Biological and social outcomes of antler point restriction harvest regulations for white-tailed deer

Bret D. Wallingford, Duane R. Diefenbach, Eric S. Long, Christopher S. Rosenberry, Gary L. Alt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Selective harvest criteria, such as antler point restrictions (APRs), have been used to regulate harvest of male ungulates; however, comprehensive evaluation of the biological and social responses to this management strategy is lacking. In 2002, Pennsylvania adopted new APRs for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) that required, depending on wildlife management unit, ≥3 or ≥4 points on 1 antler for legal harvest. Historically, harvest rates of subadult (1.5 yr old) and adult (≥2.5 yr old) antlered males averaged 0.80. Antler point restrictions were designed to protect ≥50% of subadult males from harvest. Most adult males remained legal for harvest. We estimated harvest rates, survival rates, and cause-specific mortality of radio-collared male deer (453 subadults, 103 adults) in 2 wildlife management units (Armstrong and Centre counties) to evaluate biological efficacy of APRs to increase recruitment of adult males during 2002–2005. We administered statewide deer hunter surveys before and after each hunting season over the same 3 years to evaluate hunter attitudes toward APRs. We conducted 2 types of surveys: a simple random sample of all license buyers for each survey and a longitudinal panel of hunters who completed all 6 surveys. At the same time APRs were implemented, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) increased antlerless harvests to reduce deer density to meet deer management goals. Survival rates varied by month and age but not between study areas or among years after implementation of APRs. Monthly survival rates for subadults ranged from 0.64 to 0.97 during hunting seasons and 0.95 to 0.99 during the non-hunting period. Annual survival of subadults was 0.46 (95% CI = 0.41–0.52). Adult monthly survival rates ranged from 0.36 to 0.95 during hunting seasons and we had no mortalities during the non-hunting period. Annual survival of adults was 0.28 (95% CI = 0.22–0.35). Antler point restrictions successfully reduced harvest rate for subadults to 0.31 (95% CI = 0.23–0.38), and approximately 92% of these deer survived to the following hunting season. Vehicle collisions were the greatest source of mortality outside the hunting season for subadults and adults. Also, we observed decreased harvest rates for adults (0.59, 95% CI = 0.40–0.72), although nearly all were legal for harvest. Of radio-collared subadults, 6–11% were harvested with sub-legal antlers, indicating hunters generally complied with APRs. Overall, antlered harvest declined statewide and in our study areas, in part because of APRs but also because of increased antlerless harvests that reduced the statewide population from 1.49 million deer in 2000 to 1.14 million deer in 2005. However, between 2000 and 2005, harvest of adult males increased by 976 (112%) in Armstrong County, decreased by 29 (−3%) in Centre County, and increased by 14,285 (29%) statewide because more males survived to the 3- and 4-year-old age classes. Proportion of hunters from the random sample surveys who supported statewide APRs varied among years between 0.61 (95% CI = 0.59–0.64) and 0.70 (95% CI = 0.66–0.73). The proportion of hunters from the longitudinal panel who supported APRs did not increase as hunters gained experience under the new regulations; 0.23 were more supportive, 0.29 were less supportive, and 0.48 were unchanged in their level of agreement after 3 years. Although >50% of hunters supported APRs throughout the study, support for the PGC's deer management program declined; 41% of the longitudinal panel of hunters rated the deer management program lower after 3 years and 21% rated it higher. We considered APRs biologically successful because of decreased subadult harvest rates and increased harvest of adult males with larger antlers. Likewise, because the majority of hunters supported APRs throughout the study, we considered APRs socially successful. However, we predicted APRs would become increasingly popular after hunters experienced biological results of APRs, but there was little change in support. We believe hunters formed an initial impression of the effects of APRs, and additional experience and information failed to change their opinion. Furthermore, the concurrent reduction in overall deer densities to accommodate more males in the population and to meet agency deer population goals likely further reduced support for APRs. We found APRs as implemented in Pennsylvania to be enforceable, adhered to by hunters, and successful in recruiting more antlered males to older age classes. To facilitate social acceptance of these regulation changes, we found that obtaining support before the changes were implemented may have been important because most hunters did not change their opinions about APRs after 3 years of experience with the new regulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalWildlife Monographs
Volume196
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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