Record Low Deer Permits Recommended - Again

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Wildlife biologists are recommending the Arizona Game and Fish Commission set record-low deer hunt-permit levels again this year during its meeting in Phoenix on April 11-12 at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #2, 12851 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix.

The commission is considering the fall big game seasons during the Saturday-portion of the meeting, which starts at 8 a.m.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is recommending the commission set the deer permit-tag level for the general deer seasons at 37,025, which is a 4,620-permit reduction from last year. Last year was also a record low for permits.

Records indicate that Arizona experienced a statewide drought that was the most severe in more than 100 years in many areas of the state. "Deer tag reductions are statewide and are a result of very poor fawn survival in most game units," says Game Branch Chief Tice Supplee.

Supplee points out that the recommended permit levels represent the lowest level of deer hunting opportunity since records were started in 1946. In 1946, there were 33,886 deer permits sold. The majority of the harvest was in northern Arizona. Deer hunting seasons in the 1940s and '50s were limited to four days in most of the southern part of the state. "Unlike 1946, the southern part of the state is now providing the majority of the deer harvest, largely because of whitetail, but also because multiple-hunt dates offer many more days of hunting opportunities. Regulation harvest through the hunt-permit system allows us to offer more liberal hunt seasons rather than severely limiting or closing areas due to drought impacts," Tice explains.

Another part of the package for this year is the junior seasons. The juniors-only deer seasons are recommended for 950 permits distributed around the state, which is a 530-permit reduction from last year. Much of that reduction - 500 permits - comes from reductions in the antlerless hunt for juniors in Hunt Unit 12A on the Kaibab Plateau.

Muzzleloader permits are recommended at 735, a 250-permit reduction. Juniors-only muzzleloader permits are the same as last year - 30.

Department biologists are also recommending that Unit 17A have a 10-day general season rather than a 17-day season. "Shortening the season reduces the level of the recommended permit cut," Supplee says.

Department biologists are also proposing the commission shorten the archery-only, any-antlered deer seasons in Unit 27 while maintaining an archery-only deer hunt during the December holidays. The recommendation is intended to reduce the archery harvest in Unit 27, which is also recommended for a 400-permit reduction in the general seasons for the second consecutive year.

Biologists also recommend the commission change the archery-only deer hunts for Dec. 12, 2003 through Jan. 31, 2004 to be "any antlered deer" statewide. The recommendation thus removes all archery doe harvest.

Arizona Strip Deer Recommendations
Deer management on the Arizona Strip, which includes the North Kaibab deer herd, has emphasized providing an opportunity to harvest an older-age "trophy quality" buck, reduce hunter densities and increase hunter success, as per the department's Wildlife 2006 strategic plan.

"Consistent with that direction, the department developed an Alternative Mule Deer Management Plan describing how we will accomplish those goals," Supplee says.

The specific objectives for buck:doe ratios are not being met in Unit 12A, the North Kaibab. "The recommendation is to reduce overall harvest of bucks to meet this objective. The objectives for higher hunt success and older age bucks in the late season hunts are already being met," explains Supplee.

Because of reductions in general deer hunt permits, the muzzleloader deer season scheduled for Unit 12AE is recommended to remain in 12B.

There is good news for young hunters - department biologists are recommending a fifth year of anterless hunting with 500 permits for Unit 12AW. "The west side winter range is continuing to recover from wildfires that reduced deer habitat capacity by nearly 50 percent in 1996. Deer browse use on the winter range was again within acceptable levels this past year," Supplee says.

Supplee adds that the 12AW deer herd had a poor fawn crop of 46 percent in 2002, which is close to a herd maintenance level. "The recommended antlerless harvest should still allow for a modest increase in the west side deer population."

The season dates for Units 12A, 12B, and 13A archery deer are recommended to be later - Sept. 5-18 - in response to archery hunter requests to make the hunt later, and Kaibab National Forest concerns regarding fire danger.