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Wanna Shoot More Does?

After scuttling WRD’s plan to pursue no limit on doe deer, the legislature comes up with a compromise: an 8-deer limit.

GON Staff | March 1, 2000

There’s a good chance that by next season, the number of antlerless deer you can shoot in one season will increase by three. If this news catches you by surprise, you are not alone. We’d like to fill you in on the details and then find out, through our VOTES survey, what you think of the idea. 

In early February, GON reported on its website and on GON-TV that DNR had announced their intentions to liberalize the doe harvest by removing the bag limit on antlerless deer, although either-sex days would remain the same. They cited increasing human/deer conflicts in growing urban areas as a reason for the change, as well as giving greater herd-management flexibility to hunters and hunting clubs, particularly large land-holdings.

To begin the process, legislation would have to be adopted that would remove the limitations of the deer bag limit in Georgia law (Currently the DNR Board can set the bag limit at any level from zero to five deer per season). This would set the stage for the board to remove the limit on does at their May meeting. Also, WRD Director David Waller said that his department wished to liberalize the parameters for season length, saying that extending the hunting season earlier and later in urban/suburban counties to increase the harvest was a possibility.

This process was stopped at the starting gate: state representatives who would have introduced the initial legislation raised concerns about the change. Then on Feb. 15, Rep. Bob Lane (D-Statesboro) introduced House Bill 1465. The bill, which is currently making its way through the legislature, will allow the DNR Board to set a season limit of deer as high as eight, with a maximum of two antlered bucks, as usual. Rep. Lane’s bill does not expand the window in which the board can set season length. 

The effort may come as a surprise to many hunters. After all, we’re talking about the same agency that took years to examine the idea of a muzzleloader season, and instituted one only after numerous surveys, public meetings and revisions of the plan. But WRD says that the liberalization of the deer regulations is nothing new.

In a briefing released on Feb. 3, WRD cites the increase in the bag limit since 1988 (when it was three); the addition of three weeks to the Northern Zone deer season to fill in the December Break; the creation of the new muzzleloader season; and the increase in doe days by more than 2 1/2 times their number over the past decade, as a pattern of increasingly loosened regulations. “Repeatedly,” the briefing reads, “the deer herd has demonstrated its capability to prosper under substantial hunting pressure.”

The current status of the deer herd, WRD says, is a population of around 1 million animals (just below the peak of about 1.4 million in 1990), with harvest trends shifting away from bucks, especially younger bucks, and toward does. However, there are still problem areas. The two main areas cited by DNR are suburban areas where deer habitat exists but hunting pressure is low, and also on large, private land-holdings where hunter numbers may be limited.

“We’re having a lot of problems with deer (in suburban counties) damaging people’s gardens and flowers and things like that,” David Waller told the House Game, Fish & Parks committee at the capitol. Deer/car collisions are another big concern, he said. Pressure from insurance companies to deal with this problem is always present, but in Georgia the problem isn’t caused by a growing deer herd. It’s caused by a steadily growing number of cars and a growing human population.

“As you build subdivisions and shopping centers, you break up little pieces of deer habitat that become little deer refuges,” said Todd Holbrook, chief of WRD Game Management, “and we don’t get the kind of control that we get out in a general hunted area.”

Holbrook said that the problems exist mostly in a circle around metro Atlanta, including counties like Henry, Rockdale, Gwinnett, South Fulton, Douglas and others. The growing urban areas around Athens, Macon and Augusta are also areas of concern.

Reaction to the proposal among hunters has been varied. Throughout February, GON posted news of the proposal on our website, sparking discussions on the site’s bulletin board. Most of the GON subscribers who have posted their opinions and thoughts on the subject have been against the idea of a limitless doe harvest, or even a slightly elevated harvest. 

Many hunters stated that they felt that raising the doe limit was nothing more than catering to the political interests of the insurance lobby. Others said they were seeing fewer deer in recent seasons and believed the doe harvest in their area needed to be reduced, not expanded. Some feared that being able to shoot unlimited numbers of does would lead to higher rates of button-buck kills as a result of mis-identification. 

There were also some hunters who objected but based their opinion on a misunderstanding of the proposal. One hunter stated that the change would be disastrous for Echols County, but since Echols County is closed to antlerless harvest (no either-sex days), a change in the limit would have no affect on legal hunting there. 

Hunters who supported the idea said that the number of doe days is more critical than the limit in determining the doe harvest for them, and they predicted a marginal impact from a change in the limit. Others pointed to their confidence in a widespread self-management philosophy among hunters, most of whom would know to stop shooting does if they felt they were seeing too few deer. 

WRD’s position is that a change in the doe limit, whether the limit is lifted completely or just raised to eight, will have little impact in most areas. They say that survey data indicates that half of all deer hunters don’t shoot a single doe, and only 12.9 percent harvest three or more does. When asked about factors that limit their ability to harvest more deer, only 7 percent of hunters surveyed by WRD said that bag limit was a barrier for them. Instead, says WRD, either-sex days are much more limiting. In fact, WRD intends to make adjustments in either-sex days in urban areas to increase the harvest, regardless of whether a bag-limit change goes through this year (The DNR Board can adjust either-sex days without legislative action). 

Further, WRD points to eroding hunting numbers (there were 297,000 licensed, resident hunters last year, as opposed to 352,000 in 1986, the peak year). “There is no way that regulations such as bag limits and either-sex days can remain unchanged and a severely reduced number of hunters continue to do the job of controlling deer populations,” says the WRD briefing. 

Ultimately, as with recent changes, WRD puts the onus on hunters: an increased limit would bring added “flexibility” for hunters, who have the prerogative to shoot does or not shoot does based on their hunting desires.

GON wants to know what our subscribers and readers think about adjusting the limit of deer to allow for a bigger doe harvest. Keep in mind that either-sex days will change little or not at all in most of the state. In this month’s issue you will find a VOTES card that will allow you to register your opinion in a GON survey. Do you like the idea of an 8-deer limit? Would you have preferred an even higher limit? Should the bag limit stay the same, or do you think the state needs to lower the bag limit in your area? Let us know by mailing in your VOTES card by March 15. We’ll publish the results in the April 2000 issue of GON. 

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