For Weekend Editions Dec 28-29
ATLANTA (AP) _ Deer seasons are over in most states, and the harvest should total well over a million animals.
That’s more than double the estimated total population of whitetail deer in the United States around 1900, at the depths of decline.
Restoration of the whitetail deer is a conservation story involving efforts by sportsmen and the nature of the animal.
″The whitetail deer is one of the most adaptable animals in the world,″ according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist William Hesselton.
It can be found in all of the 48 contiguous states except Utah, Nevada and California, the service said. The United States population now is estimated as 12 million.
Whitetails can live in swamps or mountain ridges, on farms or in little bits of cover in suburbia.
Suburban areas of many major cities are open to hunting, but only with bow and arrow because of the danger to nearby homes from rifle bullets or shotgun slugs.
Although the whitetail’s antlers are sought after as a trophy, it was its meat and hide that made it a prime target of early settlers.
The buckskin jacket became the trademark of the American woodsman.
That led to overkill.
The first known law to protect the whitetail was passed in 1646 in the town of Portsmouth, R.I. It forbid killing deer between May and November because populations had declined seriously.
Logging and farming destroyed whitetail habitat and hunting took a heavy toll. By 1900 whitetail hunting had ceased in many areas because there weren’t any deer to hunt.
States finally took action to save the deer.
Does were protected to provide breeding stock. Where the animals had been wiped out, deer were brought in from elsewhere.
That led to deer populations that defy natural law.
Most animals are smaller at the southern end of their range than their northern cousins because larger animals are more efficient at surviving in the cold.
But some Southern states imported northern strains of whitetails in the 1950s and 1960s and now are harvesting huge trophy animals.
With their principle predators, wolves and cougar, wiped out, deer multiplied rapidly. Abandoned farms provided excellent habitat - young second- growth forest with plenty of twigs and buds for food.
In many places, deer have become their worst enemy. Their populations have grown too large for the land to support and they eat all the available food.
In the north, a severe winter can wreak havoc with an overpopulated deer herd. During the winters of 1970 and 1971, Vermont’s deer population was cut in half, to 115,000 animals.
Early winter is threatening the same fate to deer in Wisconsin and other upper Midwest states this year. There they gather in swamps and die when all the food is eaten.
In the South, disease devastates deer herds, which have grown too large for the land. An estimated 20 percent of Georgia’s piedmont deer herd was wiped out by disease in the early 1980s.
Today, deer management is a balancing act for biologists. They manage the herd to provide as many deer as possible without overpopulation. That’s done by regulating both the buck and doe kills.
End Adv Weekend Editions Dec 28-29