10-Year Deer Management Plan Revealed

Last chance to comment on direction of deer management through 2024 is at eight upcoming public hearings.

Daryl Kirby | August 6, 2014

The draft plan for managing Georgia’s deer herd for the next 10 years, “Georgia’s Deer Management Plan 2015-2024, was released Aug. 1. How does the plan address deer populations, bag limits, season dates, baiting, coyotes and other issues key to sportsmen? What’s a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), and how will it function and be funded?

Your last chance to comment, and possibly to get answers to questions and issues important to your hunting, will be at one of eight public hearings spread across Georgia from Aug. 18-21.

For 20 years, Georgia Outdoor News magazine has conducted an annual survey of deer hunters each January. One survey question appears every year—we ask hunters to rate the quality of their deer season that just ended. For the first decade, the most popular rating each season was Excellent, and the rating with the least responses was always Poor. Hunters in Georgia were a happy bunch. By the mid 2000s, there had been a dramatic shift in hunter satisfaction. Now, Poor ratings are the most common responses, and Excellent is always the least-picked rating.

The method of conducting the survey hasn’t changed, and it was a methodology that produced results so closely mirroring scientific surveys that GON used to be contacted by agency leaders and asked to put important questions on the survey.

So what changed? Why did a trend of hunters being very satisfied shift to a clear trend of growing dissatisfaction?

One reason was the deer population dropped. On some tracts of land, it absolutely crashed. Deer limits had been raised dramatically, and either-sex days went from a few weekends each fall to every day of deer season. The experts were telling hunters to shoot every doe they saw—that it was impossible to kill too many does. Hunters were schooled that shooting more does would lead to bigger bucks.

A big monkey-wrench to the kill-does management mantra was that the experts were dead wrong about coyotes in the Southeast. Back then, coyotes only ate mice and rats. Now, we know they eat fawns, lots of them. There’s a growing number of hunters—with trail-cam evidence and dead deer to back them up—who feel coyotes also kill mature deer, especially bucks run down by the rigors of the rut.

Interestingly, the last 10-year deer management plan, completed in 2004 and implemented in 2005, prescribed a reduction of the deer population. For deer managers, the deer population drop—or crash, depending on where you hunt—was a success.

With all that as a backdrop, the state of Georgia is about to implement a new 10-Year Deer Management Plan to carry us from 2015 to 2024. The final draft of this plan was made public via WRD’s website on Aug. 1. During the week of August 18, eight public hearings will be held, and this is the last opportunity to comment on the direction of the next 10 years of deer management in Georgia. For Public Hearing locations and dates, click here.

If you can’t attend one of the eight public hearings, you may submit comments until Sept. 5, 2014 regarding the DRAFT Georgia Deer Management Plan 2015-2024.

Comments may be submitted as follows:

Submit via email here.

Mail comments to: Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, Game Management Section (2065 U.S. Highway 278, SE, Social Circle, Georgia 30025, ATTN: Charlie Killmaster)

For more information contact the WRD Deer Program Office at (706) 557-3260.

The draft plan is more than 100 pages. We have identified several key issues and pulled out the info here for hunters to more quickly disseminate what the 10-year Deer Plan will do and will not do.

Before we get to proposed actions on important issues, let’s start with the Deer Plan’s brief history of Georgia’s deer herd.
Note: all text in italics in this article is directly quoted from “Georgia’s Deer Management Plan 2015-2014.”

“Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the deer population growth rate was moderate but steadily rose as restoration efforts continued. By the mid-1980s, focal populations increased and geographically expanded leading to a rapid, exponential increase in the statewide population. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, much of the state remained above carrying capacity, especially the Piedmont physiographic region. A progression of regulatory (e.g., either-sex days, season length) and statutory (e.g., bag limit) modifications combined with a decline in fawn recruitment rates resulted in curtailing this exponential growth and reducing the statewide population by the mid-2000s. This reduction was consistent with goals and public desires identified in Georgia’s Deer Management Plan 2005-2014. Recently, the population has remained relatively stable; however, the declining trend in fawn recruitment remains a point of discussion and concern among many hunters.”

