accurate, they could validate complaints voiced last season by hunters who complained there were fewer deer being seen.
The 484,000 deer taken in the 2003-04 season included an unprecedented doe harvest of 300,000, leaving some hunters wondering whether Georgia's liberal limit on antlerless deer is too liberal.
Complaints emerged during public hearings in Thomson last year from hunters who felt the population was being too heavily thinned.
Wildlife authorities blamed lower hunter success on climate and deer movement.
McDonald believes the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
"People try to base some of these broad characterizations on one-year data, which has its risks," he said.
"The truth is that, in any given year, certain factors can affect your success."
Last year, for example, a bumper crop of acorns left many deer herds with plenty of food and little reason to move, even during the cold weather months.
"It was also a very wet season, so hunter participation probably went down a little," McDonald said. "You simply don't have a record harvest every year."
Any way you look at it, though, last season's harvest was the lowest the state has seen since 1994, when 347,000 deer were harvested.
"I don't think it's a statewide thing in terms of deer population," McDonald said. "But there could still be some specific areas where deer population is down. Typically, those situations don't have anything to do with regulations. It's simply possible to shoot too many deer, in which case you need to think about how you manage the land you have access to."
HUNTER EDUCATION: If you keep firearms around your house, are they unloaded and stored out of reach of children? Probably so.
But what about someone else's house? Are guns safely stored in other homes or places your children might visit? Chances are, you have no idea, and neither do your children.
Last week, the journal Pediatrics published a study that concluded more than 1.7 million U.S. children live in homes where loaded guns are kept unlocked.
Nationally, a survey of 241,000 households concluded that 33 percent of them have guns.
Such statistics, no doubt, will spawn more of the shrill baloney about the need for laws that make it harder to buy or own firearms. But what those statistics really tell us is that children - and many adults - can benefit from firearms education programs, even if they are not hunters.
If you want to buy a hunting license in Georgia, and you were born after Jan. 1, 1961, you're obligated by law to complete the state's hunter education program, which includes eight to 10 hours of instruction on safe handling of guns and other useful topics.
But could non-hunters benefit from the class? Of course.
This year, Georgia has made the class easier to access through an online version at www.beasafehunter.org. This Internet course satisfies eight of the ten required hours to complete the course, but it still requires a two-hour review class before participants receive their certificate.
For more information on the new Internet hunter education course, or traditional classroom courses offered in the Augusta area, go to www.gohuntgeorgia.com or call (770) 784-3068.
RIVER ADVENTURE: Savannah Riverkeeper is seeking about 20 additional people for its annual Coastal Plain Meander, which involves a four-day trip from Augusta down the Savannah River to the coast. Camping or motel accommodations are available.
The trip is Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. For boat reservations or for questions about the trip or about land transportation contact Frank Carl at (706) 364-5253 or email@example.com.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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