North Carolina deer hunters had another successful season in 2010, tagging 175,157 bucks, does and button bucks.

The statewide harvest total was the second-highest on record, according to Evin Stanford, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's big-game project leader.

The deer-harvest figures from last season alleviated concerns that North Carolina's whitetail herd might be in decline after the 2009 harvest ended a run of six-straight record-setting years.

"The record year was 2008 with 176,297 deer," Stanford said. "The 2010-11 season was 1,140 deer shy of that mark and replaced the former No. 2 year (2007) by 3,171 animals."
Last season's harvest exceeded 2009's total by 5,883 animals, an increase of five percent.

An additional week of muzzleloader season created some interesting effects.

Blackpowder hunters tagged 21,384 deer, a 28-percent increase over 2009 stats. The total including 1,979 more antlered bucks than 2009, a 22-percent increase. But they also killed 1,790 button bucks, an 83-percent increase over 2009.

Gun hunters took four percent fewer deer in 2010, a drop perhaps fueled by the increase in deer taken during muzzleloader season.

With their season shortened by a week, archery hunters killed 894 fewer bucks than in 2009, a 15-percent reduction to a total of 13,646. Hunters using crossbows took 2,959 deer, almost 60 percent of them does.

 The only anomaly of the harvest report was a decline in the number of kills reported in  District 7, the state's northwestern corner.

"The harvest up there dropped 7½ percent, while it was up from two to nine percent across the rest of the state," Stanford said. "That's kind of strange, because not only did hunters in that part of the state have crossbow and Sunday hunting, they had a season extension."

Deer season previously ended the third Saturday of December, but the Commission extended the season in that region to Jan. 1, 2011, matching the closing date for the rest of the state.

"Two things could have contributed to the decline in District 7," Stanford said. "We had a tremendous mast crop over the piedmont, mountains and foothills. There's no way to qualify it, but (the mast crop - acorns) was the highest in decades.

"If hunters, who usually go to open areas such as agricultural fields and bait piles, don't adapt (hunting tactics) when there's a big mast crop, they may not see as many deer as they did in previous years."

Stanford pointed out another possible factor - hunters in the northwestern corner of the state historically have shot a lot of does.

"Many of those counties have reported doe harvests greater than 50 percent of their totals, so it's possible, theoretically over time, they may have less deer to hunt," he said. "Still it's hard to believe they had a 7½-percent drop. It'll be interesting to see what happens up there over the long haul."

Statewide, hunters split the harvest almost equally between antlered bucks and does, tagging 80,430 bucks and 79,523 does. The button-buck harvest was 15,204.

The new regulation allowing Sunday hunting with archery equipment, including crossbows, apparently had little effect on harvest totals. Hunters killed 7,905 deer on Sundays.

The top counties remained in the northeastern corner with Northampton reporting 6,083, next-door Halifax second at 5,841 and neighboring Bertie third at 4,997.

Pender County was fourth at 3,423, followed by Beaufort (3,344), Granville (3,264), Franklin (3,220), Edgecombe (3205), Anson (3,197) and Duplin (3,188).

Stanford said the state's deer herd had been fortunate to avoid outbreaks of diseases, such as epizootic hemorrhagic disease (blue tongue).

"We have some isolated cases each year, but we haven't had a big outbreak in several years," he said.

For a complete statistic review of the 2010-11 deer harvest, see spreadsheet.