The new 10-year Deer Plan includes some interesting, and it would seem alarming, information on fawn recruitment rates, which is the average number of fawns per doe surviving to 6 months of age.

According to the Deer Plan, “The fawn recruitment rates have declined in recent years in all five physiographic regions of the state resulting in a statewide decline of about 26%. This vital population statistic is of particular interest for deer population monitoring as it represents a measure of the reproductive capacity of a deer population and a population’s capacity to annually replace deer lost through mortality. Assessing fawn recruitment rates in the fall provides an index to reproductive capacity. Current research indicates that most coyote predation on fawns occurs between birth and 6 months of age.

“The Piedmont has experienced the greatest decline in fawn recruitment rates of all regions with a 32% decline over a 20-year period.”

The drastic reduction in fawn survival is a new impact. According to the report, the highest fawn recruitment rate for the Lower Coastal Plain region was reported in 2002, and for the Ridge & Valley region it was in 2000. Now, our deer herd faces a statewide decline in fawn recruitment by 26 percent. This recent impact is significant.

Now, on to the proposed actions of the new Deer Plan. We include proposed actions under the new plan, plus comments and recommendations from subcommittees.
Note that when there is reference to “public-meeting input,” the public meetings were very poorly attended. Notice of the meeting dates, locations and times were made public only 10 days prior to the meetings, way too late to appear in most publications.
The sample size for those opinions is a tiny fraction of Georgia hunters. Results are likely biased by hunters who had strong feelings regarding certain issues and by those who had means to find out about and incentive to attend a meeting on very short notice.

There were 10 public meetings, and only 96 people showed up.

To view entire document, “Georgia’s Deer Management Plan 2015-2024,” go to WRD’s website at

Deer Season Length And Dates
Regarding deer seasons, hunters won’t see any direct change as a result of the new 10-year Deer Plan. Three actions are proposed. The first two simply keep the status quo, no change from the previous 10 years. For the third proposal—tackling the issue of creating one equal and fair deer season for all Georgia hunters—the can is kicked down the road until January when there will be another round of public meetings and comments.

Here’s what the 10-year Deer Plan says regarding deer seasons. Again, italics are direct quotes from the plan.

WRD Proposed Actions Regarding Deer Season Regs
• Use the best available in science in setting biologically appropriate either-sex deer hunting opportunities.
• Work with the General Assembly on determining the best method for designating urban and suburban counties eligible for an extended archery season to facilitate herd reductions.
• WRD recognizes the considerable support among hunters for having one statewide deer season. However, specificity of how this would be achieved lacks consensus. As such, WRD will assess public opinion and evaluate regulatory options through extensive public involvement in an effort to resolve this important issue starting in January 2015 with WRD’s hunting regulation cycle.

Here’s how they got to those three proposed actions:

Public-meeting input on deer seasons included opinions on the dates and length of deer season, number and timing of either-sex days, deer season impacts to other hunting opportunities, and the season closing date as it relates to the deer zones. Input from public meeting participants relative to deer season length showed that a majority (58%) favor the current deer season length. Regarding either-sex days, the public meetings took place after a regulatory change reduced either-sex opportunity by 25 days beginning the 2013-2014 deer season. A slight majority of public meeting participants (52%) favored season-long either-sex days, while the remainder favored fewer. It was unclear whether the comments supporting fewer either-sex days considered the existing reduction. A majority (80%) of public meeting participants favor a uniform, statewide deer season as opposed different season closing dates for the northern and southern deer zones. Very few individuals provided input on the impacts of deer season to other hunting opportunities; however, a popular suggestion was to consider reinstating the “December break” where deer season historically closed for several weeks in December in the Northern deer zone.

