By Don Mallicoat
The Wildlife Resources Commission released its annual deer harvest report last month for the previous season. As usual, there’s good and bad news.
Let’s start with the overall view of the state. The total harvest of just over 139,000 deer for this season was down from the last year by about 11%. It’s too early to tell if that is a result of lack of hunter success, fewer hunters in the field, fewer deer, or a combination of those. Maybe if that is a continued trend, the state will study it. Let’s get a little closer to home.
The highest yield county was Madison. The total harvest for the season of 1,370 deer is an increase of just over 20% from the previous season. That’s a considerable jump and shows a definite upward trend for the county. Last season’s harvest translated into two antlered deer per square mile, whereas this year’s shows an improvement to 2.7 antlered deer.
As usual most of the deer were harvested on private land. Again, guns took the most deer with 879, followed by archery with 233, and crossbows with 184. Black powder only had 74 deer harvested but given the short season that is not unusual. When I crunch the numbers, each of those figures as a percentage of the total is consistent with the 2017 – 2018 season. No noticeable trend in the change of hunting methods.
Here in Buncombe County things were pretty stable in the harvest figures between the two seasons. The total harvest this year of 835 deer is only 17 deer above the previous season. Our next-door neighbors to the east, Yancey County, also had a successful season. With a total harvest of 1,437 deer they exceeded last year’s harvest by a whopping 25%! Again, gun hunters led the way followed by crossbow hunters (which exceeded archery hunters). And like Madison County, the vast majority of deer were harvested on private land.
Here is the bad news and the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The total deer harvest this year in the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forest was only 813 deer: 417 in Pisgah and 396 in Nantahala. For the first time in my memory reporting on this, the total harvest for our National Forests has dropped below one thousand, or less than one deer per 1,000 acres. Last year it was slightly above at 1,050. That is an appallingly low number for public land.
Some may be inclined to respond, “Well, fewer people are hunting in the National Forest.” That may be true. But the underlying question is, WHY are there fewer people hunting there? I would submit it is because of the lack of game to pursue. Yes, this all comes back to wildlife habitat management on public land. We have very few reliable measures of wildlife populations on public land and those few are hunter success figures for deer, grouse, and turkey. All of those indicators are showing a negative trend in our local Pisgah National Forest.
That means the habitat is not there. If the Forest Service says the goal is ten percent young forest growth for sustainable wildlife habitat, and figures show it is only at 1%, what other outcome can we expect? We really don’t have measures for other non-game wildlife like songbirds. All we know is some need young forests and their populations are in decline. We need to speak up for wildlife because they can’t. Remember, they live in our forests. We are only visitors.
Since we’re on harvest data, the 2019 turkey harvest data just got released by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. Based on my own experience here, I was expecting a much lower harvest figure this year. Boy was I surprised! Statewide there were over 1,300 birds harvested in 2019 compared to 2018. Here in Buncombe County, the birds in bag increased significantly. With a harvest of 338 toms, that’s an increase of 75 birds over the 2018 figure of 263 birds in the bag for a 22% increase. Guess I was hunting the wrong place or maybe I’m just a bad hunter!