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Editorial – October 1991

Steve Burch | October 2, 1991

We are not far from opening day of gun season. I want you to pay particular attention to this opening day—you’ll never see another like it.

The face of Georgia’s deer hunting is about to change significantly. It is the start of that change that I want you to notice.

Change is nothing new to Georgia’s deer and deer hunters. In 1961, 30 years ago, the state issued its first deer tags. They didn’t cost anything extra—they came with the $2.25 hunting license. It was also the first year of the first archery license, though there was no special archery season. In 1961, there were 58,000 deer statewide, and 101,000 deer hunters took 15,240 deer—26% of the herd. It was also the first year of doe days—in only five counties.

In 1971, there was a big license fee increase. Hunting licenses went to $4.25 for gun and $4.25 for archery. The Big Game license was initiated at $3.25 each. Deer now numbered 180,000, hunters numbered 210,000. Harvest stood at 42,000—23% of the herd.

By 1981, the deer herd had jumped to 512,000 and hunters to 318,000. More than half of Georgia’s counties had at least one doe day. The bag limit was increased to three deer—one must be antlerless. The harvest in 1981 (134,000—26% of the herd) was more than double the 1961 population!

And that brings us to today, and the change. The herd we hunt numbers 1.2 million. The bag limit has been increased to five deer this year. This year there are more doe days than ever. This year, for the first time ever, we will kill more does than bucks!

This year we will harvest 395,000 deer—33%. For 30 years, we’ve been killing one in every four deer. This season, we’ll kill one of every three.

When you sit on your stand opening day this year, you will be sitting atop the most deer this state has ever seen… or ever will see.

Next year, for the first time in at least 50 years, there will be fewer deer in Georgia…

Our biologists, those responsible for the incredible re-introduction and growth of our deer herd, have changed their focus from efforts aimed at growing a deer herd to efforts aimed at controlling and managing a deer herd. Originally, their goal was to permit the deer herd to reach the carrying capacity of the habitat.

While there are some areas where deer are overpopulated, overpopulation of the habitat is no longer the primary factor used to determine how many deer there should be in Georgia. Today there is a new term in deer management. It is called the “Social Carrying Capacity.” Social Carrying Capacity described the number of animals that humans will accept among and around them. When the population of deer exceeds the SCC, public outcry demands that something be done.

The result of public outcry comes in a variety of forms including increased doe days, crop depredation permits, shooting by paid pest control experts, etc.

This change is normal. It is not a serous threat to our deer herd. But it does mark a significant change in that the goal of deer managers is to permanently reduce the deer herd from 1.2 million to less than 1 million—the current SCC.

As time passes, as Georgia becomes increasingly urban and populated, the SCC level will continue to decline.

As you sit on your stand opening morning, you look back to a time when Kennedy was president, the Vietnam War was only a French rumor and Georgia had 58,000 deer. You can hunt in a time when Bush is president, when Desert Storm is a success and when Georgia is at the pinnacle of its deer herd. And you can look forward and try to imagine what the next 10, 20, 30 years will mean to our deer herd.

As hunters, our role is also shifting. I believe the shift is toward quality. I believe it will be a good shift. And I believe that 30 years from now, opening day will still find me on a deer stand. But I know it will never be like opening day of 1991.

These have been our Glory days but change continues. We are about to live through a piece of history.

I didn’t want you to miss it.

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