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NH Fish and Game withdraws 3-point antler restriction

From the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

-- New Hampshire's Fish and Game Department has withdrawn its proposal to establish a 3-point antler restriction in Wildlife Management Unit A in northern New Hampshire. Instead, they will monitor the herd and revisit management options for 2012.

Public advocacy for the broad application of antler point restrictions in New Hampshire at 2010 winter/spring deer hearings prompted the department to form a Buck Age Structure Management Working Group in the summer of 2010.  The Working Group, consisting of deer hunters, Commissioners and Fish and Game staff, was tasked with a survey to solicit deer hunter opinions on the issue of Buck Age-Structure Management.  

results from the survey initiated last fall indicated there was substantial support for antler point restrictions when age imbalances in antlered buck age classes were detected. There was also significant opposition to any application of  buck age proposals.  

Support for management action was particularly strong from hunters who identified WMU-A as their primary deer hunting area.  Fish and Game data indicate Unit A has a history of such imbalances. Based on survey results, Fish and Game proposed the institution of a 3-point restriction in the unit to enhance the recruitment of yearling bucks into older age classes.    

Public hearings April 7 and 8 on the antler point restriction proposal had solid support for the proposal at the Concord hearing, and significant opposition to the proposal in Pittsburg.  

On April 20, staff recommended that the Commission withdraw the proposal, and indicated they recognized the controversial nature of the proposal. Given the level of opposition in the North Country, population recovery following several severe winters was a greater priority.

Staff members said they would continue to monitor the situation in WMU-A and other units and would look at all options for re-balancing buck age structure before making 2012 deer season recommendations. The Commission discussed the issue at length before voting to withdraw the proposal.

A state deer management plan objective calls for maintaining a balanced buck age-structure in which at least 50 percent of antlered bucks are 2.5 years old or older. A higher proportion of older age bucks can have biological benefits and increase hunter satisfaction.

Prior to 2007, the objective had not been met in WMU-A for several years, and for the 2007 season, a 2-point minimum antler point restriction and shortened seasons were implemented to reduce the kill of young bucks and the late season kill when deer can be particularly vulnerable due to deep snow and yarding behavior. The measures were designed to allow more bucks to survive to older ages.

Beginning with winter 2007-08, severe weather led to overall declines in the deer population over the next several years. By 2009, concerns over the genetic consequences of the 2-point APR through the protection of the smallest antlered yearlings led to the removal of the 2-point APR for the 2010 season. The decrease in the deer population and reductions in either-sex hunting opportunities, along with the protection of about half of the yearling bucks under the 2-point APR, made evaluating the effectiveness of the 2-point APR difficult.

Public input during the process to remove the 2-point APR indicated a desire of many hunters to see APRs maintained in WMU-A, and a growing desire to have APRs implemented in other areas of the state.

In response to interest, the Department provided an opportunity for 66,000 hunting license holders to participate in a survey to help better understand hunters' preferences with regard to Buck Age Structure Management and the management methods that might be employed to achieve it.

The survey indicated a majority of hunters supported implementing some form of buck age-structure management when the deer plan objective was not being met, but there also was significant opposition.

The decision was made to propose a 3-point minimum APR in WMU-A as an option to continue to increase the proportion of older age bucks, based on the results of the survey. The 3-point APR would protect the vast majority of yearling bucks and would not have the potential genetic consequences of the 2-point APR.

Learn more about the issue of Buck Age Structure Management and hunter response to the fall 2010 survey online at www.huntnh.com/buckagestructure.

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