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No More Deer Tags For Georgia Hunters

WRD says new system of harvest record on licenses is better than physical tags that had to be attached to deer.

Scott McDonald - WRD Biologist | August 1, 1998

“What? No more deer tags? How will they know how many deer were killed? This is awful! Now there is no way to keep those sorry poachers from killing more than five deer!”

Many hunters reacted this way when they bought their big game license prior to the ’96-’97 deer season. I was slightly amazed that some hunters thought a limited number of deer tags ever stopped a poacher. On the other hand, I can understand their misgivings. After years of having to physically tag their deer in the field, it was no longer required. The act of attaching a piece of paper to the deer and mailing it in to DNR had been replaced with the act of filling in or punching out circles on their hunting license and discarding it after the season.

A drastic change? Not really. When you examine the situation, the only difference is that the hunter is no longer required to search every pocket in his/her coveralls to find a pen and something to attach the tag with. Now, you just need the pen or even a sharp stick. The concerns really had more to do with some misconceptions hunters had about deer tags.

Since the use of deer tags was first implemented, hunters were required by law to return tags used on harvested deer to the state. Many hunters have been under the mistaken impression that the Wildlife Resources Division simply counted the number of returned tags to determine our annual deer harvest. That would have been great if every hunter returned every used tag. In reality, the compliance rate with this law averaged about 15 percent. In other words, we usually received or collected only 10 to 20 percent of the tags used in any given year. There was no consistency in return rate from year to year, making it impossible to even consider tag returns as a reasonable or statistically sound sample for total deer harvest. Some hunters even thought we used deer tags to come up with our statewide deer population estimates. I wish it were that simple. Without the means to monitor and enforce compliance with tag returns, we simply milked the information for all its worth, however this data was never used in deter-mining actual deer harvests.

So, what information did we get from deer tag returns? Over the years, biologists have analyzed this data in every conceivable way. Out of this analysis we determined that tag returns did in fact provide some useful information. They were the first bit of data we could get our hands on that told us anything about the prior sea- son. One important piece of information that could be reliably predicted was the percentage of does in the harvest. Over the years, a pattern developed that showed percent does in the harvest based on tag returns was related to our official estimate as determined by a mail survey. The mail survey results are generated from questionnaires sent to a random sample of Georgia hunters each year. From the results we are able to derive a figure for the number of deer harvested per hunter. By applying this average to the total number of licensed hunters in the state, we can produce an estimate for that year’s deer harvest. Since the mail survey usually is not completed until well into the summer, percent does in the harvest based on tag returns was one important consideration when making recommendations for the following year’ s hunting regulations. These recommendations are made well before the real harvest figures are available from the mail survey.

Tag returns also told us something about the timing of deer harvests in the state. By looking at harvest dates, we could piece together a picture of what the season was like for the hunters. By comparing either-sex days with what we could find out about the timing of the harvest we could determine the days that hunters take the most antlerless deer. From this information we could then adjust either-sex days to better achieve our recommended harvest goals for the next year.

If we were obtaining useful information from deer tags, you might ask why do away with them? One of our goals has always been to make hunting regulations and licensing as easy and convenient as possible for hunters. We are constantly looking at new ways to refine or streamline the requirements. Requiring hunters to carry deer tags in addition to their hunting license was inefficient. We wanted to make things simpler. We asked ourselves, “Can we get the same information from other, perhaps easier methods than we are currently getting from deer tag returns?”

The answer was yes, very easily. Under current law, deer processors are responsible for making sure every deer they have hanging in their cooler is properly tagged. This tag must contain the hunter’s name, date of kill, county of kill, and sex of the deer. This information is collected from the cooler-locker operators and is essentially the same information found on a hunter-provided tag. With sex of kill we could still calculate percent does in the harvest, and with the date of kill we could learn something about the timing of the harvest.

Instead of requiring hunters to tag the deer, and then worry about losing it, we decided to just use tags from deer processors. This really was no change for the processors, but would greatly simplify things for the hunter. We already obtained most of our tagging information from cooler-locker operators anyway.

After two years of no deer tags we have hardly missed a beat. Following the ’95-’96 season, the last season deer tags were used, our department obtained approximately 40,500 hunter-used tags. By contrast, during both the ’96-’97 and ’97-’98 seasons, we obtained the same information on over 52,000 deer from cooler lockers alone.

Some hunters were concerned that doing away with deer tags would make it harder to catch those who shoot over the limit. Truth is, no matter what the law, we will always have those among our ranks who will break it. Even a deer-tagging requirement for hunters did not stop some from taking illegal deer. It is no different with our new system. Our conservation rangers and wildlife technicians will continue to be vigilant to catch those who break this law.

In the future, Georgia’s hunters will see even more changes to their licenses and in the way we monitor our deer herd. Hunters and fisherman can already purchase licenses over the phone. You can even buy your license over the internet. Beginning next spring, hunters will be buying their licenses through an automated computer system. This change will be very convenient for the hunters. Just imagine going to buy your license and knowing that they will have what you need. No more running around town to find a state duck stamp or a trout stamp at the last minute. This system will also enhance our ability to conduct surveys to obtain harvest information about many wildlife species in addition to deer. Hopefully, our information will be more accurate and more timely with each passing change.

Change isn’t always bad. While doing away with deer tags may have been shocking to some, it really has not changed our ability to enforce the law or to monitor what is going on with our deer herd.

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