American deer hunters are killing the highest-ever percentage of bucks age 31/2 and older, according to data gathered by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) for its 2015 Whitetail Report, now available online.
In the 2013-14 season, the most recent season with compete deer harvest data available from all states, 34 percent of bucks harvested in the states that collect buck age data were 3 1/2 or older. That statistic is up from 32 percent the season before, and significantly up from a decade before in the 2003-04 season, when only 23 percent of the national buck harvest was mature. These gains have been made while the percentage of yearling bucks (1 1/2 years old) in the harvest has steadily declined, reaching a record-low of 36 percent.
"This is a testament to how far we've come as hunters in the past decade," said Kip Adams, QDMA's Director of Education & Outreach, who compiles the annual Whitetail Report. "More hunters are choosing to protect yearling bucks, and they are being rewarded by seeing and killing more of them as mature animals."
This trade-off can be seen in state-by-state data. The five states with the lowest percentage of yearling bucks in the antlered buck harvest, according to QDMA's Whitetail Report, are also the top-five states in percentage of mature bucks: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.
Though the age structure of the buck harvest is improving, total numbers of bucks killed by hunters 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.
The 2015 Whitetail Report also examines 10-year trends in total buck and doe harvest by state. In this analysis, while the Northeast and Southeast have been relatively stable, the Midwest region saw a significant drop in deer harvest: 18 percent fewer bucks from 2003 to 2013, and 20 percent fewer does.
"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."
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. The 2015 Whitetail Report explores the factors involved, including hemorrhagic disease outbreaks, harsh weather, habitat loss, and over-harvest.
"There is good news and not-so-good news in this year's Whitetail Report, and that's exactly why we monitor and report trends in the whitetail harvest," said Lindsay Thomas Jr., QDMA's Director of Communications. "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."
For complete state-by-state deer harvest data, as well as a look at other critical issues like fawn recruitment and poaching fines, download a free PDF of the 2015 Whitetail Report at http://www.qdma.com/corporate/whitetail-report, or purchase a printed copy for $10.
QDMA is dedicated to ensuring the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. Founded in 1988, QDMA is a national nonprofit wildlife conservation organization with more than 60,000 members in all 50 states and Canada. To learn more about QDMA and why it is the future of deer hunting, call 800-209-3337 or visit www.QDMA.com. QDMA can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheQDMA and Twitter at www.twitter.com/TheQDMA.