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Hunter’s Corner: Getting the skinny on deer productivity

According to Fish & Game’s deer productivity study, the fawn pregnancy rate was 8 percent, typical of northern deer populations, but a sharp decline from the 1980s. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)

According to Fish & Game’s deer productivity study, the fawn pregnancy rate was 8 percent, typical of northern deer populations, but a sharp decline from the 1980s. (AP Photo/Jim Fitzgerald)

Kent Gustafson, a game programs administrator, and Nick Fortin, a UNH wildlife graduate student, provided an overview and results of the deer productivity study at the August Fish and Game Commission meeting.

A.) The fawn pregnancy rate was 8 percent, which is typical of northern deer populations, while 100 percent of yearlings and 90 percent of adults were pregnant. Fecundity of yearlings (1.72 fetuses/pregnant doe) and adults (1.95 percent) were relatively high for areas without extensive agriculture and indicate a healthy and productive population.

B.) Median breeding date was Nov. 20 for adults, Nov. 26 for yearlings and Dec. 18 for fawns. The breeding period spanned from Nov. 3-Jan. 8, but 77 percent of deer bred occurred between Nov. 10 and Dec. 5. This breeding period was similar to other northern populations and nearly identical to that observed during the 1950s in New Hampshire. The concise breeding period and high pregnancy rates indicate that breeding ecology has not been impacted by male-biased harvest.

C.) Productivity of adults and yearlings has not changed since the 1980s, but fawn pregnancy rates declined 68 percent. Conservative antlerless harvest since 1983 led to a higher proportion of adults in the population during 2011-2013; this resulted in an 18-percent increase in potential recruitment.

D.) Stable or increased productivity and declining recruitment indices suggest that summer fawn mortality has increased. Possible causes include increased population density in specific regions, winter severity that periodically reduces productivity, and direct predation of fawns by higher predator populations. Field studies will be necessary to accurately determine the rate and cause of summer fawn mortality.

E.) Gradual change in hunter selectivity could bias recruitment indices from harvested deer. A survey of hunter attitudes regarding the harvest of fawns and other antlerless deer would provide a better understanding of hunter selectivity and improve the utility of these indices.

This report has more nuggets of information than I can ever remember. The various breeding periods demonstrate when the greatest buck movement is increasing your opportunity to connect with a mature buck. Last year was an impressive year for the winter severity index – those days when there is more than 18 inches of snow and the number of degree days below zero. Going into the 2012-13 winter, there was an incredible acorn crop that also assisted the deer herd through the winter. Clearly, each region is different and not all regions have the same hard mast available. However, given the abundance of acorns, beech nuts and hickory nuts, this should be a banner deer harvest year.

Oct. 1 marked the opening of the small game and upland bird season. One of the most popular upland birds is the ring-necked pheasant. Some 12,260 pheasant will be stocked at 73 sites in 49 towns. Each site will receive approximately 140 birds for the season, with the exception of federal flood control areas that will receive approximately 36 more birds per site. The daily bag limit is two birds, with a season limit of 10 birds.

“Please keep safety foremost in mind: wear hunter orange, control your firearm muzzle and know where your hunting partners are at all times. Shoot only within your zone of fire, and keep your hunting dog under control,” pheasant project leader Karen Bordeau said. “Do take time to thank private and federal landowners when you use their lands. Your hunting ethics on their lands and your thoughtfulness will help these lands open.”

My own advice is to never shoot at a pheasant on the ground. There just might be a dog right behind it.

Pheasant hunting is a great challenge. They take off clucking with wings beating with a flourish. The action of the wings suggests they are travelling at a speed that is far greater than they are travelling. It is a great wing shooting experience and they provide great table fare.

Ruffed grouse – or as I prefer, partridge – offer some of the greatest upland bird shooting there is to experience. Many, many out-of-state hunters flock to the North Country to experience the greatness of this hunt. Locally, given our wet spring, I think it may be a disappointing season. However, the White Mountains north you may be pleasantly surprised.

Woodcock or timberdoodles offer close-in fast-paced wing shooting. There are two types of woodcock that dot the greater Concord area. There are those that migrate to this area to mate and nest and those who I call flight birds that nest much farther north and migrate south to New Jersey to migrate farther south across the Delaware Bay. The local birds may be in good shape. The flight birds are a miss-or-hit situation. When the frost comes in their nesting areas the migration is on and we are in for several days of incredible hunting.

Also opening on Oct. 1 was the cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare season. There are areas that are closed to rabbit hunting, so be sure to check with the 2013-14 Hunting Digest. The western part of the state has some interesting rabbit opportunities. With regard to snowshoe hare hunting, the White Mountains and north offer the best hunting. The daily limit for rabbits is two. The daily limit for hares is two or three, depending in which WMU you are hunting.

(Bob Washburn can be reached at

Legacy Comments1

Great column Bob! And regarding letter "D" in the results about deer productivity, I would have to say that bears are doing their part more than ever in the "fawn mortality" department. Thanks, again for bringing Monitor readers the facts and the science behind wildlife management.

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