Have you ever wondered how the DNR comes up with the bonus antlerless quota numbers for hunting white-tailed deer in Indiana?
If you think it’s a dart board or some sort of hocus pocus magic that earns the county you hunt in an A or an 8 quota (or somewhere in between), guess again.
Bonus antlerless permits were first implemented in 1986 as a management tool giving hunters the opportunity to take extra deer — specifically does — in addition to basic bag limits.
Counties are assigned a bonus quota each year that ranges from A to 8, with the latter being the most liberal and “A” the most conservative. Bonus licenses may be used in any county, and a separate bonus license is needed for each deer.
For example, a hunter may take up to eight antlerless deer in a county with an 8 quota or one antlerless deer in a county with a 1 quota. In an “A” county, a bonus antlerless license can be used to take one antlerless deer from Nov. 28 through Jan. 5.
“The general rule is a quota for a county is more indicative of where we want to move the deer herd in that county,” said Chad Stewart, the DNR’s deer management biologist. “An 8 is trying to move in a downward direction. An A or a 1 can stand to have a few more deer, or has a low number of deer and can’t sustain a prolonged or intense antlerless harvest. The reasons do vary with each county.”
Determining quotas is based on a variety of factors.
“We look at antlered and antlerless harvest and the proportion relative to each other, and we look at bucks killed per square mile of habitat,” Stewart said.
That part of the data collection begins immediately after each season’s deer harvest numbers are tabulated.
Crop damage reports, deer-vehicle collisions, and the number of deer-vehicle collisions per billion miles driven are added to the mix, along with results from landowner and deer hunter surveys that measure individual satisfaction level with the deer herd for each county.
The same information is drawn from the previous nine years, giving Stewart documents filled with more charts and graphs than an investment analyst’s report.
But Stewart’s methodology doesn’t differ much from that of the analyst who uses past performance to form an educated forecast of future investments.
“We’re looking at trends in how the previous years have influenced the present year’s harvest,” Stewart said. “We’re looking at the previous quota and sort of determine where it’s been in the past and where it’s going. We compare that to where we want it to go, and that makes it easier.”
Stewart doesn’t act alone, though.
“I look at all the numbers independently and formulate my own recommendation,” he said.
The information is shared with 15 district wildlife biologists for their input.
“They have a lot more knowledge of the area they work and live in,” Stewart said.
Indiana Conservation Officers then get a crack at it.
“They have even more intimate knowledge of what our deer hunters think because they are out with boots on the ground talking with our hunters every day,” Stewart said.
Stewart compiles everyone’s recommendations for a joint meeting with administrators from the DNR divisions of Fish & Wildlife and Law Enforcement. The panel reviews the three sets of recommendations — from Stewart, district biologists, and ICOs — for each county.
“A lot of times, if all of the recommendations are the same and we agree with the direction we want to move the deer herd for a county, the decision for the panel is easy — accept as is,” Stewart said.
He said that’s usually the case for about 65–70 counties. When recommendations don’t match, the panel makes the final decision.
“That’s based strictly on the data with a lot more discussion involved,” Stewart said.
In any given year, about 20 to 25 counties need some additional discussion with four or five requiring lengthier discussion before quotas are settled.
“The bottom line is that for each county we have a general direction we want the harvest to go,” Stewart said. “If our harvest is higher than our target, it usually indicates a herd larger than we want, so we keep quotas high or increase them to attempt to reduce the herd.
“If it’s below the goal or declining, then it becomes trickier. Do we continue? Do we think the trend will stabilize at the current number, or do we need to pull back and allow the deer herd in that county to rebound a little? It’s as much science as it is art.”
If a county’s bonus quota is changed, the new quota usually is left in place for a couple of years to evaluate impact.
“We want to see a trend manifest itself over the next few years,” Stewart said. “If you change it year to year, you don’t have a good feel for the impact of those recommendations.”
The DNR’s current management strategy is aimed at reducing deer numbers in some counties, and by one measure – quota reductions for 2013 — it appears to be working.
A special late antlerless season introduced last year in high quota counties contributed more than 10,000 deer to the total 2012 harvest and was a contributing factor in 18 counties receiving lower quotas this year, including five whose quotas were dropped from 4 to 3.
“That’s certainly the trend we’re seeing,” Stewart said. “I can see a time in the future, with the new seasons we have, that 8s start to go away.”
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.