Also cited throughout the new Deer Plan is a scientific telephone survey conducted by a Virginia company. The survey interviewed three sample groups: residents in general, hunters and landowners. Surveyed were 807 residents in general, 825 hunters who hunted deer in the past two years in Georgia, and 200 landowners who owned at least 20 contiguous acres. General residents were sampled proportional to where they lived (counties with greater populations, like urban and suburban counties, had a greater portion of the sample).

The Deer Plan states:
Quantitative data from the Responsive Management Survey (RMS) showed that 77% (49% very satisfied) of hunters were satisfied with the current season structure. Regarding deer zones, support (55%) for a single, statewide season exceeded opposition (29%) among hunters. Support (60%) was slightly higher among northern zone hunters for a uniform, statewide season.

Subcommittee Comments and Recommendations Regarding Deer Seasons:
Mountain/Ridge & Valley (MRV) Subcommittee: discussed the various methods for setting deer seasons. Generally, the subcommittee believes that decisions should be science based. Discussion also occurred regarding the recent modifications (2013-2015 hunting seasons) to either-sex days and the various impacts the timing of either-sex days may have on harvest, hunting activity and deer processors.

MRV Subcommittee recommended: 
• WRD should use the best available scientific information to inform the timing and number of either sex days.
• WRD consider potential impacts deer season modifications may have on small-game hunters and other interests.

Piedmont Subcommittee: discussed some concerns with deer seasons that may create discord among deer hunters, and between deer and small-game hunters. They also considered whether the recent reduction in either-sex days may impact youth hunters and deer processors. The committee believes that a single, statewide deer season is the most appropriate course of action. They feel that a minor reduction in the southern zone and minor extension in the northern zone represents the most equitable solution for all interests.

Piedmont Subcommittee recommended:
• WRD implement a single statewide season ending the 1st Sunday in January.
• If this change isn’t acceptable, then implement this change in the Northern Deer Zone.
• WRD evaluate impact of recent either-sex day modification following the current regulation cycle and consider adjusting timing to reach Deer Plan density goals while considering impacts to affected interests.
• WRD explore the possibility of opening small-game seasons earlier and consider public-land opportunities to mitigate impacts on small-game hunters from any extensions of deer season.

Upper Coastal Plain (UCP) Subcommittee: discussed the difference in deer seasons between the zones. The subcommittee believes that there should be a single statewide deer season provided that the southern zone season is not shortened. Some discussion involved herd reduction options in urban and suburban areas of the state through the extended archery-only season and whether this could apply to additional counties. The subcommittee discussed the recent reduction in either-sex days with particular interest in the timing of these days. Members were curious whether this reduction will achieve desired objectives with minimal impacts to affected interests.

UCP Subcommittee recommended:
• WRD implement a single statewide firearms deer season that runs from the first Saturday after October 15th through January 15th.
• WRD pursue a law change that gives the authority to designate counties eligible for the extended archery-only season to the agency.
• WRD maintain its authority and use the best available science to set the number and timing of either-sex days.

Flatwoods/Lower Coastal Plain (FLCP) Subcommittee: discussed dates and lengths of hunting seasons and related issues in southwest Georgia regarding the rut. The subcommittee favors maintaining the length of the season. Lengthy discussion occurred regarding the length and timing of either-sex days. Ultimately, the subcommittee determined that WRD should use its discretion and information in setting the timing and number of either-sex days. The subcommittee feels that deer season has little impact on other hunting opportunities in the southern zone.

FLCP Subcommittee recommended:
• WRD maintain current deer season length.
• WRD maintain its authority over the timing and length of either-sex days.
• WRD should not change deer seasons based on small-game seasons.
• WRD maintain deer season lengths respective to deer zones.

Deer Bag Limits
The No. 1 issue among deer hunters—based on the volume of letters, emails and phones calls we get at GON—is the deer limit. There is great concern among many that the quality of deer hunting continues to decline because the deer population has dropped too low. According to GON’s annual January VOTES survey, the 12-deer limit is too high. There were 1,650 hunters who participated in the latest survey, and 71.4 percent said the current deer limit of 12 is too high.

