Hand: Input on Georgia DNR Deer Management Plan

If I were a WWE wrastler and had to introduce myself in the last few days, I would probably do something similar to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. When he comes in the ring and grabs the microphone, he usually says, “FINALLY… The Rock has come back to *insert city here*!” And the crowd goes nuts. My intro lately would be something like this: “FINALLY… Camp has finished county production meetings!”

Production meetings are like my super bowl. They are why we do what we do, and it is a lot of fun to get out and see everyone and talk about last season along with the upcoming one. It is a grind to be on the road for pretty much 10 straight weeks, but the time spent with you all is vital to make sure I am on the right path and addressing things that need to be addressed.

One thing I hope everyone remembers from my talk this year is the last couple of slides. I asked everyone, “Anyone want to guess what my most frequent call was in 2023?” There were two responses – either folks wouldn’t respond, but when I gave a hint or two they would chime in, or someone would immediately say, “Deer!” Yes – I got a lot of calls about deer in 2023, and it got my attention because it did not fit the narrative I had formulated in my mind about the deer problem. I was operating with a preconceived notion in my head, that when the natural browse in the woods dies is when the deer begin feeding on crops we have planted in the field – cotton, soybeans, peanuts, whatever is up. However, I was proven wrong this year because the natural browse in the woods should not have died as quick due to the prolific rain and cool temps we saw in 2023 – yet, the deer ate a lot of cotton.

As I came to the realization that something had to be done, I began talking with county agents, growers, stakeholders, and policy makers about what we need to do. It was expressed to me that the first step in helping growers with the deer problem was getting a number. So this past meeting season, one of my major goals was to get that number from growers. With that, it has created at least a starting point for me to try getting the attention of those folks that can help with this issue. The numbers that growers have given me are quite alarming, and if they are true it means that white-tailed deer are the biggest pest problem for Georgia cotton producers (that’s right… bigger than pigweed or nematodes!!!!!!!).

This is something that I am going to start dedicating significant time and energy towards researching. I have already hired a graduate student that has begun work on compiling the survey data I mentioned previously, and his main project is going to be determining actual yield losses due to white-tailed deer in cotton. This will be something done across the state, so stay tuned. Groups like the Georgia Cotton Commission, Georgia Farm Bureau, and Cotton Incorporated are all financially invested in researching this and trying to get growers help on this issue. However, this topic is complex and will take multiple entities to get something accomplished, which brings me to the main point of my article.

Georgia DNR is working on their next deer management plan, which will be in place from 2025 – 2034. This more or less addresses the key deer management issues as determined by a committee of folks, and priorities within these issues within each specified region of the state. However, a major part of this process involves public input. One way for them to gather input was in-person forums, and I appreciate everyone that went to the forum in Statesboro to discuss the impacts of white-tailed deer on agriculture. However, another way for you all to make your voice heard with respect to this is by filling out their online survey. It is rather long, approximately 40 questions, but what is most of interest to me is that there is an entire section of this survey dedicated to deer impacts on agriculture (questions 21 to 25). However, there are other questions that likely affect us in agriculture pertaining to overall deer population and regulations for deer hunters (questions 1 through 14). I called some of the DNR folks last week to ask about the survey, and they said that people that elect to respond do not have to respond to every question, but only the ones that affect them. Please note that this online survey will be closed at midnight on April 7, so if you choose to respond please do so before then.

So… why am I asking you all to fill out this DNR survey??? Based on the fact that they included a section to this survey on deer damage in agriculture, I would say that they know that we have a problem. Since they are asking for public input, I believe that we have a voice in this matter and need to use it. So I encourage growers, county agents, consultants, and others to fill this survey out. However, I strongly suggest that everyone put some thought into their responses when filling this out. In the last year or so, I have learned it is very easy for me to complain about something just to do so, but it is much harder to offer up constructive solutions for the issue I find myself complaining about (and I imagine I am not the only person that struggles with this). So, when I filled out this DNR survey, I tried to be constructive in my responses, and I would suggest you do the same. Anything you elect to comment on with respect to this survey should be met with a constructive solution, so we can try to make some headway on this issue.

Now, at the end of my talk this county meeting season I wanted to make sure everyone knew two things: first is that, for those that told me you have a deer problem, we hear you. And secondly, I am going to do everything I can to try and get growers help on this issue. This includes researching how to live with this problem along with communicating about this issue with folks that can make a change. But this no doubt will take time to do, so hang with me. Another point I want to make here is this: the deer issue in agriculture will not be solved by ag groups alone, but we will need to work alongside DNR and the outdoor sporting industry to get the job done. This is why providing constructive solutions is imperative in this process. In my mind, there are such great opportunities for education on both the ag side and the hunter side on the benefits of overall deer herd management and even proper use of management strategies for producers. The sooner we can get everyone on the same page and working toward the same goal, the better it will be for all of us.

As always, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to reach out. Your local UGA County Extension Agents and Specialists are here to help!

Dr. Camp Hand
UGA Extension Cotton Agronomist

Comments 2

  1. The current DNR reporting system is designed to generate revenue by fining those who fail to report a kill. This system hinders population reduction. No hunter (licensed or un-licensed) should ever be fined for killing a female deer. This system also creates a rift between hunters and farmers. DNR is issuing a permit for farmers to kill unlimited females by any means possible yet fines a hunter for failing to report a kill within 24 hours on the same property.

  2. As a row crop farmer, our cotton crops have been devastated by deer over the last few years. I firmly believe that in the southern zone of the state, there needs to be some new management practices put into place to decrease numbers. I would like to see a regulation put into place where each licensed Hunter must take 1-2 doe each year before harvesting a buck.
    Agriculture is the backbone of our great state and it is becoming more difficult each year to make a profit without having to worry about wildlife damage.

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