Delaware considering $10 tax on buck hunters

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State hopes fee will save bucks

By JEFF MONTGOMERY, News Journal Staff reporter

02/17/2002

Faced with a growing deer population and the desire of hunters to shoot bucks rather than does, state wildlife managers are considering a $10 tax on buck hunters. They hope the fee will shift hunters' sights away from male deer toward the more numerous does.

State officials announced the proposal after reporting disappointing results from efforts to thin Delaware's deer herds without severely depleting the ranks of antlered males.

The move was initiated because of concerns that trophy-minded hunters have disrupted breeding patterns and weakened herds by zeroing in on horns.

Many bucks are living about 18 months to 2 years in Delaware, officials said, compared with a typical 10-year life span in the wild. Older, dominant males prevent young bucks from mating. When they are not around to suppress young males, some fawns are born well into fall.

The extended reproduction season affects the population, which has risen by more than 50 percent over the last decade, and leaves some young deer little time to build up strength before winter.

Howard Pleasanton, who owns a deer-checking station west of Camden, said he was skeptical the fee would work.

"A lot of these guys are just in it for trophies," Pleasanton said. "They need to shoot the does, but some are just after the rack. "

Current rules entitle hunters to take one buck as part of the basic, two-deer annual permit. Extra tags are required for each additional deer, although hunters are limited to two bucks a year.

The new plan would give basic tag holders the right to shoot two antlerless deer only. A new $10 "hunter's choice" tag would permit killing another doe or buck and allow the taking of one "quality" buck - with antlers of 15 inches or more.

"For the short term, we would like to see hunters pass up on young bucks, so the herds would have a more balanced age structure," said H. Lloyd Alexander, acting Division of Fish and Wildlife director.

"We're trying to get the message out to the really dyed-in-the-wool deer hunters who significantly affect the population by taking 1 1/2 -year-old bucks," Alexander said.

Steven Redden Jr., 21, of Middletown said hunters should support Delaware's latest conservation effort.

"Antlers aren't good for anything but stirring the soup," said Redden, who has hunted for more than a decade. "Deer meat's deer meat."

Estimates of Delaware's deer population range as high as 30,000. Other states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, have launched similar control programs.

State wildlife managers have long urged hunters to target does as a population-control tool. The state joined a nationwide deer-management program in the late 1980s.

Some hunters said bucks probably would stay under the gun in Delaware despite the new fee structure.

"I'm not sure it's going to make a difference. I think a lot of hunters will just pay the $10 and take the buck," said Bonnie Messick, a hunter who owns Messick Supply in Hardscrabble.

"There's got to be some sort of plan for the quality of the buck, but I don't see tying it to a fee," Messick said.

Hunters will retain the current right to buy as many additional antlerless deer tags as they want during the season for $10 each.

The new tagging system could raise $50,000 to $100,000, and some of the money would be used for hunter-education programs, Alexander said.

"It's an educational moment for us, a chance to talk about how bucks have a value to the hunting population," Alexander said.

Reach Jeff Montgomery at 678-4277 or jmontgomery@delawareonline.com.
 


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