The new Deer Plan does not address the 12-deer limit, other than a plan to work with politicians to “determine the best method for setting the deer bag limit.” A common mantra of WRD is that they don’t set the deer limit, the legislature does. That’s technically true, but politicians have always set the deer limit based on WRD’s requests. There wasn’t a legislative effort in 2002 to raise the deer limit to 12. That year, WRD originally proposed no limit at all on antlerless deer—kill as many as you want. After opposition from hunters, the recommendation was changed to a limit of 12, which the legislature passed.

This proposed action to work with the General Assembly is an effort to ask the legislature to give WRD the authority to set the bag limit through regulations rather than law.

The third proposed action is a mandatory harvest reporting system, which likely would mirror Game Check systems being implemented in other states. Hunters could be required to report all deer and turkey harvests within a short time period via Internet, smart phone app or telephone.

WRD Proposed Actions Regarding Deer Bag Limits
• Maintain the current buck bag limit (Two antlered bucks. Only one antlered buck may have less than four points, one inch or longer, on one side of the antlers).
• Work with the General Assembly on determining the best method for setting the deer bag limit.
• Develop and implement a mandatory harvest reporting system when cost effective that complements the current deer harvest record.

Subcommittee Recommendations
All Deer Management Plan subcommittees concurred and reached consensus on the following recommendations:
• Maintaining the current antlered buck bag limit.
• Developing legislation that delegates authority to WRD for setting the deer bag limit.
• WRD should not implement a physical tagging system.

Here’s how they got to those three proposed actions:
Public meeting input on deer bag limits included opinions on the buck bag limit, antlerless bag limit, deer harvest reporting, and recording or tagging harvested deer. Input related to the buck bag limit was supportive of the current bag limit of two bucks. The antlerless bag limit generated more public input than any single issue. Overall, 189 individuals provided input on the antlerless bag limit. Support for reducing the bag limit exceeded opposition. Regarding the implementation of a harvest reporting system, support exceeded opposition. Regarding a requirement to physically tag deer, support exceeded opposition.

Quantitative results from the RMS respondents had a similar opinion regarding the buck bag limit, with 90% satisfied (70% very satisfied) with the existing buck bag limit. However, opinions of RMS respondents regarding the antlerless bag limit differed substantially from the public comment respondents with 70% satisfied (55% very satisfied) with the existing antlerless bag limit. Regarding harvest recording, hunters were overwhelmingly satisfied with the current method of using the deer harvest record. Of those that were not very satisfied, 52% agreed that a harvest reporting system (telephone/internet) would improve their satisfaction, while 32% disagreed.

Subcommittee Comments Regarding Deer Limits:
Mountain/Ridge & Valley (MRV) Subcommittee: discussed bag limits and the current confusion among hunters who don’t understand why the number of antlerless deer days was reduced while the bag limit stayed the same. Members expressed their desire for the authority to set deer bag limits to be delegated to WRD. The committee also had extensive discussions on the pros and cons of implementing a harvest reporting system as well as physical tagging systems.

MRV Subcommittee recommended:
• WRD set the antlerless bag limit at 5, or less.
• Implement a mandatory harvest reporting system for all hunter-harvested deer.

Piedmont Subcommittee: discussed the impacts of bag limits on deer harvest and deer management flexibility on private lands. Members recognized the variation in deer density across the landscape and discussed the challenges in addressing such issues without having complex and burdensome regulations. The subcommittee supports WRD continuing to use scientific telephone surveys for determining accurate harvest estimates, but also supports using a harvest reporting system if WRD determines that the benefits outweigh the costs. The committee saw no benefits of a physical tagging system and believes that the current deer harvest record is sufficient for law enforcement purposes.

Piedmont Subcommittee recommended:
• Contingent upon implementation of DMAP, reduce the antlerless bag limit to a biologically appropriate level.
• Implement a harvest reporting system if WRD determines such system is beneficial and cost effective.

