Reader Ricky brought up the earn-a-buck program in a comment to a previous post. My reply got a bit long so I decided to give EAB its own post.
I actually think EAB is a great program in areas where the deer herd needs to be reeled in. And I like Virginia’s system of requiring the antlerless deer before the second buck. A few years ago the first deer I saw, on the opening day of bow season, was a shooter buck. That would have been brutal to have to pass him up. As it turned out, I would have had to shoot a doe next had EAB been in place, but I’ll take that chance.
DGIF deer program manager Matt Knox has said from the beginning that the hope is that it will prompt hunters to take the first antlerless deer they get a chance to take, essentially earning their buck before they have to. If you think about it, more than half of the first deer hunters see should be an antlerless deer, right?
We all have heard of hunters reporting taking “phantom does” just to meet the requirement. No doubt some of that happens. People cheat. Always have. Always will. The rule doesn’t make people cheaters. If everyone was doing it, the kill wouldn’t be dropping in EAB counties (as it is). That the kill is dropping shows that EAB (combined with other regs) is working.
A problem with the first iteration of EAB was that a doe in any EAB county counted toward the EAB requirement in any county. The change to make everything county-specific, which took effect this year, makes much more sense.
EAB was dropped from a couple of counties this year, as you know. The objective had been met so the rule wasn’t needed. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that happen in other EAB counties in two years, the next time regs are up for regular review. It depends on what the kill tallies are in those counties this season and next season.
So, let’s look at a couple examples of EAB in action.
In Roanoke County, the 2007 deer kill was 1,560. Of those, 44.9 percent were female. That’s not going to reduce the population, which is the county objective per the deer management plan. In the first year of EAB, 2008, the kill jumped up to 1,856, with 54.4 percent female. I’m not going to do the math here, but the jump wasn’t just females. The buck kill was up that year, too. Since then the kill has been back in the 1,400-1,550 range. That’s enough years’ worth of data to suggest that the population hasn’t been significantly reduced. EAB remains in place.
In Bedford County, the kill was 8,289 in 2007, with the female kill 44.6 percent. The next year it went up to 10,011, and the female kill was 55 percent. It fell to 9,000 the next year, then to 7,500 the year after. It’s been in that 7,500 range since. That’s just a little lower than it was before 2008. EAB remains in place.
Franklin County had a kill of 5,309 in 2007, with 45 percent female. It went up to 6,161 the next year and females accounted for 54 percent of the kill. It fell to 4,448 by last year. That drop of 25 percent, and the fact that more than half of the deer being checked in are female, was enough to convince the DGIF that EAB was no longer needed.
The takeaway is that without EAB, hunters prefer bucks to does.
Interestingly, EAB can have a sort of secondary consequence — improving the age structure of bucks.
Some hunters in an EAB county are going to shoot the first buck they see, be it a spike, four-pointer, whatever. But if they have that EAB requirement, they might hold off because they’d rather not have to “pay” for that young buck with a doe before they can shoot another buck. (Murphy’s Law dictates that if the first deer you shoot in an EAB county is a yearling buck, the next deer you see will be a big buck.) The long-term result could be more mature (2.5-year-old and above) bucks. So, hunters might be seeing fewer deer, but a higher percentage of the bucks will be good ones.
As for your personal situation, Ricky, there are no easy answers. Well, maybe one. Find a few more places to hunt so you’ve got a place or two with more does than bucks. Hit it as hard as possible in early archery season to get that EAB requirement fulfilled before the big bucks get stupid in November!
Now that I’ve shared my opinion, let’s hear yours.