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Deer populations increasing, harvest allocation may increase

Deer numbers appear to be increasing in the foothills and on the prairie.
Wildlife numbers in the MD of Willow Creek were discussed at the May 8 Agricultural Service Board meeting with Alberta Environment and Parks senior wildlife biologist Brett Boukall.
In Willow Creek deer and elk populations are largely concentrated in the west but wildlife does follow drainages to the east, such as Willow Creek and Mosquito Creek.
Most populations appeared to be stable or growing where habitat is available.
Both whitetail and mule deer are above goal populations in wildlife management units in the Bow-Crow area of southwest Alberta and the plan is to increase the harvest of both on antlered and antlerless animals, Boukall said.
The province is divided into numbered wildlife management units (WMU).
WMU 304 is roughly west of Stavley, WMU 305 is west of Granum, and WMU 132 is west of Vulcan.
“In WMU 304 and 305 the game populations for deer and elk are generally abundant or increasing,” Boukall said.
The harvest of whitetail deer in WMU 304 and 305 peaked in 2016. In 2018 populations were below 2014 levels.
In 2014 in WMU 304 there were about 340 deer taken, and in WMU 305 about 225 deer harvested.
The deer harvest substantially increased in 2015 with 400 deer taken in WMU 304 and just under 250 deer in WMU 305.
The peak of deer hunting harvest numbers for the last five years in both WMUs was in 2016 with about 440 deer taken in WMU 304 at about 260 taken in WMU 305.
Harvest numbers dropped in 2017, with about 370 deer taken in WMU 304 and just over 250 in WMU 305.
Last year there were fewer deer taken of any year in the past five years, with about 275 deer harvested in WMU 304 and about 190 in WMU 305.
That’s for whitetail.
The mule deer harvest for the last five years looks much different, with increasing numbers of mule deer taken each year, with 2018 numbers of about 510 mule deer taken in WMU 304, and almost 600 taken in WMU 305.
Meanwhile, elk populations in WMU 304 and 305 increased substantially from about 1,100 animals in 2014 to about 2,700 elk in 2017. The elk harvest has remained relatively steady with about 200 to 240 elk taken in 2016 to 2018.
Since 2007 the data show most elk harvested in WMU 304 and 305 were taken in 2015, when elk had the lowest population numbers.
Wildlife populations are counted from aerial surveys, the best counts taking place right after a snowfall so the game stands out better on the ground, area biologist Maria Didkowsky, who works out of Blairmore, said.
Boukall was also looking for feedback from ranchers in the area.
Agricultural Service Board member Glen Alm, whose Bar 15 Ranch is 25 miles west of Claresholm, said he has noticed more deer toward Claresholm now than there used to be 15 years ago.
“We used to see very few deer on our way to town. Now we see fewer deer when we go west,” said Alm, adding at times he has seen more deer in the Town of Claresholm than driving on the way to town.