Deer, antelope, elk population up
The 2012 total statewide mule deer tag quota was 24,257. Despite a 50 percent increase in the quota from 2011 to 2012, the observed post-hunt statewide mule deer buck ratio was the same as observed in 2011. The increased tag sales resulted in an increased total deer harvest of 10,112 compared to 5,831 deer harvested in 2011.
Of the 10,112 deer harvested, 8,987 were bucks and 1,125 were does. The 2012 statewide hunter success for all deer hunters was nearly 42 percent, up from the 39 percent observed in each of the last two years.
The 2012 aerial post-season survey effort was greatly improved from 2011 with nearly 34,000 mule deer classified statewide compared to 27,000 in 2011 and just 18,611 deer in 2010. Moderate fawn production was documented at 54 fawns:100 does in late fall/early winter survey.
For the second straight year, the highest post-season buck ratio in the history of Nevada was measured at 32 bucks:100 does, reflecting the continued conservatism of past and present tag quotas. The aerial spring 2013 surveys classified 33,346 deer compared to 25,237 in spring 2012.
The survey results were indicative of the previously dry winter, dry summer, and cold winter with only 31 fawns:100 adults. Although not surprising, recruitment must improve in order to realize population level gains.
Nevada’s mule deer populations have been stable to slightly increasing for the past several years. Following a modest (3 percent) increase in 2012, the 2013 population is estimated to have experienced a 3 percent decline.
Although sizeable increases in deer tag quotas were realized in 2012, the post season surveys revealed an all-time high buck ratio. However, good forage quality and quantity are still required to allow does the opportunity to twin and bucks to ability to realize their maximum potential for antler growth.
With continued drought like conditions in much of the state, fawn production and recruitment will likely suffer. Not only will tag quotas reflect the lower recruitment levels but antler growth will also suffer.
The Game Division initiated the largest Nevada mule deer research and monitoring study in 2011 since the Ruby Butte Deer Herd Study in the 1960s and 70s. Currently, in excess of 800 mule deer collars have been deployed throughout the state.
Nevada pronghorn hunters continue to enjoy outstanding pronghorn hunting opportunity. There were 3,721 tags available in 2012, an increase of 19 percent over 2011 and 44 percent over the last 10-year average.
The total pronghorn harvest in 2012 was 2,225, a 13 percent increase from 2011. There has been a steady decline in resident rifle hunter success rate over the last six years from 80 percent to 2012’s 67 percent.
At the same time nonresident rifle and resident archery success rates have been comparatively static. Multiple reasons are likely causing this trend including: more hunters in the field, less conservative quotas, wildfires that limit access to hunting areas and directly or indirectly resulting in unused tags, increased selectively of hunters and tag application waiting period reduced for unsuccessful hunters.
Nearly 350 tags were available across seven unit groups targeting female pronghorn in an attempt to: reduce rancher conflicts, maintain herds within compromised carrying capacities, or provide hunting opportunity. These hunts remain popular with four applicants competing for each available tag.
Division biologists observed a total of 12,118 pronghorn while conducting their annual composition surveys both from the ground and air. These surveys yielded ratios of 36 bucks:100 does:29 fawns.
This buck ratio was slightly above the 2011 ratio but below all other buck ratios observed over the last 10 years. The 2012 statewide fawn ratio declined dramatically from the 37:100 ratio of 2011 and is the lowest fawn ratio in over a decade. Low snow amounts during the 2011-2012 winter and extremely dry 2012 spring and summer over much of Nevada certainly contributed to this low fawn ratio.
This low fawn ratio will level off the strong population growth that pronghorn herds have been experiencing over the last few years. The 2012 statewide pronghorn population estimate is 28,500, relatively static compared to 2011. Just a decade ago the statewide pronghorn estimate was only 18,000.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK
Nevada’s elk resource continues to provide substantial elk hunting opportunity for the sportsmen of the state. The sale of 6,035 elk tags in 2012 resulted in the harvest of 2,461 elk compared to 4,838 tags sold in 2011 with a harvest of 2,005 elk.
The 2012 reported elk harvest consisted of 943 bulls and 1,518 antlerless elk. The 2011 reported elk harvest consisted of 836 bulls and 1,169 antlerless elk. Bull quality remains high with 71 percent of harvested bulls reported as being 6-points-or-better (72 percent in 2011). Harvest strategies are designed to maintain elk herd numbers within individual unit population objectives.
In units where elk populations are below objectives, elk harvest management is designed to allow those populations to increase. NDOW’s Elk Management on Private Lands Program continued to be a success and benefit to landowners with 89 elk-incentive tags sold for an estimated revenue generation of more than $785,000.00 for private landowners in 2012.
There were 11,473 elk classified during aerial winter composition surveys; yielding statewide ratios of 37 bulls:100, cows:44 calves compared to the previous year when 10,354 animals were classified, yielding ratios of 42 bulls:100 cows:44 calves.
Calf recruitment was good in 2012 and resulted in population increases throughout the state. The statewide adult elk population estimate increased from 15,100 last year to 16,600 for 2013. Nevada’s elk harvest management continues to be based on meeting population objectives within the guidelines of the state’s Elk Species Management Plan. Statewide population increases resulted in a substantial increase in overall recommended tag quotas.