Several weeks back after arriving home from an evening archery hunt, a friend stopped by to visit. Sitting at the kitchen table I quickly unfolded a large form and documented the amount of time I hunted and all wildlife species observed. Knowing me, I had to do it before forgetting.
“What’s that?” my friend asked. Not saying anything I slid the form over to him. “That’s really cool,” he said, after studying it for several minutes. “Do you do this for your own records?” he inquired. I explained how I make a copy but the form is mailed to the Department of Natural Resources. The information is used to help them manage many wildlife species not only deer. “I love to hunt and never knew they did anything like this,” he added. “They get great information and it doesn’t cost them or us anything,” he stated. He was right.
Each fall thousands of hunters gladly volunteer to participate in the Department of Natural Resources Bowhunter Observation Survey. The Division of Fish and Wildlife seeks the help of archery deer hunters to record wildlife observations from all regions of the Hoosier state. Because of the secretive and quiet nature of hunting deer with archery tackle, bowhunters provide one of the best sources of information. This data helps in determining the population status of a majority of wildlife species from across the state to individual counties.
The DNR has been collecting archery hunter’s observation statistics since the early 1990’s when bowhunters voluntarily began sharing their wildlife sightings with the Division of Fish and Wildlife. The personal experiences thousands of archery hunters from across the state record, while enjoying a favorite pastime, is used as a powerful tool to effectively monitor our states wildlife populations and densities.
The survey period runs only during the early archery deer hunting season which begins October 1 and concludes in mid-November, the day before the start of the regular firearms season. In late September participating archers receive an in-depth form. They are asked to record the number of hours hunted each day, noting either morning or evening hunts, while listing the total number of each wildlife species seen. If nothing at all is seen, which happens sometimes, participants simply put an (X) in the “None seen” column.
Deer are classified as antlered buck, doe or fawn. From bobwhites to badgers and deer to domestic cats and a great number of others are listed on the survey. At the conclusion of the survey the forms are returned in an accompanying postage paid envelope. Once the DNR compiles the information it helps provide them with a snapshot of current wildlife populations and trends. Equally important is that we have an opportunity to review everything we have seen in our own hunting areas.
This year the DNR included results of the 2015 survey which yielded some interesting information. As you would expect deer were the most frequently sighted wildlife species. Raccoons were the most seen furbearer followed by coyotes. The results continued to show a decrease in red and gray fox while sightings of bobcats continue to increase. The number of coyotes continues a steady increase in their numbers which could be the reason for the decline in fox species.
As far as game birds go, the downward decline in bobwhite quail and ring-necked pheasants continues. But on the other hand more and more people are seeing good numbers of wild turkeys.
When looking at long term trends the surveys showed our states white-tailed deer herd was robust in 2007 and 2008. Since then it shows a small but steady decline. This could be brought on by many reasons which include disease, predation and liberal bag limits.
Every bowhunter who completed this year’s survey should feel good that the information provided serves a worthy cause. The yearly data contributes greatly to the management and conservation of Indiana’s wildlife.