Upper Coastal Plain (UCP) Subcommittee: Discussions in the UCP Subcommittee began on the social and biological considerations of bag limits and the impacts on deer management from a local level to a statewide level. Members reinforced the importance of developing a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP hereinafter) to dealing with the issue of deer bag limits and any potential change to bag limits, particularly at a local level. The subcommittee was surprised to learn the legislature had authority over deer bag limits. Members voiced strong opposition to the legislature having this authority and expressed their desire that this authority be delegated to WRD.

Members believe that no change is needed to the bag limit for antlered deer, but feel a reduction in the antlerless bag limit, from a perception standpoint, could serve as an effective messaging tool. After a brief discussion, most members believe a harvest reporting system could be an effective information and outreach tool for WRD and useful for informing management decisions (e.g., setting either-sex days). They acknowledged the potential cost is a drawback, but favor a voluntary system. The members believe the costs of a physical tagging system are prohibitive.

UCP Subcommittee recommended:
• Contingent upon implementation of DMAP, reduce the antlerless bag limit to a biologically appropriate level.
• Implement a voluntary deer harvest reporting system with the goal of it becoming mandatory.

Flatwoods/Lower Coastal Plain (FLCP) Subcommittee: discussions focused on several topics: maintaining the current season limit for bucks (2 antlered deer), lowering the antlerless bag limit, and using research through a DMAP to inform future management decisions. The subcommittee had a thorough discussion on the deer bag limit. Some members expressed the challenges in managing a property when neighboring properties (both public and private) shoot too many does. Generally, members were in favor of a DMAP throughout the state if the fees were reasonable. Contingent on implementation of DMAP program, members feel the antlerless bag limit should be lowered and WRD should have the authority and flexibility to adjust the bag limit as needed. Overall, the subcommittee is satisfied with the current deer harvest record, but would like to see implementation of a harvest reporting system without the use of physical tags.

FLCP Subcommittee recommended:
• WRD should implement a DMAP.
• WRD should reduce the current antlerless bag limit.
• WRD implement a deer harvest reporting system.

Hunting over bait—or over supplemental feed, the preferred terminology depending on your personal beliefs—is a hot-button issue for many Georgia hunters. The latest GON survey had 1,645 responses on the issue, and 63 percent favored legalization of baiting statewide, while 29 percent said make it illegal statewide, and only 8 percent said keep it like it is now—legal in the Southern Zone only.

A common source of complaints and anger from Northern Zone hunters, even those opposed to hunting over bait, is that they’re treated differently than Southern Zone hunters on this issue. How can baiting be legal in one county, yet in a bordering county hunters are subject to fines and court dates? There are many tracts of land that span multiple counties where baiting is legal on one part of the property but illegal on the other part.

The new Deer Plan isn’t touching baiting with a 10-foot pole. 

WRD Proposed Action Regarding Baiting
• WRD recommends that the current law concerning hunting deer over bait be maintained and will continue to provide science-based information as a foundation to discussions on this issue.

Here’s how they got to this proposed action:
Hunting over bait generated comments from a relatively high number of individuals (139). Of those, most supported baiting statewide, some opposed baiting statewide, and a few supported the existing law allowing bait in the southern zone only.

From the scientific telephone survey: Concerning hunting deer over bait, opposition (45%) exceeds support (30%) among residents. Among hunters, support (61%) exceeds opposition (30%); however, support is markedly lower (52% support) for northern zone only hunters compared to hunters that hunt in the southern zone (70% support) or hunt both zones (58% support). Landowners were divided on the issue of hunting deer over bait and opposition (43%) slightly exceeded support (42%).

Subcommittee Comments and Recommendations On Baiting
Mountain/Ridge & Valley (MRV) Subcommittee: All committee members opposed the use of bait to hunt deer and expressed their strong desire that hunting deer over bait not be legalized in the northern zone. The subcommittee also voiced their desire to see the current allowance of hunting deer over bait repealed in the southern zone.

