Kansas wildlife biologists marvel at how far the state's deer hunting has come in such a short amount of time.
The Sunflower State has one of the shortest hunting traditions in the nation. It wasn't until 1965 that the first modern deer season was opened. And that was after a 50-year closure of hunting in the state.
A total of 5,000 permits were issued in that first season and 1,500 deer were taken. And hunters and wildlife biologists thought that was extraordinary.
Now fast-forward to the 2012-13 season. A whopping 193,116 deer permits were issued and almost 94,000 deer were taken.
The population has expanded to the point where big whitetails are taken across the state, and Kansas deer hunting is nationally known for its trophy bucks.
Sounds like a hunting paradise, doesn't it? Well, not so fast.
Along with the growth of the whitetail population and the increased interest in deer hunting come increased challenges of managing the herd.
"We've seen a lot of changes over the years," said Lloyd Fox, deer biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. "We went through a period where people were saying, 'Don't shoot the does. We have to let our deer numbers grow.' Then we got to the point where people were saying, 'We have to shoot does. We have to thin the numbers.'
"We (wildlife managers) have to find that balance. There is a fine line between having enough deer to satisfy hunters but still not having so many that they are causing problems on the roads and with landowner tolerance. And sometimes, it can be a challenge finding that point."
Fox believes the state's whitetail population is fairly stable right now, though there are pockets of larger concentrations and areas where numbers have decreased over the years.
"When we first started issuing more doe tags, hunters just went crazy and the antlerless harvest went up," Fox said. "But it's dropped off over the years.
"With all the publicity Kansas has gotten about our deer hunting, most hunters concentrate on taking a big buck, not a doe."
So far, Fox said, that increased pressure hasn't had a big effect on the population of trophy bucks. Kansas still has them, but as Fox likes to say, "They're not behind every tree."
"You have to work at it and have a little luck on your side," Fox said. "Some hunters have been at it for years and have never taken a true trophy."
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