For many Tar Heels, deer season was a disappointment. Not only was the harvest down, so were deer sightings.
Hunters across the state offer varied reasons for the decline, including weather, predators and disease. The deer biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Evin Stanford, puts the blame on acorns.
“The acorn crop was off the charts, more acorns than we have had in decades,” he said.
Deer usually forage in a two mile radius. This year they hardly had to move to feed, according to the biologist,
“Acorns are like ice cream to deer,” he said. “They’d much rather have it than feed on corn.”
Many hunters pour heavy amounts of corn near their stands, then wait for the deer to feed.
After a record harvest of 188,130 deer in 2013, Stanford predicts an 18 to 20 percent decrease in 2014. Statistics will be available in April.
As to the loss to predators, Stanford says it is hard to imagine coyotes taking out that many deer. He does believe hemorrhagic disease cut the harvest in Warren, Franklin, Vance, Durham and Granville counties.
“The disease results in some mortality and cuts down deer sightings,” he said.
In 2012, hemorrhagic disease was reported to be the worst in North Carolina’s history. This infectious disease usually occurs annually from mid-August through October. When not fatal, the virus can leave deer lame, without appetite and lethargic.
Matt Petersen, a resident of northern Alamance County who runs six trail cameras year-round, reports often spotting coyotes where deer feed. He thinks many fawn were weak physically and fell easy prey to coyotes.
Bobby Glenn Kimbrell, a NCWRC retiree who leads deer hunts in the Piedmont, says his harvest this season was about the same as last.
“The sightings were off. We’d see five to 10 deer at every stand when we were out. This year only two or three,” he said.
H. Thomas Bob of eastern Guilford County, only desired one doe this season “so I’d have some sausage in the refrigerator.”
On three afternoon hunts in southern Alamance County, he observed deer only one time but did not harvest.
“In the past you’d see a half-dozen to 20 or more from every stand,” he said.
Bob agrees that the large acorn crop affected deer hunting.
“There was a plethora of acorns on the ground,” he said. “And deer prefer acorns over the corn patch.”
James B. Kea, a retired N.C. Agricultural extension agent, wrote: “Acorns provide food for deer, bear, squirrels, mice, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, grackles, turkey, grouse, quail, blue jays, woodpeckers and waterfowl during the critical fall and winter periods when most other sources are scarce or not available. Understandably, population and health of wildlife often rise and fall with acorn availability.”
He says the annual cycling of the acorn crop is related to weather and differences in maturing times of various oak species.
Stanford, the state’s deer biologist, thinks it may be 40 years before another banner acorn crop is seen.
“It depends on many variables including the weather. It takes a certain set of circumstances that vary from year to year,” he said.