LOUISVILLE, KY (AGFC) — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission accepted the national title of Agency of the Year at the Quality Deer Management Association's 16th Annual National Convention, Jan. 28-31, in Louisville, Kentucky.
The award recognizes progressive deer management techniques, hunter education and hunter recruitment as well as the impact an agency has on hunter attitudes toward management of deer populations for herd health and sustainable harvest. According to Kip Adams, director of education and outreach for QDMA, the selection committee felt the AGFC achieved more in these respects than any other agency in the country.
One of Arkansas's most notable achievements is its continued leadership in protecting yearling bucks during hunting seasons. During the 2014-15 deer season, yearling bucks only accounted for 8 percent of Arkansas's total deer harvest. This was the lowest percentage in the nation, an achievement the AGFC has held six of the last seven years.
"Antler restrictions such as the three-point rule have helped us protect that yearling buck component of the herd," said Cory Gray, AGFC deer program coordinator.
Gray says antler restrictions do allow for a more balanced buck segment with the overall goal of a healthy, sustainable deer population.
"We want those yearling bucks to gain in age to ensure adult bucks are highly represented in the population," Gray said. "And Arkansas also comes in second for the highest percentage of 3½-year-old bucks in the harvest."
Arkansas also ranked very highly in doe age structure, with only 12 percent of the antlerless harvest being fawns. According to Gray, this is very important, as high harvests of younger deer are a symptom of a shrinking deer herd.
"We monitor the female age structure since it provides clues to the overall productivity of the herd," Gray said. "Mature does produce the most fawns and are better mothers than younger does, so a high percentage of does in the 3½ -year-old and older age classes suggests a productive, expanding deer herd. Arkansas's percentage of 3½ and older females is 47 percent; 2½ and older is 70 percent."
The data used for determining the percentage of doe harvest was gained through collections of more than 8,500 samples taken during the 2014-15 season. Many of these samples were taken through the AGFC's Deer Management Assistance Program, which works with more than 730 deer clubs, covering 1.3 million acres across Arkansas.
Boone and Crockett also recently recognized Arkansas's deer management program in the Fall 2015 issue of Fair Chase magazine, and a recent article in Field & Stream highlighted that Arkansas was one of only a few states that turned in more Boone and Crockett entries in 2014-15 than 2015-16.
"Not every state is equal when it comes to potential for high-quality deer management, so we really focus on making what we have the best it can be," Gray said. "But as a professional biologist, you really appreciate it when some of these outside agencies and organizations start recognizing your achievements."