For many years, Lloyd Fox used words such as “excellent” and “outstanding” to describe the prospects for an upcoming firearms deer season.
This year, Fox says things are “look pretty good” for the season that opens Wednesday and ends Dec. 15. Hunters should find enough deer to fill their permits, but numbers are down in many places, said the big-game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“We have areas where last year we did not have many fawns (survive),” Fox said. “We’ve had a long drought in some areas and drought and predation are tied together. In some areas, hunters are certainly going to see fewer deer than they’re accustomed to seeing.”
Some parts of eastern Kansas also had drought-related epizootic homorrhagic disease in 2011 and 2012, which lead to some localized die-offs.
Fox said the population die-offs from those two years may not have had an impact on the number of trophy bucks across most of Kansas. Most of this year’s trophy bucks will be three years or older, which means they were born before the drought, when fawn survival was higher. He reported seeing some trophy bucks while doing annual spotlight surveys earlier this fall.
One challenge hunters may face is an abundance of cover from last summer’s rains. But that same buck-hiding grass and brush bodes well for future populations.
“Right now things look pretty good for next year’s fawning season,” he said. “We have, though, lost hundreds of thousands of acres of (Conservation Reserve Program grasses) and that might have a similar effect as the drought in some areas. CRP has been golden for deer.”
Considering the number of hunters involved, the firearms deer season is a pretty safe event in Kansas, but accidents have happened.
Kent Barrett, Wildlife and Parks hunter education coordinator, said it’s not usually the high-powered rifle bullet striking someone hundreds of yards, or several miles away, that is the problem.
A sizable percentage of those injured while deer hunting are because of simple unsafe gun handling. Barrett referred to an incident last year when a father reached into the backseat, and discharged a loaded rifle that shot his son. “Probably the thing that saved his son is that it hit his rifle’s scope first,” Barrett said. “If not for that, the bullet would have simply gone through his son. Things like that happen, and all you can do is just shake your head.”
Several times in the past decade, one hunter has shot another at a vehicle in similar accidents. One fatality occurred when a deer hunter’s rifle discharged inside his vehicle, hit him the leg and caused fatal bleeding.
“We call them incidents instead of accidents. Accidents are things that can’t be prevented, like a tree falling on a hunter,” Barrett said. “Most of the (hunting accidents) I’ve ever been familiar with just could have been prevented.”
Online registration encouraged
Kansas deer hunters are encouraged to utilize the state’s online deer registration system. Started in 2010, it allows hunters to email photos of deer they kill to Wildlife and Parks so they can then legally transport the deer without keeping the head attached to the carcass, as other regulations say must be done for proof of gender.
The hunter emails a close-up that shows their permit attached to the deer, then another that shows the entire deer so gender and species can be seen. Some hunters with the proper equipment can do it all from the field. Others are allowed to upload the data from cameras as soon as they get home. When completed, hunters are given a registration number to provide proof the carcass was properly registered.
Fox said the online system was largely devised so non-resident hunters could take their deer back boneless. Some states prohibit importing of deer with bones shot in states with chronic wasting disease because the disease can be transmitted to new areas through those discarded bones and other offal.
Fox hopes more resident hunters will use the registration system and de-bone their venison in the area where the deer was killed. It’s possible someone could shoot an infected buck in northwest Kansas, where the disease has been for about 10 years, and then introduce it to other parts of Kansas when disposing of the bones closer to home.
“It works like a champ and is very easy to do,” Fox said of the system. “Now we just need to get a lot more hunters to use it.”
He said he’d someday like to see the online registration system expanded so biologists could look at the age and antler condition of bucks.
For more information on the online registration system go to www.kdwpt.state.ks.us.