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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: State hunters killed record tally of deer

by Bryan Hendricks | May 27, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.

Ralph Meeker, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's deer program coordinator, reported Wednesday that deer hunters killed a record 216,835 deer during the 2020-21 deer seasons.

A new record is noteworthy, especially after a severe dip in the 2019-20 season when hunters killed 188,151 deer.

"We went from a nine-year low to an all-time high," Meeker said.

Hunters killed 103,973 antlered bucks and 99,378 does, or one buck to 1.18 does. That is nearly ideal, Meeker said.

As usual, hunters in Union County led the state with 7,039 deer, followed by Clark County with 5,915 deer, Bradley County with 5,274 deer and Dallas County with 4,903.

Additionally, hunters killed 15% more deer in nine deer management zones than they killed in 2019-20. The increases occurred in zones 4 (31%), 4A (36%), 5 (22%), 5A (26%), 7 (33%), 8 (20%), 10 (34%), 11 (30%), 15 (19%) and 16 (16%).

"Some of those zones have no hunting with modern rifles," Meeker said. "There were no flood prone zone closures, and we had great hunting weather. There were also fewer ducks, so there were more people deer hunting."

Meeker said it's possible that more people might have hunted deer as a result of being off work because of covid-19.

Zone 17, along the Mississippi River, experienced a 15% decrease.

One notable development was an increase in the percentage of deer killed by hunters using archery equipment. Hunters killed 20,940 deer with archery equipment, about 11%. Archers usually contribute about 8% to 10%. Crossbow hunters killed 15,477 deer (7%), and muzzleloader hunters killed 23,295 deer (11%).

Meeker said that 135,000 hunters, 80% of the total, checked a deer in 2020-21, and a good portion killed more than one deer.

Hunters between the ages of 46-55 killed 17.1% of the harvest total. Hunters 36-45 killed 16.7%, and hunters 26-35 killed 16%. Youth hunters killed almost the same number of deer as hunters ages 65 and older.

November was the best month for deer hunting. Hunters killed 122,281 deer (57%) in November and 47,072 deer (22%) in December. They killed 36,146 deer (17%) in October.

Commissioner Bobby Martin of Little Rock said that the number of deer killed suggests deer are close to the habitat's carrying capacity, or its ability to support them. He asked Meeker whether that is a concern.

"Successful deer management is stability over time," Meeker said. "We're not seeing any crashes. We're able to withstand buffalo gnats. Being able to maintain sustainable population numbers is one measure of success. Another measure is balance with habitat and with people that live there, which is social carrying capacity. Harvest data is just one piece of the puzzle."

Habitat fireman

Randy Brents has the best job in the world. He gets paid to set fire to public property, much to its benefit.

Brents coordinates controlled burning activities on wildlife management agencies and on cooperatively managed properties owned by The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other public landowners. The result is better habitat for wildlife, which improves wildlife health and wildlife numbers, ultimately creating additional hunting opportunities.

On Wednesday, Brents briefed the members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on controlled burning activities in 2020. Game and Fish Commission employees logged 17,368 hours in prescribed burning activities on about 30,000 acres. That's a record, Brents said.

"We average about 19,000 acres a year," Brents said.

Because of favorable weather, most controlled burns are conducted from February through April and from August to October, Brents said. Traditionally, February brought excellent burning weather, he added, but wet weather made February 2020 and 2019 virtually worthless.

If conditions look good for a burn, Brents said he organizes a fire crew.

"If dust is kicking up behind a truck or if ditches are getting dry, we think about burning," Brents said. "When we get burn days, we really need to be burning. When we get burn weather, everybody drops what they're doing."

In 2020, Brents said, about 50% of all burns open glade and savanna-type landscapes, which created valuable early successional habitat.

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