MRV Subcommittee recommended: 
• Prohibit hunting deer over bait statewide.

Piedmont Subcommittee: Hunting over bait generated quite a bit of discussion among the Piedmont Subcommittee members, citing pros and cons on both sides of the argument. While they recognized that this activity has been legalized in the southern portion of the state, the committee opposes hunting deer over bait.

Piedmont Subcommittee recommended:
• Prohibit hunting deer over bait statewide.
• Maintain prohibition of hunting deer over bait in northern zone.
• Prohibit hunting feral hogs over bait during the deer season in the northern zone.
• Prohibit hunting feral hogs over bait during the turkey season.

Upper Coastal Plain (UCP) Subcommittee: Regarding hunting deer over bait, inconsistency between the two deer zones was the focus. Members felt there was no justification for the zone line in deer hunting regulations and would rather see a statewide regulation relative to hunting deer over bait. Some subcommittee members voiced support for hunting deer over bait and some voiced opposition. Members discussed the negative perception; mainly the unfairness of ‘bait’, hunting deer over bait gives the non-hunting public of hunters and hunting.

UCP Subcommittee recommended:
• Legalize the hunting of deer over bait statewide.

Flatwoods/Lower Coastal Plain (FLCP) Subcommittee: Hunting deer over bait was discussed among subcommittee members and there were a range of opinions. Some members did not like the idea of hunting over bait because it takes away from the hunt, while others liked hunting over bait to get kids involved with hunting. As a whole, members agreed they would like more data collected statewide in regards to baiting deer and would like to see future changes if research shows there are negative implications.

FLCP Subcommittee recommended:
• Maintain existing laws and regulations on hunting deer over bait.
• WRD continue researching, monitoring, and collecting data on the use of bait.

Creating A Deer Management Assistance Program
Creating a new program to allow private landowners to have their own deer management plan approved by biologists appears to be the significant proposal in the new 10-year Deer Management Plan. While there are no proposed actions regarding deer limits, seasons, baiting or coyotes, there is a new program proposed to allow biologist-approved plans for private landowners. These plans would allow greater flexibility for deer management. That could allow some private landowners to take more than the state limit of deer if more deer harvest is prescribed in their private management plan.

This concept of a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) centers around the quality-deer-management concept of intensive efforts such as food plots, harvest monitoring, habitat improvements, etc. These efforts typically take place on larger land holdings where quite a bit of money is spent on deer management.  

It takes reading between the lines of the 100-page plan to begin to have an idea of what is being proposed with a DMAP, but we believe there will be an effort to fund DMAP, likely through a license-fee increase, so the state can hire seven new biologists, one new biologist for each of the seven WRD Game Management Section regions.

These new biologists would handle DMAP plans for private landowners.

These private landowners—and their family, friends or employees—might then be approved for taking higher numbers of either-sex deer than the state limit allows.

If these large, managed properties had that flexibility, biologists might be more willing to lower statewide bag limits on deer.

WRD Proposed Actions Regarding A Deer Management Assistance Program
 • Investigate DMAP options for private lands that provide management flexibility. Develop a proposed program and provide to General Assembly for funding consideration to implement. Implementation of such program is contingent on adequate funding.

Here’s how they got to this proposed action:
The idea of a DMAP generated minimal input (29), likely because many are unfamiliar with the function of such a program. However, of those that provided input, most supported implementing a DMAP.

RMS (telephone survey) respondents had no consensus on the implementation of a DMAP, except that all agreed that WRD should not provide any less assistance to landowners than currently offered. Among hunters, 42% felt that more assistance should be provided and 38% felt that the current amount should continue to be provided. However, when asked specifically for interest in a DMAP program (basic description provided), 79% of hunters expressed interest (41% very interested). Interest among landowners in such a program was split evenly between interested and not interested.

All Deer Management Plan subcommittees concurred and reached consensus on the following recommendati

Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!