Michael A. Sawyers
It’s true. Based upon a variety of monitoring techniques, what the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service calls fawn recruitment is declining.
A fawn is considered to be recruited if it has survived into the fall and winter hunting seasons.
Basically put, fawn recruitment is the number of surviving fawns per adult doe.
“We use our deer season harvest data. We age deer taken to meat processors. For 10 years we have been analyzing the observations of bowhunters,” said Brian Eyler, the agency’s deer project leader.
So what are the fawn recruitment numbers for Almost Maryland?
Eyler said Allegany County’s numbers have been basically stable, ranging from 0.6 fawns per doe in the early 1990s to a recent number of 0.4.
In Garrett County, there were 0.7 fawns per doe in the 1990s and 0.8 in 2000.
“Since then, there has been a steady decline in Garrett,” Eyler said. “This past season the number was 0.3.”
Based upon the existing deer population in Garrett and the regulations for the upcoming hunting season, Eyler said, however, that “the sky is not falling.”
Hunter behavior, Eyler said, can throw a twist into the calculation of the fawn recruitment rate. In other words, biologists may be seeing fewer fawns at butcher shops because hunters aren’t shooting them.
“There is a lot of hunting now that is based upon recognizing what you are shooting,” Eyler said. “Some hunters are trying not to shoot button bucks or trying to take only a big, adult doe for their antlerless tag. This selectivity could make the fawn recruitment look lower than it is.”
Eyler said he is not losing any sleep over the health of the deer herd in far Western Maryland.
“There are plenty of deer out there,” he said, referring to the herds as being stable and healthy.
However, the fawn recruitment rate makes Eyler concerned about any change in regulations that would increase the antlerless harvest.
Such a change would be the requirement that buck hunters kill only animals with three points on one side.
“That requirement would take 85 percent of the antlered deer killed in Garrett County off the table,” Eyler said. “The hunters who aren’t shooting a buck would shift over and take an antlerless deer. That could increase the antlerless take there by 50 percent.”
During the most recent seasons, about 1,900 antlerless deer were killed in Garrett County, according to Eyler.
Eyler said biologists just don’t have the regulation wiggle room that existed a decade ago.
It is a fact that coyotes, bears, bobcats and even fishers kill and eat fawns, according to Eyler. The difficult part is putting a number on that mortality, said Eyler, who hopes to get funding to study the predation of fawns.
In 2012, 92 bears were killed in Maryland by hunters. The most in any previous year had been 68 in 2009. A dead bear won’t kill and eat a fawn.
Eyler points out that the fawn recruitment numbers and other statistics used to gauge the health of a deer herd are similar in other regional states, all of which have varying sets of harvest regulations. “This isn’t just a Maryland situation,” he said.
“One thing we have going for us in Maryland is that our fawns are born in late May and early June, a pretty tight window,” Eyler said.
“In the south, where there is an extended breeding season, coyotes can pick off fawns for more than six months.”
The deer hunting regulations will remain the same for Region A, which includes Garrett, Allegany and the western portion of Washington counties.
One antlered deer and one antlerless deer will be allowed in each of the bow, muzzleloader and modern firearms seasons.
Regulations for the 2014-2015 and the 2015-2016 seasons will be established a year from now.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.