Deer-Tagging System Proposed, Public Input Sought

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Deer-hunting tags are back in the spotlight, with state biologists proposing to implement a system during the 2006 hunting season. The exact system is still yet to be decided, Dave Moreland of the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries said during a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting Feb. 3. “We’re just throwing it out to discuss,” Moreland said. The move is being made for the second time in three years.

A proposed tagging system was finally canned by DWF officials in 2002 in the face of stiff opposition. But Moreland, who took over as head of DWF’s Wildlife Division several months ago, is handling the issue much differently than the previous proposal — which was formulated by departmental staff.

This year’s approach is to let the public decide

“We will use the public comment meetings (in which the 2004-05 season dates are discussed) to receive comments, and we may have more meetings to discuss it,” Moreland said. The first meeting will be held this month, although there was no date or location set in mid February.

However, Moreland did provide a starting point for the discussion. He told commission members that he foresees a system that would provide a

combination of buck and antlerless deer tags — possibly three buck (one of which would be valid only for deer with a minimum of 6-points) and three antlerless tags. But he was quick to say after the meeting that DWF officials were open to

whatever the public decides.

“If hunters are satisfied with two bucks, then, hey, let’s go with two bucks because you get more benefits,” Moreland said. But he believes a three-buck system would provide a good compromise between those who want the opportunity to kill more bucks and those who want to grow older deer. “Three bucks seem to be reasonable,” Moreland said. “Even with a three-buck limit, with two bucks of choice, we think most people would limit themselves to one young buck, and then they would start focusing on larger animals.” And that’s the real benefit of a reduced limit on bucks — moving more animals to older age classes.

“We’re doing it mainly because the hunters indicate they want to increase the age structure of their deer herds,” Moreland explained.

Right now, 70 percent of antlered deer killed on the state’s wildlife management areas are 1 1/2-year-olds. The rest are at least 2 1/2 years old.

Moreland said he believed the percentages statewide would be a little better, but not much.

“I would think it’s about 60 percent 1 1/2-year-olds and 30 percent adults,” he said.

By contrast, about 50 percent of the bucks killed on Deer Management Assistance Program lands are at least 2 1/2 years old. Moreland said that if a three-buck system is agreed upon, he would like to see one of the tags be legal only for deer with at least 6 points.

“It will target the larger animals,” he said.

He conceded that this still would allow the harvest of some 1 1/2-year-old bucks, but he said there needed to be some way to limit that third buck so that the program will be effective.

“I wouldn’t want my entire program to target those deer, but that’s one way to have a tagging program and reduce the impact of hunting on those younger deer,” Moreland said. But again, if hunters want to use a higher standard, the longtime deer study leader won’t stand in the way. “Maybe we could go with four points on one side,” he said.

However, Moreland did caution that setting the bar too high could have

unintended consequences in some areas of the state. “On some of our really low-quality habitat, (a 6-point minimum) may be the

only way to harvest some of those bucks,” he said.

Iberville Parish is a vivid example of this concern. Preliminary results of the experimental 6-point regulations indicate many of the parish’s bucks don’t grow six points for the first several years of their lives. Of course, one of the reasons for the failure of the 2002 proposal was that hunters weren’t willing to limit their take of bucks and still have to rely on doe days to put meat on the table.

At the time, then-Wildlife Division head Tommy Prickett said he would oppose any move to use doe tags statewide without restricting the number of days. Departmental officials are now willing to give up on doe days. “The use of the antlerless deer tags wouldn’t be restricted to any particular day,” Moreland said. “That gives the hunter the chance every time he goes out there to kill a doe. Maybe we’ll get an increased doe harvest.” Moreland said he wasn’t very concerned about doe populations being depleted because most property in the state is controlled by private landowners or hunting clubs, which still can limit the number of deer killed.

State lands also will continue to be regulated to safeguard herd health, he pointed out.

And besides, Moreland said, relatively few hunters actually kill very many deer.

“Our surveys indicate that 50 percent of hunters don’t kill a deer,” he said. “Twenty-five percent kill one deer, and only 25 percent kill two or more.”

Breakdowns between does and bucks weren’t available. Moreland said a decision must be made by the end of the summer so the department can bid out the necessary changes to the license-vending system. “I hope that by May we’ll be able to come to the commission with a proposal,” he said.

Comments can be e-mailed to Moreland at, mailed to his office at P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898. The departmental Web site also should be modified in the coming weeks to allow for comment on the subject.

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Leslie Owens
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