I agree many areas have less deer then they had in the "good old days" but 100+ deer per square mile is probably not the best density for the deer and other species that share the woods.
Joe, we're not all talking about 100 deer per square mile. In my case, I'd like to see 30 to 40 deer per square mile again, like it was in the 1980's and part of the 1990's. Now, in many area's, the State, and QDMA estimate the deer herd at 15 deer per square mile or less, and there is still unlimited anlterless tags available. The State is seeing it, they are just slow to move on it, but they will act. Two years ago, zones 35 (which has seen one of the most dramatic herd reductions anywhere in the state I'm aware of) was moved from a regulation set that allowed shotgun til the end of January, to a set that only has 10 days of antlerless gun season. That was a help, but it took them too long to act. The deer population in some parts of that zones are less than 10 per square mile.
Zone 29 is a QDM zone. Been that way for quite a few years. Were the bucks taken, although fewer, better quality? If so, thats was the goal wasnt it? As for zone 28, thats not QDM. But the other season harvests (Bow, ML) were stable or greater.
Maybe less people are hunting the gun seasons? Maybe the WMAs are too crowded and people are fed up? Maybe more people are giving up shotguns and moving to other methods? Or maybe, there really is a heck of alot less deer.
Scott, if you go back to before the 3 point restriction was put into place, you will see something that may help explain what is going on with zones 27, 28 and 29. I know for a fact, because several have been caught, that some hunters check deer in as killed in zone 28, when in reality they take bucks not legal in a 3 point (zone 35) and check them in 28. The first few years saw a dramatic decline in deer registered as killed in 35, yet a big increase in zone 28. It also happened in zone 25 (no restriction) and I imagine some of the same could have happened with 27 and 29, although zone 27 and 29 didn't decline as much. There was alot of people registering deer in a zone they didn't kill it in to get around having to wait for a buck with 3 points on a side. In my opinion, that accounts for a large part of the increase in the deer harvest numbers for zone 28 and 25, and the decrease in 35 that began shortly after the antler restriction was put in place.
The decrease in 35 specifically can also be traced to the implementation of the unlimited antlerless gun seasons lasting til the end of January. The harvest figures for zone 35 dropped from being between 1700 and nearly 2000 for seasons 1995 to 1998 to about 1200 deer in recent years...some due to out-of-zone registrations, but more due to lower deer numbers.
The herd is down in all those zones now, but the harvest went up, specifically in bow season because, in my opinion, of the EAB in the early season. Those first 3 weeks produced a BUNCH of fawns, some with buttons, some with spots, as well as does killed so that hunters could have a crack at a buck on the September feeding pattern. I like the early season, but hated the EAB rule for down here because the herd in these zones could not support it. After just two seasons of being forced to kill 'excess' deer we don't have, hunters are finding it harder to just see a deer down here in many places. That leads to hunters being less willing to p [no swearing please] up deer because they don't get shot opportunities very often. So they kill them when they get the chance, and the cycle repeats itself.
A monster was created when F & W convinced us that we could not shoot too many deer. Now that numbers are declining, that attitude has to change but that is hard to do. Another part of the problem that I hear from many people is that we pay so much for licenses...permits, more permits, etc., that hunters EXPECT to get more for their money, so limiting the number of days and deer taken will meet with alot of resistance. In other words, we are paying alot, so we should get alot.
I don't know how to fix it. There are alot of other factors that play into it as well. In some places I see the deer numbers rebounding in zone 28, but that is not good. One place in particular is a piece of woods I've hunted for 28 years. Recently, housing developments have been popping up like weeds and deer now find refuge in the small pockets in the back yards. I hunted a 98 acre piece that is bordered on both sides by houses and small (1/2 acre or so) wood lots. In the 1980's (before houses and heavy hunting pressure) we had great hunting in that woods, then came long seasons, unlimited tags, and scarce deer. Now, since houses have been popping up, the deer are coming back...but they will travel 1/2 a mile to a bean field through peoples back yards and those little unhuntable woodlots, crossing two roads in the process, instead of our 98 acres of hardwoods and laurel thickets that border the same field. They also bed in those small backyard patches, and hardly ever go in the woods we hunt, or should I say used to hunt. That place is being cleared as I type this for more houses......maybe that is why the state wants us to shoot them all while we can.