How Much is Too Much?

Just how many deer, turkeys and other game can we harvest without harming future populations? It’s a question hunters ask every time they pull the trigger.  

Most of us rely on our state wildlife agencies to tell us how many animals we can harvest without having long-term impacts on populations. Those bag limits, however, only account for the big picture. Whether you follow a county-specific season limit or a statewide one, shooting a full limit of deer or turkeys on your land may have negative impacts on future seasons.

The good news is that deer can rebound from overharvest quickly. In areas with good habitat, whitetails can give birth to twins or even triplets, providing an ample supply of deer for future seasons. The best guideline for most of us is as simple as following our gut instinct. If deer populations seem to be down, back off your doe harvest for a season or two. A single buck can breed numerous does, but the more does you have, the more deer you’ll have in future seasons.

The same is true for hen turkeys. If you aren’t seeing many, reduce your harvest. Turkeys have a number of other factors influencing their populations, however. Recruitment, or the number of young birds that survive to adulthood, is dictated by a number of factors that go beyond our control. Weather, for example, has more influence on poult survival than any other factor. An extended period of cold, wet weather can devastate a season’s worth of poults and populations can decline significantly. Don’t fret too much, though. Good habitat combined with good nesting conditions can result in populations rebounding quickly. 

Small game, like rabbits, quail and squirrels, can also recover quickly if the habitat is suitable. Even if they aren’t being hunted, they all have high mortality rates. If their numbers seem to be down, reduce the hunting pressure on them for a season, and then reassess populations before the next hunting season.

The bottom line? Trust your state wildlife biologists who set season lengths and bag limits. They have a firm grasp on the various factors that influence populations. Also, trust your instincts. If you don’t see many deer or turkeys, then back off on your annual harvest. It can take a few years for populations to recover, but if the habitat is suitable and you don’t continue to overharvest them, their numbers will rebuild. 

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