By Spencer Neuharth
They say you don’t know you’re living in the good ol’ days until they’re gone. Well, consider this your formal warning then.
The whitetail glory days are coming.
This may seem off to you, as most states have been reporting decade lows for deer herds and harvests. That’s exactly why it’s about to get so good, though.
The biggest factor, in many cases, of the recent deer decline has been epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). EHD requires the perfect storm of conditions to wreak havoc, which is exactly what it got in 2012 with a very wet spring and very dry summer. In some areas, the disease wiped out as much as 95% of the population.
Most states took notice and took action. Nebraska shorted themselves 87,000 tags. Missouri cut back on unlimited doe tags. Iowa eliminated 41,000 permits. South Dakota removed 48% of its rifle tags. Ohio reduced anterless tags in 44 counties.
Four years later, hunters are starting to get a sense of hope though. It’s for good reason, as there are some silver linings following the whitetail disaster that was 2012.
Most agencies agree that the survivors of EHD either carry an immunity to the disease or simply have a stronger immune system. Others claim that it’s also passed on to the next generation, meaning the survivors of 2012 and their immediate offspring are safe from another drought. If that’s true, then nature’s way of thinning the herd has made a stronger population that’ll tolerate more than years past.
As predators were occupied with all the abundantly available food that year in the form of dead deer, EHD survivors likely were able to raise their fawns under less stress. Those same cute 2012 fawns are now 4.5-year-old bucks that are about to hit their prime.
In areas where agencies were proactive and limited deer permits, those 4.5-year-old bucks haven’t been exposed to many hunters. That means these deer will act the way deer are supposed to act, not act the way deer act when countering the moves of humans. As Steven Rinella always harps on when talking about hunting remote locations, those are the most fun animals to pursue.
I completely agree with him.
Following EHD in my home county of South Dakota, rifle doe tags were 100% dropped, archery doe tags were 100% dropped and rifle buck tags were 95% dropped. With the lack of hunters in the woods, deer didn’t even know humans existed.
Most years I’d get a buck to respond to a grunt one out every of five times. Last year I was four for four, and the fourth time was the one that I filled my archery tag on. It was absolutely a testament to the lack of experience these deer have had with archers’ tricks.
That’s why I think these next five years are going to be my generation’s “glory days” in the woods. With bucks that are about to hit their prime, but lack the awareness of most booners that we’re used to, hunting is going to be magical. Soak it in while you get the chance.
– Spencer Neuharth
What do you think about Spencer’s hypothesis? Are we about to enjoy some especially terrific years of hunting?