outdoors

 When the turkeys returned to Lindsley's feeders in the spring of 2020 only one bearded hen returned. 

The long wait is just about over for those hunters who target whitetail deer with primitive arms or firearms as the 2020-2021 primitive arms and firearms seasons begin on Oct.10 and Oct. 17, respectively. Both will run until Jan. 10, in all nearby counties. The archery season, which began back on Sept. 12, will continue through Jan. 10, in all nearby counties. 

Deer are the most popular game animal in Georgia and 95 percent of all deer hunters use modern firearms. The number of hunters pursuing deer with archery and primitive weapons continues to increase but those numbers are exceeded greatly by hunters using modern firearms. 

The whitetail deer has been around for quite some time. Fossil records indicate their presence for almost 2.5 million years. When the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, the whitetail population was estimated at more than 24 million. The settlers quickly dropped their number because the food was considered a delicacy and by the middle of the 1800s their population had declined to about 12 million. 

During a period in the late 1800s, their numbers were further depleted, and at that time nationwide only about 500,000 deer remained in the United States. The entire population of deer was almost completely wiped out in Georgia. Due to restocking and sound management practices, the whitetail deer now number around 1 million in Georgia. 

However, this success story for the deer has created other problems and at times in the recent past, the deer have even become over-populated. The best and just about the only way to control their numbers is through hunting. Although hunting is opposed by some people, it is viewed as the best way to control their population. Also, hunting provides recreation and food for many families and individuals.

Unfortunately, deer do cause problems since they know no fences (unless you build a fence really high or electrify it) and their natural habit of browsing for food often leads the deer to a homeowner’s flower and vegetable garden as I discussed in last week’s article. Those foods are just as attractive to the browsing habits of deer as are eating acorns and wild plants. They have become comfortable living in suburban areas and in many cases, they have lost their wild instincts.

The deer have learned the difference between safe places and unsafe places. In unsafe places, the whitetail deer becomes elusive and uses its natural defenses to thwart any attempt to be harvested. The whitetail deer possess fair eyesight but has excellent senses of hearing and smell. Successful deer hunters have to be still, quiet, and must avoid any scents that would alert the deer to their presence. 

Some of the largest deer harvested in Georgia in recent years came from counties adjacent to Atlanta and other cities that have only recently begun to allow some form of hunting. That hunting is usually restricted to bow hunting. Huge deer have migrated to the safety of the suburbs of the cities and away from the open woods where hunters converge in four-wheelers and four-wheel drive vehicles by the hundreds.

By its nature, whitetail deer are elusive and their movements are dictated by several things in their environment. That includes the presence of human activity, weather, moon phases and the mating season when they seem to lose their ability to be illusive. At that time, the urge to breed overtakes their built-in cautiousness and during that mating period that is often referred to as the rut, many deer fall victim to the hunter and are harvested.

A friend, outdoorswoman, author and hunter Susan Lindsley who reads my column, recently emailed me about bearded turkey hens. Turkey season will not start until the spring but many hunters will see turkeys as they hunt deer this fall and I think you will find her information interesting.

“When a deer hunter shoots an antler deer and it turns out to be a doe, it is a legal harvest,” said Lindsley. “When a turkey hunter shoots a bearded turkey and it turns out to be a hen, it is an illegal kill. The problem is, most turkey hunters have no idea that hens have beards. They see a beard and they shoot.”

Lindsley said that six hens visited her corn feeder last spring and summer and even in the fall of 2019. Three of the hens had beards. They vanished during deer season that year. However, when the hens returned in the spring of 2020, only one of the trio of bearded hens returned. Lindsley stated that she was sure that the other hens had fallen victim to a turkey hunter who could not tell the difference between a tom and a hen and only thought hens had beards.

During the fall deer season, hunters might want watch for turkey hens that have beards. Then use that information during the spring turkey season. Hunt deer safely and see you next week. 

Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via email at brpeoples995@gmail.com

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