As Tara Wildlife enters an exciting new decade and ponders the days, months and years which lay ahead, two oft used phrases come to mind. The first is a widely used phrase originating from the Alexander Pope poem, “An Essay on Man” which simply declares “hope springs eternal”. The second is a book written by Eckhart Tolle titled “The Power of Now”, which, in a nutshell states that the quality of your consciousness at this moment, is what shapes your future.
Recognizing that you, our hunter/management partners, have been the keystone to our success as a premier bow hunting destination, Tara starts this new decade in a spirit of hope and with a renewed commitment to our valued customer base and associated natural resources. That being said, a lot of water has gone under the bridge, figuratively and literally, in the past several months.
The decision to cancel all scheduled hunts for the 2019-20 hunting season was a difficult call; but it was the right one. In answer to one question posed by some, “…..were the deer as bad as they looked on TV”…… the answer is unequivocally yes!
In October and in an effort to assess the 2019 post flood effects, twenty-five trail cameras were placed at strategic locations throughout the Tara property. Real time results showed deer to be in poor flesh and with the general population exhibiting limited mobility; likely a reflection of compromised physiology and resultantly poor energetics. As expected, fawn production took a huge hit. Out of the 4,987 deer images recorded, only twelve fawns were counted. As for the adult population, buck to doe ratios slightly favored bucks at 52% to 48%. Predictably, of the 158 readily identifiable (different) antlered bucks recorded in the October survey, only 14 would have met Tara’s current harvest requirements (equal or exceeding 3 of 5 quality criteria) and only 2 would have met minimum P&Y standards.
November trail cam results showed a 42% decrease in fawn sightings (7 fawns compared with 12 in October). Statistical significance aside, it is patently obvious that the prolonged 2019 flood was devastating relative to fawn production and survival. That gap in population recruitment/age structure will be carried forward in subsequent years. Though annual fawn recruitment took an obvious hit, November trail cam data indicated a 51% increase in sightings of noticeably different antlered bucks when compared with the October result. Similarly, doe sightings increased 79% in November when compared with October trail cam data. Documented increases in buck and doe sightings, October to November, are likely a function of at least three main variables:
- Improved energetic resulting from obvious improvement in physiological condition due primarily to water subsidence, escape cover recovery, restored habitat availability, browse emergence and hard and soft mast production (pecan/acorns//honey locust/persimmon);
- Migration of displaced animals back to their heretofore vacated home turf;
- Onset of the rut.
While sightings of decidedly different bucks increased in the November trail camera survey, a miserly 29 bucks (compared with 14 in October) were projected to meet Tara’s 3 of 5 quality criteria for legal harvest. Ironically, as in the October survey, the number bucks calculated to meet P&Y standards remained at two.
The takeaway from here is that ample population structure remains at Tara, post flood, to form the foundation for a steady annual increase in age structure, animal quality and population density. If, as Eckert Tolle has written, “the quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes your future,” I am excited for the future. Reasons include:
- The November/December rut at Tara has been truly phenomenal. As many as six bucks have been seen chasing one doe and does are hiding (or attempting to hide) in brush tops, sloughs, ditches, duck blinds, behind road signs…..well you get the picture. Where you don’t see a doe is up feeding in food plots or similarly exposed to harassment from amorous bucks. Our “Class of 2020” fawn crop should be stellar;
- While antler development in Tara bucks was compromised because of the duration, depth and coverage from the 2019 Backwater Flood, current physical condition seemingly puts these animals ahead-of-the-curve going into post-rut, spring and summer;
- Reduced population density, a function of the 2019 flood event, has had the unintended consequence of making natural food resources more available, abundant and attractive to bucks and does alike. At present, food plots and planted wildlife openings appear to be a secondary dietary preference versus previous years where these plantings would be eaten to “lip high” levels in December/January;
- Reducing the Tara deer population to levels which are “below carrying capacity”, has created a perfect environment for mature whitetails to reach their full biological and physiological potential…….in other words, 2020 should produce some handsome 4.5 year and older bucks;
- Zero hunting pressure in the 2019-20 hunting season, equals maximum carry-over of the resident deer population into 2020 and the coming 2020-2021 deer season.
If in fact, Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man” is correct and “hope does spring eternal”:
- When (how soon) will Tara resume the booking of hunts?
- What will a proposed hunting season framework look like?
- What harvest parameters will be in play?
At present and from a biological perspective, I have recommended that Tara resume hunts within the upcoming but not yet published relevant 2020 – 2021 Mississippi Deer Season framework. That being said, I have also recommended that hunts take place within the November 29, 2020 thru January 9, 2021 calendar dates. Recommended harvest will be limited to one buck per hunter (no antlerless deer) with strict adherence to pre-established quality criteria. The caveat to this current recommendation is that the hunting framework and harvest criteria could change pending a third and final camera survey. Nevertheless, high water and habitat accessibility could compromise and or delay trail camera placement as we seek to duplicate the October/November trail camera effort.
All things considered and barring currently unforeseen circumstances, it is anticipated that Tara Wildlife will be back to full hunter capacity by the 2023 – 2024 hunting season. Until then, hunt allocation and hunter access will be limited, thereby allowing a more rapid recovery of herd/habitat balance and insuring that the outdoor experience you have come to know and enjoy can again be duplicated.
Wishing to each of you, good days afield and blessings in the New Year.
W.H. “Bill” Tomlinson
Certified Wildlife Biologist/Registered Forester
Sustainable Resource Managers, LLC