Survey: Split seasons are not the answer

Surveys of hunters in the four wildlife management units where the commission first moved away from 12 days of concurrent buck and doe hunting to five days of bucks-only following by seven days of concurrent found that hunters were no happier after the change than before.

“Were they more satisfied with deer abundance in firearms season or with the deer program? Uniformly, no, across the board, after four years of the seven-day concurrent season,” said Chris Rosenberry, chief deer biologist for the agency.

The commission studied the split season in wildlife management units 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B. It monitored nearly 2,300 deer in those units between 2008 and 2011. It surveyed 26,000 hunters over the same time.

The idea was to see if the split seasons would still allow the commission to meet its deer management goals while allowing hunters to see more antlerless deer in the firearms season. The thought was that if hunters saw more deer, they’d be more satisfied with the deer program.

None of that happened, Rosenberry explained.

The commission did not meet its biological goals, he said.

The plan was to maintain stable deer populations in each unit. Instead, populations increased in each unit every year.

The commission didn’t meet its sociological goals either.

Despite the fact deer populations increased each year, hunters didn’t report seeing any more does in deer season under the split format than they did in concurrent seasons in units 2D and 4B. In 2G, the number of deer seen by hunters went from six to nine per week, while in unit 3C it went from nine to 12 per week.

When hunters across all four units were asked whether they were more satisfied with their hunting experience, more satisfied with deer abundance, more satisfied with the firearms deer season and more satisfied with the deer program, the answer was with just one exception, “no,” Rosenberry said.

The lone exception was in unit 2G. The percentage of hunters who said they were more satisfied with their hunting experience rose from 15 to 25 percent, though – as Rosenberry noted – that means three of four hunters there didn’t like the split season.

The problem, this and other surveys revealed, is that hunters who don’t want concurrent seasons don’t want this kind of split seasons either, Rosenberry said.

“If they like the seven-day concurrent season over the 12, what they’d really like is something even shorter,” he said.

The move to split seasons disappointed in another way. Going into the study, some had predicted that split seasons would promote a “second opening-day effect.”

That is, hunters would go to camp prior to opening day to hunt bucks, then return the following Saturday when does became legal game. That would benefit local economies, they said. Except is didn’t pan out.

In fact, the opposite occurred. Rosenberry said fewer hunters traveled to hunt the first two days of the season with split seasons than had when concurrent rules were in effect.

Another negative consequence of the split seasons was that it took time away from hunters who need it, he said.

Hunters who don’t want to kill does get 12 days of hunting under both split and concurrent seasons, he said. But those who want to or are willing to shoot does – especially if time is a factor – are hurt by split seasons, he added.

“Time to hunt, not antlerless deer seen, is the key to interest in hunting,” Rosenberry said. “More time to hunt is the No. 1 reason for increased interest in hunting for every age group.”

Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County, who has said before that he’d ultimately like to see the commission return to offering concurrent seasons statewide, said it’s clear the split season approach is a failure, if the goal is to make hunters happy.

The survey results are “extra ammunition” that can be used to justify a return to concurrent seasons in time, he said.

“It’s not working, the split season. It’s not doing what we wanted it to do,” Weaner said.

Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, agreed, and said he’s “getting closer to the time when he’d vote for a return to concurrent seasons everywhere.

That will be a hard transition to make, he admitted. But he hopes the sportsmen of the state will go along with it, he added.

Hunters need to realize that 12 days of concurrent hunting does not necessarily lead to fewer deer on the landscape than does seven days of concurrent hunting, Rosenberry said. That’s a common misconception now, he said.

When asked, 83 percent of the hunters who favored seven days of concurrent hunting over 12 believed the shorter hunt would lead to fewer does killed.

That’s not true, he said. The goal in most units is to maintain deer herds at existing levels. The commission can do that with any season length by tweaking the antlerless deer license allocation, he added.

But if the commission wants to provide hunters with opportunity, the key is to give them seasons that offer flexibility, he said. For most of those younger than 45, 12 days of concurrent hunting is what they want, he said.

“It’s preferred by the hunters of the future and their mentors,” Rosenberry said.

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