With the first two weeks of modern gun deer season completed, Arkansas hunters have checked more than 140,000 deer throughout the state.
To put things into perspective, Arkansas hunters have already checked more deer than the total harvest for any year before 1995. The total harvest is slightly lower at this point than it was in the last two seasons, but there’s still close to a month of prime hunting opportunity left in many parts of the state to make up the difference.
“Heavy mast crop (acorns) has been phenomenal this year,” said Ralph Meeker, Deer Program Coordinator. “That can greatly reduce deer movement and affect hunter success.”
Anyone who has visited the woods this year will attest to the abundant food available for deer from oak trees. Soft mast also produced well this year, meaning deer did not have to go far to find a meal. Food plots and other sources of feed have not come into play as much as usual during this season with all the natural groceries on the ground in the cover of wooded areas.
Hot temperatures at the beginning of archery and several rainy days during muzzleloader seasons also may have caused early excitement to wane.
“We typically have two large peaks in modern gun deer harvest numbers,” Meeker said. “Opening weekend and the Thanksgiving holiday. We also typically see a decent bump in harvest during the statewide Christmas hunt.”
The buck-to-doe ratio so far falls in favor of buck harvest, but only slightly so. So far, about 43 percent of the harvest has been does. A decade ago, nearly twice as many bucks would be harvested as does at this point in the season, but liberalized limits and a special antlerless-only hunt on private lands has kept the ratio more balanced.
“Protecting does was critical to rebuilding the deer herd, but now that we have reached our current high population levels, we want to maintain the herd at a healthy level and not exceed what the habitat can handle,” Meeker said.
Arkansas’s record deer harvest was 213,487 deer, taken in 2012. But the last seven seasons have ended with harvest totals exceeding 200,000. Last year’s harvest of 210,065 was an increase of nearly 5,000 from the year prior.
“The number remaining steady at this high harvest rate indicates that the current season structure is matched up well with the state’s deer herd, and that the population is neither trending up or down,” according to Brad Carner, chief of Wildlife Management. Carner added that hunters also should take full advantage of the AGFC’s free testing sites for chronic wasting disease throughout the state.
“We have a testing location in just about every county, and people can really help us keep track of this disease throughout the state by having their deer checked,” Carner said. “It’s also an extra piece of mind for many hunters. The testing locations are easy to find.”