The optimist in me usually closes one deer season thinking things will be better in the next.
This year the realist in me doesn’t think that’s going to be happening.
For three specific reasons, I’m thinking we’ll see serious declines within the next few years, especially in trophy quality in many areas.
• Drought. Never since our first modern deer season in 1965 have we dealt with this kind of drought.
The drought has lead to some sizable die-offs from disease in eastern Kansas, and poor fawn production about statewide. Some places have had two or more fawn crops slammed.
Even record spring rains won’t offer enough good cover to protect fawns from predators across much of central and western Kansas next summer.
There’s also no sign the drought will end anytime soon.
• Poaching. Kansas is about as close as you can get to ground zero for trophy deer poaching. We have the reputation for big deer and the wide-open spaces where they’re easily found. With only about one game warden per about three counties in many places, the chances of getting caught aren’t as high as in other states.
There’s no question it’s a serious problem.
The Operation Cimarron case in Unit 16 involved about 120 whitetail bucks allegedly poached by guided men from Louisiana and Texas.
Another case had 13 huge big mule deer and whitetails poached by one hunting group from Wisconsin in western Kansas. Those are the cases where there were arrests.
Federal investigators report the average size of bucks poached through Operation Cimarron decreased more than 20 inches over a four-year period.
• Pressure. Every year more hunters hit the fields, hoping for a buck with memorable antlers. By legislative mandate, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism must meet the demand for out-of-state deer hunters and it does nothing but grow.
Since 2006, the number of those permits increased from about 14,000 to about 22,000 hunters.
That’s an increase of about 76 deer permits per county, even though there’s been no increase in public lands and through those years deer populations remained mostly steady.
Kansans trying to hunt crowded public areas, and landowners trying to protect their lands from trespassers, poachers and road hunters have been screeching “enough is enough” for several years
Now, the population is on a downward slide in most areas because of the drought and poaching, and we’re annually putting more hunters afield.
The math doesn’t bode well.