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Managing Arkansas Deer Herds Big Task for Wildlife Officers

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- No longer is Arkansas restoring and building its deer population. Today the strategy is termed Total Herd Management.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. --  No longer is Arkansas restoring and building its deer population. Today the strategy is termed Total Herd Management.

Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said, “We no longer try to estimate the number of deer we have in the state. Instead we focus on indices that give us information on the health of our deer. This includes body weights, lactation in females and age structure.”

Deer are thriving in Arkansas. Strongest evidence is the number of deer checked by hunters the past two seasons – 213,487 in 2012-2013 and 213,199 in 2013-2014. Gray pointed out, however, “Our deer are not evenly distributed, even in Zone 12 (south Arkansas) where we have the most deer.”

A component of Total Herd Management is putting as much emphasis on female deer, the does, as on the males, the bucks. Gray said that nearly all hunters go after bucks. This is a long-standing tradition in Arkansas as well as across the nation. When nearly all hunters put on their fluorescent orange and load their rifles, the objective is to take a “good” buck. Definitions of good bucks do vary.

Gathering of data is essential for Total Herd Management. This comes from the hunters’ checking. It comes from wildlife biologists’ first-hand reports from all areas. It comes from close study of deer carcasses, and these can be from hunting successes, from deaths in the field and from road accidents.

Gray said, “When we gather this information, there can be as much as a two-year lag in putting the results into action. The point is that management actions implemented today, will impact the deer herd in the future. It is important we look at Total Herd Management as long-term and not short-term. The goal is to ensure a healthy, productive, sustainable population that is balanced socially, and within the habitat’s carrying capacity. Keep in mind one deer will eat as much as 10 pounds of forage per day. This is a large amount of food that must be available 365 days a year.”

For many years, south Arkansas has had the highest numbers of deer in the state. One reason is this area is heavily forested with much of the land owned by timber companies. It is deer habitat although some other areas of the state may have better nutrition. South Arkansas deer are more numerous, but larger deer often are found in the Delta and in other lowland locales.

Gray said deer numbers have shifted in the past few years. “We can look at northwest Arkansas and Washington and Benton counties in particular. There are a lot more deer there, and this is despite the big population of people.”

Along with the notable balance of bucks and does in hunter checks, the checks of the past hunting season showed Washington County among the leaders in deer successes and Benton County not far behind.

“As a whole, our deer are healthy, and there is good age structure with them,” Gray said.

(courtesy KARK, Little Rock)
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