Deer Harvest Up In Watauga & Avery Even With Mild Winter, Down In Ashe & State Wide

Last Updated on December 24, 2019 4:13 pm

Newly released data shows that despite the mild winter across the High Country, deer harvest for the 2016-17 hunting season was up locally in town counties but down statewide.

 Hunters across the state reported harvesting 149,811 deer, a 7.8 percent decrease from the previous season, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The amount of deer harvested was 11.2 percent below the 10-year average. The survey showed that harvests declined across all districts, ranging from 1.2 percent in District 9 to 14.1 percent in District 5.

Though the numbers across districts were down, for some individual counties in the High Country the numbers were up. For Watauga, a total of 1,484 harvest took place that's up from 1,462 for 2015-16. In Avery the total was 750, up from 637. In Ashe, which is typically near the top of all counties in total harvest, the totals were down slightly from 2,891 to 2,716. The total breakdown for all three counties can be found below.

“We expect to see annual variations in harvest for various reasons, including weather, mast crop, disease, hunter effort and hunter selectivity,” said Jonathan Shaw, deer biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Our mast crop was spotty, but some areas had good mast which can lead to declines in deer movements and a hunter’s ability to harvest deer. The largest decline in harvest this year occurred in the northern piedmont area, which saw some scattered hemorrhagic disease activity.”

The number of active deer hunters in North Carolina has remained relatively stable, but fluctuations at a local level can impact harvest numbers.“We tend to focus on trends rather than annual variations,” said Shaw. “We have observed declining trends in harvest and deer numbers in some parts of the state.”

Causes for deer declines:

  • Hunter harvest – Doe harvest opportunities have increased over the years, which could lead to declines in deer numbers.
  • Disease – Outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease have contributed to declines in some areas, and significant outbreaks occurred in 2012 in Districts 7 and 8, and in 2014, primarily in District 3. Hemorrhagic disease, which is transmitted by gnats and midges, is a common virus that occurs in deer in the southeastern United States.
  • Habitat – The quality of habitat may be in decline due to land use practices, including development and increased efficiency in land management, such as farming and forestry practices.
  • Predators – Coyotes and other predators have increased in numbers over the last two decades. They can have significant impacts on fawn recruitment, but these impacts are highly variable across time and the landscape. Predators alone will not decimate deer populations, but their impacts may be additive with other factors that cause declines.

“There are some possible solutions to address concerns about deer numbers in areas where they are declining,” said Shaw. “These solutions include promoting hunting and trapping of coyotes, habitat improvement, doe harvest management and overall harvest timing. Of course, we will continue to research and monitor data and trends.”

Individual breakdown for Watauga, Avery & Ashe:


Antlered Bucks 714
Button Bucks 87
Does 683

Total 1484

Antlered Bucks/Square Mile 3.13

Harvest By Weapon Type

Gun 1006
Black-powder 242
Bow 131
Cross-bow 105


Game Lands 9
Other Lands 1475


Antlered Bucks 460
Button Bucks 36
Does 254

Total 750

Antlered Bucks/Square Mile 2.25

Harvest By Weapon Type

Gun 507
Black-powder 56
Bow 108
Cross-bow 79


Game Lands 57
Other Lands 693


Antlered Bucks 1218
Button Bucks 213
Does 1285

Total 2716

Antlered Bucks/Square Mile 3.83

Harvest By Weapon Type

Gun 1787
Black-powder 621
Bow 172
Cross-bow 136


Game Lands 38
Other Lands 2678

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