Deer are the most numerous big game in California, but the state’s deer population is estimated to be down after a severe winter took a toll. The state has issued fewer deer tags for its general season, which opens Saturday, Sept. 16.
California’s deer are mostly of two subspecies:
Southern California hunts
The region might be a vast concrete jungle, but more than 10,000 resident hunting licenses were issued in each of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties in the most recent season. In Orange County, about 9,600 people bought licences.
The number of hunters in the state fluctuates, but Roy Griffith of the California Rifle and Pistol Association said, “We’re seeing the numbers of hunters boosted a little because of a foodie movement – more people want to harvest their own meat rather than pay for what’s in the store.”
Animal rights activists argue that hunting is upsetting ecological balance and is morally wrong, but the sale of hunting licenses has remained steady at around 280,000 per year (2011-2016).
Total licenses issued by county
Residential hunting licenses purchased from March 15, 2016, to June 30, 2017.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has come a long way in its ability to track the deer population in order to sustain herds. In the past, the population was estimated based on signs of scat, but methods have become much more scientific. Trail cameras, collaring, tracking and fecal DNA studies help biologists accurately determine the size of herds.
Another aspect of herd maintenance is the new mandatory deer tag self-reporting requirement in California. Hunters are required to report if they did or did not harvest a deer or be fined $21.60 when purchasing a tag the following year.
For the 2016 season, a record 84 percent of deer tag holders complied with the requirement. The reports are vital to estimating populations and setting tag quotas for the coming hunting season.
Monitoring the landscape
Hunting licenses, deer tags and fees help pay for the monitoring of deer, and hunting helps maintain the health of the population, Griffith said.
“In California, development and agriculture have covered much of the habitat that used to be available for deer. … Hunters are a critical tool of wildlife managers to keep herd numbers in check with less critical winter range available to them.
“Habitat can only sustain a certain number of deer without receiving long-term damage…