Preliminary deer harvest data collected throughout the state suggests that this year's deer kill will be in the vicinity of 30,000, down 16% from an expected kill of 35,800, and down over 20% from last year's remarkable kill of 38,153 deer, which was the highest total since 1968.
The total deer kill for each of the past ten deer seasons is as follows: 2002 -- 38,153; 2001 -- 27,769; 2000 - 36,885; 1999 - 31,473; 1998 - 28,241; 1997 - 31,152; 1996 - 28,375; 1995 - 27,384; 1994 - 24,683; 1993 -- 27,402.
"Our concerns about the severe winter and above average winter mortality in 2003 led us to reduce the number of any-deer permits available, and accordingly, we expected a decrease given average hunting conditions and effort," said Gerry Lavigne, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife deer biologist. "With the additional decrease in the deer kill, there clearly are other factors other than the severe winter that affected the harvest."
Based on reports from regional biologists in the field, according to Lavigne, there are certain trends that are evident statewide. First, hunting conditions were less than favorable during the firearms season. The month overall was warm, wet, and frequently windy - - all factors that most hunters consider sub-optimal. In contrast to 2002, hunters in 2003 had very little opportunity to track deer on snow.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologists noted a decided lack of hunter activity statewide during most hunting days, according to Lavigne, who noted that warm, wet or extremely windy weather reduces hunter enthusiasm, leading to reduced hunting pressure on the herd. It is well within the realm of possibility for poor effort and conditions to account for a 10 to 15% drop in deer harvest, said Lavigne, relative to more favorable hunting seasons.
Biologist reports of relative deer abundance are more variable and largely anecdotal at this point. Much of this is information gleaned from conversations with individual hunters, meat processors, wardens, etc.
The source of this estimate is based on a model that uses the total number of deer examined by wildlife biologists at meat lockers, roadside check stations, and home visits. All told, IFW biologists and cooperators will have examined 6,500 or more deer in 2003. In 2002, they examined a little over 8,000 deer. The number of deer examined by biologists is highly correlated with total harvest.