The numbers confirm it. Arkansas deer hunters have had their best deer season ever, and it is not over.
More than 210,000 deer have been checked, far surpassing the former record of 194,192 set in the 1999-2000 deer hunting season.
The modern gun and muzzle-loader hunts are finished, but archery hunting has several more weeks to run – through Feb. 28. Only a small number of deer are expected to be checked in this period, however.
Why the big jump in deer taken by hunters? Three basic reasons, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
One is deer are plentiful in the state, even over-abundant in places. Wildlife biologists estimate Arkansas has a million or more deer today.
Another reason is weather was favorable for deer hunting with few rainy days until the Christmas evening snow storm hit. The record was already broken then.
And limits and seasons are more liberal than in past years. There was a six-deer season limit this year although most deer zones have lower limits. Hunters can go to multiple zones to reach that limit of six, but AGFC staff members believe a comparatively small number of outdoors people reach that limit of six.
License sales indicate the number of number of hunters in Arkansas has not increased significantly, but unlike many other states, the numbers have not dropped either.
The new deer record is testimony to the deer restoration in Arkansas that began nearly 90 years ago.
Deer had become alarmingly scarce in 1915 when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was created. Within a few years, plans were laid to combat this decline. Hunting seasons were established and enforced, although only eight game wardens worked the entire state at first. In 1924, a young Guy Amsler Jr., secretary of the Game and Fish Commission, joined with Commissioner Lee Miles of Little Rock to turn around the deer decline.
Amsler and Miles pushed for the creation of deer refuges around the state. Eventually 40 such facilities, mostly on rented or leased land, were in operation. Under protective conditions, deer flourished and were moved to areas without whitetails. Some deer were purchased in northern states and brought to Arkansas.
The hunting of doe, female, deer was prohibited for many years. As numbers of deer improved, limited doe hunting was allowed then expanded to keep male and female ratios in balance.
This season nearly as many does have been taken by hunters as bucks. Current totals show roughly 53 percent adult and button bucks have been checked to 47 percent does.
The deer checked for this season show Union County again the No. 1 deer locale. Surprisingly in second place is Washington County in northwest Arkansas. The other top eight counties are all in south Arkansas, all in or partly in Deer Zone 12.
These eight are Drew, Bradley, Cleveland, Dallas, Grant, Clark, Calhoun and Ouachita.
Image courtesy Arkansas Game and Fish Commission