“Deer numbers look pretty good,” said Ryan Scott, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
That pretty much sums it up for this year’s Sitka black-tailed deer hunting season, which officially opened for bucks in Unit 1C on Thursday, Aug. 1. That unit, Scott said, encompasses Douglas and Shelter islands, as well as the Juneau mainland and some surrounding areas.
Scott said the positive outlook is based on spring deer pellet surveys conducted in April and May, as well as from anecdotal information and direct observations.
The pellet surveys, he said, don’t give a total population number for experts, but since the surveys have been conducted for so many years, it’s easy to identify a trend line.
This year, that line is trending up.
“The pellet surveys indicate that the pellet densities — the number of pellet groups, or pellets we find along line transects — are increased from last year, which suggests we didn’t have a big die-off or anything.”
In short, Scott said all the evidence points to a “pretty good hunting season for folks.”
“I wouldn’t categorize it as a deer behind every tree but folks, I anticipate, will enjoy a very good hunting season,” he said.
On the mainland, Scott said the department knows less about what is going on.
“I would guess it’s the same, probably,” Scott said. “There’s not a lot of hunter effort on the mainland, but those folks who put in the time, generally, are rewarded for that effort.”
Despite the fact the department doesn’t know how many deer are on Douglas or Shelter islands, for example, Scott said they are working on a process to estimate the number of deer in an area by using DNA that’s collected from the pellets.
“That has been done over on northeast Chichagof and is now being done by Petersburg and Ketchikan,” he said, “and once that process is refined we’ll likely bring it here.”
There’s a good chance the research will start on Douglas.
“That will definitely give us an actual number of deer that we’re working with,” Scott said.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the season will open to any deer for a total bag limit of four deer. It is legal to shoot does and young deer, according to the regulations. Some folks, however, prefer not to shoot does.
“In the majority of places, if you concentrate your harvest on bucks, you preserve that reproductive portion of the herd,” Scott said. “When it comes to ungulates, it doesn’t take that many bucks to actually breed several does.”
There’s always the question: “Can you drive the buck numbers down low enough that you don’t get good, successful breeding? And, the answer is you probably can, but it would be very hard in Southeast Alaska, based on the terrain, vegetation and places that people just don’t go,” Scott said.
Those areas serve as a refugium for bucks, he said, and the female deer will move in and out of those areas as well.
“By and large, I think things are looking pretty good,” Scott said. “And, I think hunters really will enjoy their season.”
• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.