Clemons: Deer Management Changes Coming in Southeast

By Alan Clemons

State agencies managing for deer and wildlife have a tough gig because not only are they dealing with critters, they also have to deal with politics and human beings.


Proposed management units in Florida’s Zone D

That’s a broad generalization, I know, but it’s true. Managing land for wildlife is challenging enough even on a smaller private tract. Financial concerns, time, neighbors who may not share your same ideas, and the vagaries of the land and animals create never-ending situations.

Expand that to managing an entire state. Throw in the politics of legislators who hear from the public. Add the hunters who want something specific to be done – antler restrictions, for example – or barely anything to be done by the government. Managing wildlife is a passion many good folks enjoy, but doing it for a state agency can at times be a nightmare. Thick skin is required, no doubt.

At least three Southeast states are undergoing significant proposed changes in deer management strategies for the 2013-14 seasons. Alabama, Louisiana and Florida officials have offered their proposals and, as usual, there is a mix of agreement and blowback from the public.

Florida currently has four zones for deer hunting: Zone A (south), Zone B (central), Zone C (northwest) and Zone D (the Panhandle). The state’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed management units within those zones, starting with Zone D to the north and south of Interstate 10 that splits the Panhandle.

Louisiana’s biologists are proposing three new zones and a return of “doe days” for management and better data collection. I can’t imagine dealing with deer in the Pelican State, especially in the last decade with the hurricanes and drought down there. Add the varied population numbers, millions of acres of marshland and crazy terrain, and it has to be quite a challenge.

In this Louisiana Sportsman report, state deer study leader Scott Durham said this:

“I believe we are experience some rather unprecedented times,” LDWF Deer Study Leader Scott Durham said in introducing the proposals. “A return to either-sex days is absolutely proposed until we have more confidence in our reporting system.”

Durham said his department’s harvest-reporting system — which he admitted has experienced some difficulties that are being address — indicate declining deer kills throughout the state. He said this, along with changes in habitat, point toward the need for smaller deer-hunting zones.

It appears, quite clearly, that a “one size fits all” thought process is being reconsidered or tossed. Several states have multiple management zones – Arkansas, notably, in the Southeast has about 20 – and it’s obvious that with changing populations and management strategies the smaller units or zones are being given a hard look.

Proposed restricted unantlered deer zone in north Alabama.

Proposed restricted unantlered deer zone in north Alabama.

Alabama’s officials are doing the same. After decades of having no zones, despite hunters in the southern part of the state wanting a February season to experience the peak rut, the current commissioner has proposed a new zone in the southwest corner of the state. It would include all or part of about 10 counties, and he’s indicated this is only the first step of a revamp.

Alabama also has, for about the last decade, had a very liberal doe limit of two per day statewide. The new proposals formally introduced Saturday at the state’s Conservation Advisory Board meeting would create a limited doe season in a large portion of the north-central part of the state. Better data collection for doe harvests also is being urged, although the state does not have a mandatory check-in station, tags or tele-check system in place. Enforcement of a voluntary request to report kills is virtually impossible; we’ll see how this further urging to report them plays out.

Again, as expected, hunters have responded to all these proposals with a mix of emotions. None of these proposals are set in stone. These three states have presented the ideas to the public and now, it’s on the hunters’ shoulders to respond to be part of the process.