The archery deer season began slowly within the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area in Florida. The first two days yielded just 16 deer from the public preserve spanning nearly 700,000 acres. Since hunting deer using bows and arrows is the most challenging method, the small harvest does not provide insight into whether the local deer population is declining.
Archery season ends on October 3 and is followed by the October 9 – 24 muzzleloading gun season, then general gun season from November 13 – January 2. Over 100,000 acres of Stairsteps region zones 3 and 4 were closed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). A decline in deer population is responsible for the closure. In 2001, the deer count in the region was 393, decreasing to 18 in 2009. In spring 2010, biologists counted just four deer in the area.
This closure leaves approximately 580,000 acres of open preserve land. Last weekend, approximately 20 hunters working in zones 1 and 2 of the Stairsteps region harvested just one deer. Last year, 21 deer were harvested on opening weekend, but none of them came from the four zones of the Stairsteps area. According to Tad Bartareau, a biologist with the FWC, “The Stairsteps is some of the poorest deer habitat in the preserve. It’s very wet out there.”
Hunters are disappointed about the closure. In the mean time, preserve officials and FWC biologists are researching why the number of deer is decreasing. A prolonged duration of high water conditions may be one cause. The situation forces the deer to seek higher ground, where they are more vulnerable prey.
Scientists have ruled out disease due to no related reports. Some hunters believe there are more predators but scientists believe the existing predators are just more effective. FWC wildlife biologist Joe Bozzo stated, “What we’re seeing in the last 10 years or so, there hasn’t been high, high water, but more water for longer periods. I think that’s probably what will come out in the end.”
Source: Cocking, Susan. Miami Herald. Low numbers continue in Stairsteps region.