Conditions point to a good season for deer hunters in south Arkansas, deer biologists from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said on Thursday.
During an open house on "all things deer-related" at the El Dorado Conference Center on Thursday evening, AGFC staff gathered with employees from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildfires to talk to local hunters about the upcoming season, which opens Sept. 24 with bow hunting.
One of the primary reasons for the meeting was to introduce hunters to new regulations in Union, Bradley and Ashley counties related to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) following the discovery of a case in a doe harvested in Union County late last year.
The new rules impose restrictions on the transport of carcasses of deer harvested within the CWD Management Zone; prohibit feeding wildlife, with limited exceptions; and remove antler-point/size restrictions for bucks harvested within the zone.
Ralph Meeker, a deer biologist for the AGFC, explained Thursday that button bucks won't count towards the bag limit on bucks for Union, Bradley and Ashley counties – which are all in Tier II of the AGFC's CWD Management Zone – because any bucks that are harvested could help contribute to reducing spread of the prion disease.
"We don't want to deter people from hunting, shooting that doe, because they might accidentally kill a button buck," Meeker said. "Research shows that buck harvest for all age classes is helpful to reduce (CWD) spread."
Jeremy Brown, another AGFC deer biologist, said weather and food conditions present in south Arkansas will likely help hunters harvest more deer this season than they did last year.
Statewide, the deer harvest in the 2021/2022 season hit a 14-year low. But, Brown said it's important to note that the 2020/2021 deer season saw a record setting harvest. There were 216,835 deer harvested across Arkansas during the 2020/2021 season, compared to 181,379 deer harvested last season.
Brown said the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a part in the high harvest in 2020.
"COVID put more hunters out in the woods," he said, pointing to the cancellation of many fall and winter athletic events and noting that the AGFC sold more hunting licenses that year than usual as well.
Despite the low harvest in 2021, Union County still ranked first in the overall number of deer harvested last season – 6,591 – and tied for fourth in the number of deer harvested per square mile with 6.3 deer harvested per square mile in the county during hunting season.
"Last year, last harvest, we had that 14-year low, but the year before we had a record high – so we figure we're going to shake out somewhere in between," Brown said Thursday about the upcoming deer season.
Brown said acorn production has been spotty this year, so depending on where one is hunting, they may see an abundance of deer or very few. In south Arkansas, he said, areas with few deer typically have a few older animals, while lots of young deer will populate other areas.
The timber industry also contributes to the large deer harvests seen every year in south Arkansas. Brown said regular clearing allows new vegetation to grow in different areas every year, which keeps deer moving, a good thing for hunters.
Weather conditions this year may also help the harvest. Brown said the dry summer followed by lots of rain resulted in an explosion of vegetation throughout the area, which also put deer on the move.
"All in all, we have pretty good expectations for this year," he said. "It won't be worse (than last year)."
Meeker agreed, and said the new CWD regulations shouldn't negatively impact hunters either.
"We don't think it's going to be bad for hunting," he said.
For more information about deer hunting season and new CWD regulations, visit agfc.com or read the News-Times' hunting guide publishing on Sunday, Sept. 25.