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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Arkansas deer harvest; 70 years of onward and upward

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From the low three figures to a steady six figures -- that's the story of Arkansas' deer harvest records.

Numerous hunters in the state, sometimes after an unproductive session in the woods, many grumble that "deer hunting just isn't what it was in the old days."

The statistics are not on their side, however.

Many other hunters realistically realize that the state has many, many more deer here in 2009 than it did a couple of generations back. They may also have gripes about not enough deer in this area, few bucks in that county, too small racks on the bucks somewhere else. But the numbers are indisputable -- Arkansas deer are plentiful, although not to everyone's satisfaction.

The first year of official checking of deer taken by hunters by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was 1938.

Picture that autumn. The state and the nation were still in the grips of the Great Depression.

Many Arkansans sought deer for the most basic of objectives. They needed food on the table. That hunting season, 203 were checked by hunters with AGFC's representatives.

The economy was bleak, but restoration of Arkansas's deer had been underway for more than a decade, as the efforts show today. Deer "farms" were in operation in several locations. Deer were being relocated to places where they were absent and had been scarce for years since the late 19th century and early 20th century.

It is a reasonable assumption that some deer were taken by hunters in the fall of 1938 and were not checked, but were taken straight to kitchen use.

The next year, 1939, there were 540 deer checked as information spread around the state about this new requirement for hunters.

In 1940, just 408 deer were checked, and in 1941, 433 deer were checked.

These totals seem tiny compared to recent years of Arkansas hunting.

Last season, the 2008 hunt that stretched into early 2009, 184,991 deer were tallied by Arkansas hunters, a total second only to the peak season of 1999 when 194,687 deer were logged across the state in records of all three hunting methods archery, muzzle-loader and modern gun.

Observers of Arkansas deer hunting can come up with a number of qualifiers. Illegal hunting, meaning deer not checked as required along with the outright poaching and night-hunting, is present today as it was in 1938.

Unknown, of course, is the extent of these illegal takings of deer. Does poaching account for a small percentage of the deer taken each year or a large amount?

Deer hunting numbers rose steadily from the early years, especially after the AGFC was reorganized into its present form by Amendment 35 of the Arkansas Constitution which went into effect in 1945.

From the 1,687 deer checked that year, the state total was 5,122 just five years later.

Fifteen years later, in 1960, the deer harvest total was 15,000.

Deer harvest growth continued through the 1960s and see-sawed a bit in the 1970s as the first steps toward hunting of female deer, does, in some areas began.

Some protests came forth after the 1978 season when 43,452 deer were checked. Doe hunting was reduced, and in 1979 the total for the state was 36,074.

About this time, more tailored deer hunting regulations were crafted by the AGFC, allowing for more hunting days and more taking of does in areas where deer had become plentiful. Restricted rules were in effect for areas of lesser deer numbers.

It was 1987 when Arkansas's deer take reached six figures, with 106,392 checked that year by hunters.

The total dipped in 1990, again with tightened hunting rules.

Then it returned to six figures in 1991.

The peak of 1999 climaxed five years of impressive numbers on the deer hunting scene.

Some hunters protested that too many deer were falling to hunters.

New strategies in deer management came forth, including quality deer objectives on both private land and some public land.

After a dip in 2003, when tighter deer hunting rules were coupled with unfavorable weather, the statewide deer totals have climbed again to approach the peak of a decade ago.



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