Buck age skewed in recent harvests

Springfield — Illinois deer hunters have killed fewer 11⁄2-year-old bucks in recent years – a fact that is likely a result of an overall decreased harvest.

But the number does stand out: An eye-opening 17 percent fewer 11⁄2-year-old bucks were killed in the state during the 2013-14 season compared to the 2012-13 season. 

These numbers come from the Quality Deer Management Association’s 2015 Whitetail Report, which suggests that hunters in Illinois seem to be falling in line with the rest of the Midwest. For example, Iowa saw an 18 percent decline in the harvest of bucks over 11⁄2, while Missouri and Wisconsin each experienced a 13 percent drop.

Overall, 11 of 13 traditional Midwest states’ total buck harvest declined in 2013 and eight of them declined by at least 10 percent. 

Only Kentucky hunters (6 percent) and Indiana hunters (1 percent) killed more bucks in 2013, the QDMA data shows.

According to the numbers, 44 percent of the Illinois bucks harvested in 2012-13 were in the 11⁄2-year class, up from the 40 percent that were taken in 2011-12.

Interestingly, the same assessment shows that hunters across the country are killing the highest-ever percentage of mature bucks – those 3½ years of age and older.

Harvest totals and sex ratios are still being calculated for the 2014-15 seasons, but QDMA indicates that in the 2013-14 season, 34 percent of bucks harvested in the states that collect buck age data  (Illinois is not included) were 3½ or older. That statistic is up from 32 percent the season before, and noticeably up from a decade ago, when during the 2003-04 season only 23 percent of the national buck harvest was at least 31⁄2. These gains have been made while the percentage of yearling bucks in the harvest has steadily declined, reaching a national record low of 36 percent.

“This is a testament to how far we’ve come as hunters in the past decade,” Kip Adams, QDMA’s director of Education and Outreach, said in a report of the findings. “More hunters are choosing to protect yearling bucks, and they are being rewarded by seeing and killing more of them as mature animals.”

Meanwhile, five states with the lowest percentage of yearling bucks harvested are also the top-five states in percentage of mature bucks: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Kansas.

As is the case in Illinois, the total numbers of bucks killed are on the decline in several states. Nationally, the total buck harvest declined 4 percent from an estimated 2.85 million in 2012 to 2.74 million in 2013, QDMA statistics show.

The 2015 Whitetail Report indicates the Midwest saw a significant drop in buck harvest: 18 percent fewer bucks from 2003 to 2013, and 20 percent fewer does.

It also addresses antlerless deer and notes that Illinois hunters harvested 90,845 antlerless deer in the 2012-13 season, down 18 percent from the 111,130 in 2011-12.

But the thrust of the report is buck harvest on a national scale.

“Wisconsin’s buck harvest declined 26 percent during the last decade, Minnesota’s dropped 27 percent, and Iowa’s plummeted 43 percent,” said Adams. “These are big declines, and hunters are definitely taking notice.”

One point made in the 2015 Whitetail Report will sound true to Illinois hunters: “While lower harvests in some areas are a result of intentional efforts to reduce deer density, in other areas, deer populations have dropped below levels that the habitat can support in healthy condition,” it states.

A large group of hunters in Illinois has been at odds with DNR in recent years over deer population control.

Another factor that figures into the Illinois deer herd situation is addressed, too. The report explores hemorrhagic disease outbreaks, harsh weather, habitat loss, and a perceived over-harvest of both bucks and does.

“It’s particularly important for hunters and the hunting industry to be aware of threats to the whitetail resource, so we’ll continue to keep those on our radar,” said Lindsay Thomas Jr., QDMA’s director of communications. 

To view the full 2015 Whitetail Report, visit www.qdma.com

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