October 12, 2007

Numbers stable as deer season opens

by Jim Matthews
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA]

Most of Southern California's deer hunting zones open this Saturday for the fall rifle season, and Department of Fish and Game biologists and game wardens say deer numbers are stable or up slightly across the region.

Even more importantly, there are no general access closures due to fire conditions this fall on any of the four National Forests in the region where most of the hunting takes place.

"All of the fires we've had the last couple of years have been a blessing for deer herds," said Kevin Brennan, a DFG biologist in Riverside County. "Although tragic, they've opened up a lot of deer habitat, and there's only one direction for the deer herd to go and that's up."

Zones D11, D13, D14, D15, and D17 open this Saturday. The D19 zone, which covers the Santa Jacinto Mountains in Riverside and eastern San Diego county, opened last weekend. Zone D16, which covers most of San Diego County, opens Oct. 27, and the popular D12 burro deer zone along the Colorado River, opens Nov. 3.

The best news seems to be coming from the increasingly difficult-to-get desert deer zones in the East Mojave and along the Colorado River. Joe Branna, game warden for the Imperial County region, said desert zones D12 and D17 should be very good again this year.

A big fire in the Mojave National Preserve opened up a lot of pinon-juniper habitat in D17 just before last year's hunting season, and those areas have greened up this year. It looks like there was good fawn survival, which bodes well for future seasons, too.

"There were a lot of deer taken last year, and this season should be as good or better," Branna said.

Preserve superintendent Dennis Schramm said deer were using the burned areas extensively in D17, and he said there were a lot of places where the deer were bedding right out in the open in the burn throughout the summer and early fall. Schramm said you couldn't drive Black Canyon Road between Cedar Canyon and Wild Horse Canyon without seeing deer.

Branna said the D12 zone finally got a significant amount of rainfall this year, and he believes the harvest will be equal to last year's near record season when 90-100 bucks were taken from the zone. The rainfall also should improve deer production for this year, which will allow the herd to continue to grow.

"You can thank Leon Lesicka (with Desert Wildlife Unlimited in Brawley) for the record harvest. All the water he's put in the desert has made a big difference in deer numbers here," Branna said.

Both D17 and D12 filled before the general deer tag drawing in June, the first time a first-come, first-serve zone filled before the deer tag drawing. Many hunters who normally counted on getting a desert tag after applying for a premium late season Sierra hunt were disappointed to find they didn't get a desert tag this year.

These two zones have become increasingly popular as hunters have discovered both produce a good number of quality bucks each year. Just over 30 percent of the bucks taken from D12 are four-point or better bucks, while 18 percent of the bucks from D17 are four-point class deer. Hunter success rates in D17 were 26 percent, while only 12 percent of hunter in D12 shot bucks. This is dramatically better than most Southern California deer zones.

"I remember when I first came on, no one hunted out here in either of these desert zones," said Branna. "They've been discovered."

Brennan said the drought has not had a negative impact on deer numbers in most of the Southern California mountain ranges. While the DFG has initiated new survey methods for deer in the region and he said you can't directly compare the old data to the new data, he believes deer numbers are up throughout the region, mostly because of fires creating new habitat.

Brennan, an avid deer hunter, shot four-point bucks in D19 and D14 last season and pointed out D19 produced the same percentage of four-point or better deer last year as D17 - and D19 tags still are available. It also had a hunter success rate of nine percent.

Most of the other deer zones in Southern California have about nine percent of the buck harvest each year as four-point bucks, with only about a seven percent success rate on public lands. The D16 zone in San Diego County has a 12 percent hunter success rate, but a good percentage of deer in this region are taken on private land.

Fire closures have been a problem in the D11 zone (San Gabriel Mountains) during deer season the past few years, but this zone - along with most of the the D14, D15, D16, and D19 zones - mostly will be open for this year's opening day.