LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) – Arkansas’s 2022-23 deer season concluded Feb. 28, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s deer program coordinator expects the final harvest totals to finish higher than last year’s 181,379 total, but likely down about 15,000 deer from where the state has averaged during the last decade.
“I’d expect around 185,000 deer harvested when we have our final totals,” Ralph Meeker, AGFC’s deer program coordinator, said. “There’s a variety of reasons why we will be down (from our average). We had a record harvest in 2020, so we may have impacted some carryover. Add to that some inclement weather during muzzleloader season, the warmest Arkansas winter on record, and a phenomenal mast crop (which is known to greatly affect deer movement), and it’s easy to see where we landed.
“So, it was not one thing, but probably a combination of a lot of things,” he said.
And, in the grand scheme of numbers, a harvest of 185,000 deer is not a significant difference from a typical 200,000-deer harvest.
“If you have a severe weather event on opening weekend or a rainy muzzleloading season, that will make up that difference of 5,000-7,500 deer easily,” he said. “So, 15,000 less deer may look significant, but it’s really not. It is typical to see fluctuations in harvest from time to time.”
In 2017-18, Arkansas hunters took 210,065 deer through modern gun, muzzleloading and archery methods; in the next season, the number fell to 188,151 harvested, then it bounced back to the record 216,835 harvest for 2020-21 (which also was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic).
The most updated harvest numbers for 2022-23 indicated that 89,855 antlered deer had been harvested, 85,936 does were taken, and 10,884 button ducks were harvested for a total of 185,675.
Meeker and AGFC staff have been doing some winter herd health checks this past month. “What we are finding is that deer are in super condition for this time of year,” he said. “The amount of energy and nutrients they were able to store, they were able to carry it all through this winter. And now with the greening up of the landscape, there is more vegetation available.”
Weather issues were definitely not a factor for opening modern gun hunting weekend this season, he noted. “It’s very possible the opening weekend was the highest harvest we’ve had for modern gun in modern times,” Meeker said. “I haven’t gone back that far in our records, but I know we harvested close to 39,000 deer in two days this year, and that number is typically 33,000-35,000.”
“We had cool temperatures, no wind, and a significant portion of the state got snow that opening weekend of the modern gun season. That type of weather puts our deer hunters in the mood to get out. That’s in contrast to the opening weekend of muzzleloader season when we saw rain, wind, and bad weather.”
Are we worried with the season’s deer harvest? “I’m not worried whatsoever.”
“Arkansas deer populations have been subjected to severe ice storms, outbreaks of buffalo gnats, historic droughts, and prolonged flooding events. And all those populations have rebounded quickly,” Meeker said. “It’s nothing to be concerned about. We strive to manage deer populations in such a way that they are able to rebound from such events.”