Lloyd Fox thinks hunters can be optimistic about the firearms deer season that opens Wednesday.
"Things are very good. It should be as good a year as we've seen," said Fox, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism big-game program coordinator. "We have a lot of deer out there and we have a lot of really nice (bucks) out there."
He lost a lot of sleep developing that opinion.
Fox and other biologists spent many nights on Kansas back roads this fall working on their annual Deer Spotlight Sampling Survey.
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They used spotlights to search fields along the same basic routes they've checked annually since 2002.
Fox said the trucks are rigged with special lights and high-rise seats to make the counts as accurate as possible.
Survey routes average about 20 miles. All of the state's 19 deer management units have at least one survey route. Many have two or more.
Fox said the survey eased his fears that a summertime outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease may have damaged deer numbers in the eastern half of Kansas.
While there were some localized die-offs, Fox said the disease didn't have a serious impact on the region's overall population.
Weather permitting, Fox is expecting firearms hunters to kill about 90,000 deer. That's on par with recent past seasons. The kill will probably be an even split between bucks and does.
Fox would like to see hunters shoot more of the latter to help keep the deer population under control. The opportunities to take does is certainly there.
"You can easily get permits to shoot six deer (five being antlerless whitetails) in some parts of Kansas, but very few people shoot more than two deer," Fox said, "If we sample 20,000 hunters at the end of the season, we may find two or three that fill all six permits. Things really drop off once you get past people who kill two deer per season."
Most years, the overall success rate is about 55 percent. Rates are highest in western Kansas, where the deer are more visible in the open spaces.
Fox said success rates and the number of mature trophy bucks shot in central and western Kansas could be higher than normal this year.
The combination of a long-term drought and farmers being allowed to hay or graze grasslands in the Conservation Reserve Program could work in hunter's favor.
"The deer are not going to have a lot of that really tall grass to escape into this year," Fox said. "That could make a big difference."