Game and Parks points to widespread drought as factor in decrease of deer harvest numbers
LINCOLN - As the deer season nears its end, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is taking a closer look at deer harvest data.
Big Game Program Manager Luke Meduna says statewide numbers dropped from 2021 to 2022.
“Our harvest was down 9% from last year… White-Tail were down 12%, Mule Deer about 10%,” Meduna said. “Overall, for the five year average, White-Tail are down about 20%, Mule Deer 30%.”
Meduna contributes part of that drop in the historic average to recent depredation complaints from landowners. Contrary to what some believe, Meduna says taking a “spike”, or a yearling buck, does not contribute to changes in harvest numbers.
“Shooting a yearling buck isn’t going to change the population any different than taking a 3-4 year old,” Meduna said. “Our yearling buck harvest numbers have remained pretty consistent.”
The main factor in the drop is likely related to the extreme drought felt by much of the state last winter and summer, as some areas went weeks on end without rain or snow. Meduna says this can increase the risk of EHD, a hemmoraghic diseases, that can cause a fatal virus in deer, but this past year, it hurt more because the drought can lead to inadequate habitat.
“If you don’t have the moisture, you’re not going to have as good of grass,” Meduna said. “This can impact body condition, but the greater impact is it impacts fawning cover so fawn survival is lower. Thed drought can also impact where the deer are… If you have a place with water, the deer may stick around. If you have a creek that totally dries up, they’re probably going to move else where. We’ve had reports from people who have said they have more deer than ever on their property, they probably have some form of water that’s bringing those deer in.”
Depending on where you were hunting in the state, you might have had different levels of success. Southeast Nebraska saw stable deer numbers and decent success rate in comparison to last year, but areas affected by drought such as southwest and northeast Nebraska, saw more significant decline.
“This year, those are where we saw our biggest decline,” Meduna said. “The panhandle saw decline, but not nearly as much as the northeast and southwest.”
One aspect of data Meduna did say Game and Parks will look at after the full season ends is the numbers on public land vs. private. Game and Parks also notes that as population numbers fluctuate, permit numbers will be adjusted accordingly.