Tuesday, January 08, 2008

IOWA NEWS: Deer Population Up, Deer Harvest Down

ORAN --- Sometimes you just can't beat Mother Nature.

Ice storms, cold and snow kept many hunters inside instead of stalking deer in December. Initial state estimates indicated the deer harvest was down about 34,000 after the first two shotgun seasons --- when the vast majority of deer are killed --- compared to last year at the same time.

Last year hunters killed a little more than 150,000 does and bucks. State officials hoped to match or exceed that number this year to keep the state's burgeoning deer herd in check.

Alarmed by the shortfall, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources enticed people back into the woods by extending certain hunting seasons and creating new ones so hunters could fill unused tags. The additional hunting time also was intended to help lockers that rely on processing the animals for income.

As numbers were updated and more kills reported, the harvest is still down but not as drastically as once thought. Willy Suchy, DNR wildlife research supervisor, estimates the harvest will be several thousand less than last year once all the deer hunting seasons end Jan. 27.

"The harvest is not where we wanted, but it's in the margin (of acceptability)," Suchy said.

Suchy said studies show Iowans believe a deer herd of about 300,000 is manageable. It's not that deer wouldn't have enough to eat or be more susceptible to disease if the herd was larger, but people believe that size is tolerable from the standpoint of property damage, he said.

The DNR estimates the deer population was about 370,000 after the last hunting season. Suchy said expanded hunting was needed to keep working toward the herd-size goal.

"Hunters are doing a pretty good job managing the deer population, passing on smaller bucks and taking does," Suchy said.

For some lockers that count on deer processing for a significant portion of their yearly revenue, the reduced harvest isn't good news. While some processors say numbers are as good or better than last year, that's not the case for many others.

Normally the locker in Oran is swamped this time of year with more than 900 deer, bringing in more than $120,000. Employees work overtime, just so customers can get their meat back in a few months.

This year, manager Todd Briddle said the deer count is down about 300 to 350 head. The pace is slower, revenue is lower, and customers are getting meat back in a matter of weeks.

"I'm not the only one hurting. I think a lot of lockers didn't get what they want," Briddle said.

From what Briddle can gather talking with customers and hunting himself, the weather played a significant factor. October hunting wasn't as successful, because rain pushed back harvest a little, and deer were feasting on corn and not in the timber. Then, harsh winter conditions hit.

"We got the weather, and it just killed us," Briddle said. "The state did it (extended hunting seasons) for a reason."

Tony Harford, owner of the locker in Wadena, said last year he processed about 500 deer. As of the last of December, the count was a little more than 400.

With three weeks left before deer hunting is done, Harford is optimistic more will come in, but there are no guarantees.

"I definitely count on deer. If you're down 100 deer, that's $10,000 down," he said.

On the bright side, Harford said labor expenses will go down if deer numbers remain behind last year, though that's not how he would like to save money.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, the locker in Edgewood is as busy as ever. As of the last of December, co-owner Terry Kearn said he had accepted about 200 more deer than last year, when the business processed 3,400.

Kearn said deer accounts for 30 percent of his revenue.

"Absolutely, no doubt, for most lockers deer is a pretty big part of their business," Kearn said. "I do think the kill is down, but I hope we're up (due to) what we do."


No comments: