CAMDEN (AGFC) – Charles Self has a ready answer for deer hunters who complain that the south Arkansas or Zone 12 season limit of six is too many.
"Take a drive after dark on any of the roads down here. You'll see why we need to take out more deer."
Deer-vehicle collisions are common in Self's area, traditionally the part of Arkansas with the most deer.
Self is retiring from 35 years of working with south Arkansas deer, first as a wildlife biologist with International Paper Co., then as a private lands biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Much of Self's work has been with hunting clubs. He began his career with International Paper in Mississippi in 1973 as a forester for two years. He worked in wildlife research with the company in Georgia before moving to Arkansas in 1977, at a time when leasing of hunting land from the major timber companies was sharply on the rise.
At that time, the prevalent belief among Arkansas deer hunters was that they should not shoot does, female deer. The idea was ingrained from years of Arkansas building its deer populations from the dismal low points early in the last century.
Many of the deer clubs gradually accepted what wildlife biologists were preaching. A balanced buck-doe ratio was best for good deer herds. Letting bucks get some age would result in bigger antlered and more desirable older bucks for hunters' targets. Now, Zone 12 leads the state in doe harvest percentage.
Once the deer numbers were up, the season limits became more liberal. In Zone 12, which is a triangle in south Arkansas from the El Dorado area to Sheridan, the season limit rose from two to three to four to five and to today's six. Self said, "Some hunters still will not take does, so we depend on other hunters to help take enough deer."
Along with the increased deer hunters, Self said the hunting club members have learned first-hand that deer production and timber production can take place simultaneously.
Some deer management techniques were pioneered in Arkansas in Lafayette County Wildlife Management Area, which was a partnership of the Game and Fish Commission and 26 landowners, chiefly International Paper.
Self said the Lafayette WMA carried the word "experimental" in its title for a number of years. The 3-point rule for Arkansas was born there. This means a buck must have at least three points on one side of its antlers to be a legal target for a hunter. "Gregg Mathis was the district biologist, and he proposed the 3-point rule for Lafayette County WMA after some of us with International Paper at the time wanted something better than just hunting deer." The rule became a statewide regulation in 1998.
With the more liberal season limits but with a cap of just two bucks, the ratio of bucks and does has improved in south Arkansas. Self said, "Last season we had some counties down here with deer harvests of about 50-50 bucks and does."