Delaware Hunters Blow Past 2019 Total During Shotgun Season for White-Tailed Deer

by Jon D. B.

Hunters harvested almost 7,100 white-tailed deer in Delaware alone during the state’s 10-day November shotgun season, setting a new record.

State Wildlife Administrator, Rob Hossler, has the numbers for Delaware’s 2020 white-tailed deer seasons – and they’re impressive. “Hunters had good weather during the shotgun season this year,” he prefaces. “Not a lot of heavy rain. Good conditions for hunting.”

As a result, Hossler says hunters bagged an estimated 7,068 white-tailed deer during their 10-day shotgun season. The late November season showed an increase of 6 percent over shotgun harvests in 2019. The uptick is remarkable, given that it’s an increase over last year’s record-setting white-tailed deer numbers.

At the time of his recordings in November, Hossler’s tallies showed 12,221 white-tailed deer harvested. This takes into account all hunts with crossbows, traditional bows, and muzzle-loader rifles. Hossler says, however, “that’s a 2 percent decrease from this time last year.”

This only makes the numbers more impressive for the shotgun season, though. “Considering last year’s total harvest of 17,000 deer was a record for Delaware, I think we’re doing pretty good this year,” he adds, noting the 6% increase in shotgun harvests for 2020.

Shotgun White-Tailed Season is Biggest for Delaware

Where Delaware is concerned, the shotgun season for white-tailed deer is their most abundant in participation and harvests. Consistently, it brings out the largest amount of sportsmen each year for any hunting season.

There’s no shortage of deer to be had, either. Hossler estimates his state’s total herd at around 40,000 deer.

“Our state deer herd is extremely healthy,” he tells the local Cape Gazette. “We know that because we have the highest percentage of testing for diseases of any state in the country.” 

Hossler attributes Delaware’s deer health to three factors. The first: “We don’t have severe winters here,” he clarifies.

As a result, “there is a lot of crop land that provides food,” he adds as the second reason. And third, “we have lots of protected habitat,” Hossler says. “Hunting helps keep the herd healthy and stable. For the last seven or eight years, hunters have harvested an average of about 14,000 deer, half of them with shotguns. Last year was super high. I guess all the planets were aligned.”

Hunting Becomes a Delaware Farmer’s Best Friend

One question Hossler often gets about his state’s massive deer population is: “aren’t they destructive?”

“Farmers will tell you crop damage is significant,” Hossler answers. “That’s why we’ve provided a lot of tools to address the problem. We have programs allowing for extra harvest; we’ve opened Sunday for hunting; we now allow pistol-caliber rifles in certain seasons. All of these have been sought by hunters and farmers, and have been approved. Some have taken advantage of them and have reduced crop damage to acceptable levels,” he clarifies.

“But it’s all about management. Just like managing nutrients to keep costs down. If farmers estimate between $50,000 and $100,000 in crop damage each year, they could spend half of that on management and make out on the deal,” he continues. “For example, when they rent their lands, they can use extra harvesting limits to require hunters to take at least two does each year before they’re allowed to shoot a buck. We’ve also hired an extension biologist to work directly with farmers. The pandemic delayed that program this year but we expect it to be in full swing next year.”

Moreover, these farmers gain income from renting out rights to hunt on their land. In turn, they also depend on hunting to help control damage inflicted by an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.

“It’s pay to play,” Hossler says of the arrangements. “Hunting rights have become a commodity just like crops. It started in the Southeast and spread across the country.” 

As for Hossler himself, his stances on wildlife management didn’t simply manifest out of books or numbers. In fact, Delaware’s State Wildlife Manager is an avid deer hunter himself. He’s even set this sportsmanship as the top of his bucket list: to harvest a buck white-tailed deer (or fellow cervidae) in all 50 U.S. States.

So far? He’s managed to do so in 26 of the 27 states he’s hunted in. “It’s my way of seeing the country,” he concludes. “One deer stand at a time.”

An impressive start, and practice, for a man in charge of an entire state’s white-tailed deer population.

[H/T Cape Gazette]