Reported deer harvest

GRAPH shows how the deer harvest plunged in Wilkes County (purple line) as a result of an outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in 2012 and how it has recovered, but not to where it was about 10 years ago.

Gun season for deer opened Saturday, Nov. 17, and goes through Jan. 1 in Wilkes and all adjoining counties except Caldwell.

Opportunities to harvest deer typically improve when the deer rut (breeding period) peaks, which generally occurs around Thanksgiving - particularly the week after it - in Wilkes and other northwestern deer zone counties, said James Tomberlin, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission District 7 wildlife biologist. Deer movement increases during the rut.

Tomberlin said this year’s poor acorn crop should also contribute to hunter success in District 7 (Wilkes, Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Surry, Yadkin, Iredell, Alexander, Davie, Forsyth and Stokes counties) because this also is making deer move around and come out of the woods more looking for food. 

He estimated that the deer harvest was down about 20 percent in District 7 during this year’s bow and blackpowder deer seasons, mostly due to excessive rain keeping hunters out of the woods.

Blackpowder season ended Nov. 16 and bow season was Sept. 8 to Nov. 2 in the northwestern deer zone counties, which includes District 7, plus Gaston, Lincoln, Cleveland, Polk and Rutherford.

In the western deer zone counties, which include Caldwell and all counties farther west, gun is underway and ends Jan. 1.

A big game hunting license authorizes a hunter to harvest up to six deer, no more than two of which may be deer with antlers, and no more than four of which may be deer without antlers.

Deer of either sex may be taken during the entire gun season in Wilkes and all other northwestern deer zone counties except three - Cleveland, Polk and Rutherford. In those three, the either-sex harvest is only allowed on the opening day through the second Friday of gun season.

The statewide season limit is six deer. There is no daily bag limit, but the possession limit is also six.

Bonus antlerless harvest reports cards allow for the harvest of two additional antlerless deer per card. These can only be used within municipalities with urban archery seasons, which is Jan. 12 to Feb. 17 in 2019.

Before this year, hunters statewide could harvest up to six antlerless deer per season, plus two more antlerless deer with bonus antlerless tags. The season limit for deer with antlers was four in eastern North Carolina and two everywhere else in the state. 

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reported that responses to a hunter survey in 2016 indicated willingness to accept regulation changes to improve the condition of deer herds. The commission decided to pursue this goal by reducing the doe harvest and shifting the timing of buck harvest later relative to peak conception periods to reduce the young buck harvest.

The commission reported that 1,832 antlered bucks were harvested in Wilkes in 2017, up 23 percent from 1,484 the prior year. Only the northeastern North Carolina counties of Northampton with 1,959 and Halifax with 1,936 had larger antlered buck harvests in 2017.

Wilkes was fifth in total deer harvest with 3,348 in 2017, up 17.8 percent from 2,840 in 2016. The top four counties in total harvest in 2016 were Northampton with 4,120, Halifax with 3,821, Anson with 3,692 and Randolph with 3,670.

Wilkes was third with 570 and Ashe was second with 575 for deer harvested with muzzleloaders in 2017. Stokes was first with 721 deer.

Tomberlin said previous year’s harvest totals for Wilkes show a healthy recovery from an outbreak of hemorrhagic disease in 2012, although not quite to harvest levels prior to the outbreak. The infectious virus, transmitted by tiny biting gnats called midges or no-see-ums, resulted in significant deer mortality in Wilkes, Surry and Caldwell counties. It is naturally-occurring.

This year, additional steps were taken by the state to help keep chronic wasting disease (CWD) from spreading to North Carolina. CWD has resulted in reduced populations of deer and other animals in the deer family (cervids) in other states. 

Under a “temporary rule” in effect since Aug. 1, no part of deer, elk, moose, or reindeer/caribou carcasses that originated outside North Carolina can be brought to this state or possessed here unless:

• the meat of the animal has been “boned out,” which means no pieces or fragments of bone remain;

• caped hides have no part of the skull or spinal column attached;

• antlers are attached to cleaned skull plates, or cleaned skulls with no meat or brain tissue attached;

• it is cleaned lower jawbones with teeth or cleaned teeth;

• it is finished taxidermy products and tanned hides.

These animal parts must be labeled with the name and address of the person possessing it; date the animal was killed; hunter’s permit, hunting license or equivalent number; and destination of the animal parts within North Carolina. More information is at

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