Antlerless hunt offers a head start to deer season

LITTLE ROCK – With the heat finally breaking and a few Arkansans even spotted in sweatshirts, the itch to spend a quiet morning in the woods is in full effect. Hunters who can’t stand the wait until modern gun season opens have a great opportunity to get out and get some meat in the freezer during Arkansas’s private land antlerless deer hunt, Oct. 12-16.

Only antlerless deer may be harvested with a modern gun during the hunt, and the hunt only takes place on private land. This includes any land leased by hunting clubs or individuals from timber companies and other landowners.

Hunters interested in hunting for a buck may still bowhunt, but must wear hunter orange. The hunter must also choose before hunting whether they are bowhunting or using a modern gun; only one hunting device may be carried during the hunt.

Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC’s wildlife management division explains that the timing of the hunt is to enable hunters to take a doe before the rut is in full swing.

“Traditional doe days being at the end of the season often left states short on their preferred doe harvest,” Carner said. “Many people would hunt for a buck all year, then only devote the last few days to does and would not see one on those days. Earlier in the season, we see more participation from hunters who are looking to fill the freezer before they go after a buck.”

Hunters have had mixed feelings about the five-day hunt since it first was added to the season a few years ago. Some hunters rooted in tradition still believe the additional harvest of does can hurt the deer herd, but the deer herd has changed greatly since the days of “buck only” harvest, and changes must be made to ensure balance.

In the 1940s through the 1970s, the focus on deer conservation was to bring back the population from near extinction. By the 1980s, deer were plentiful and adjustments were needed to balance the herd with the habitat available. A balanced harvest is needed to maintain the health of the herd, and in the last decade the harvest has been fairly well balanced. Even with all the added opportunity to harvest does, Arkansas hunters rarely fail to harvest more bucks than does. In fact, the 2015-16 deer hunting season is the only season on record in which the doe harvest was higher. Even in that year, it was extremely close to being an even balance, with 108,118 does and 104,792 bucks checked by hunters.

With last year’s total harvest of 210,065, Carner is confident that the deer herd has reached a healthy sustainable level and current season dates are balancing things out well.

“We’ve had seven years in a row above the 200,000-deer mark, and the total harvest has not fluctuated widely from year to year,” Carner said. “This is a good indication that the population is not experiencing rapid growth or rapid declines and that our harvest strategy is working well. It may always need a small change or two to adjust to trends in populations and people, but for now it is correct for the deer, the habitat and the hunters.”

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