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The New Bonus Buck Permit

by Carole Kandoth
Principal Biologist
September, 2007

Deer Permit Information for 2007 - 11/20/07

New Jersey deer hunters have always been our close allies in managing the state's deer herd. For perspective, in the early 20th century deer populations were virtually non-existent - in 1901, for example, a total of 20 deer were harvested. The state closed deer hunting 1902-1908. By 1915 the herd had rebounded enough to support the first either-sex deer season (four days); the harvest was 291 bucks and 190 antlerless deer. The bag limit of one antlered buck for all seasons has gradually grown to a potential 6 buck bag limit and liberal antlerless limits for hunters who participate in all seasons.

Buck in meadowDuring the 1980's the deer population expanded to the extent that, coupled with an exploding human population and concurrent loss of habitat, deer became problematic to farmers and homeowners in many areas. Beginning in 1985, hunters were encouraged to manage the deer population through increased deer season lengths and bag limits. Many hunters forget or do not know that as recently as 1985, the bag limit for all special permit deer seasons was one deer of either sex. In 1999 the "Earn-A-Buck" program was instituted requiring the harvest of an antlerless deer before an antlered buck could be taken.

Over the past seven years, hunters have done an outstanding job of helping meet the goal of herd reduction where there is hunting access. This year the Fish and Game Council acknowledged that in areas where deer hunters have access, deer densities have been reduced significantly, and "Earn-A-Buck" was eliminated except for the early fall bow season where open. Liberal antlerless bag limits and season lengths may be enough to maintain an antlerless harvest sufficient to properly manage herds in most zones.

Bonus Buck Permit

Beginning in the 2007-08 deer seasons, anyone hunting for an antlered deer in any permit season (Bow, Shotgun, or Muzzleloader) will have to purchase an "Antlered Buck Bonus Permit" in addition to the regular zone permit for the season. Many hunters are discovering the new permit despite it being announced as early as February on the division's Web site and in the media. When proposed, the new permit received wide support from sportsmen and women when discussed at county federation meetings and elsewhere.

The issues of Quality Deer Management and potential revenue were discussed in detail by the Fish and Game Council in the deliberations leading up to the proposal for a bonus buck permit. The adopted Game Code amendment has the potential to provide additional revenue necessary due to declining license sales and rising costs. It can also mean more and bigger antlered deer for future harvest.

Quality Deer Management

New Jersey deer regulations are the most liberal in the United States. Our regulations must be liberal in order to allow our small hunter population the opportunity to control the deer population. The permit deer seasons were created in order to harvest female deer. When first instituted, the permit seasons were a only few days (shotgun & muzzleloader) or few weeks in duration (permit bow). For practical reasons these seasons allowed deer of either-sex to be harvested. The antlerless harvest included male fawns in addition to fawn and adult does.

Originally, the harvest of adult bucks was small because the shotgun and muzzleloader permit seasons were held AFTER the Six-day Firearm season. Display at Deer Classic The seasons gradually became longer and the opportunity to harvest antlered bucks increased dramatically. This was particularly true for the Permit Bow season, which was originally instituted to allow extended harvest in suburban zones. As it expanded statewide, the buck harvest opportunities during the November rut quickly became apparent and quite popular.

Although allowing hunters to harvest 6 antlered bucks per years sounds great, it is counter to the growing interest in "Quality Deer Management." A major component of QDM is allowing bucks to mature and reach their growth potential. Our liberal buck bag limit has resulted in 85% of our bucks being harvested at 1.5 years of age, the first year they grow antlers. There aren't many left to grow up to be wall hangers.

Surveys of New Jersey deer hunters consistently show that 75% of the hunters are willing to limit the number of bucks taken each year if it results in increased chances to harvest older age-class bucks in the future. The Council decided to limit the number of bucks to two each on the basic firearm and archery licenses. The Council adopted a strategy used by many states by still allowing hunters to pursue bucks during the permit season by paying for bonus buck permits. The additional expense required to pursue bucks during the permit seasons may discourage some hunters from buying these new buck permits with the positive result of more older bucks in the woods next year.

The Funding Issue

The Division has maintained flat budgets for the last 2 fiscal years through dramatic reductions in staff and spending. Even with those reductions, a 4 million dollar appropriation from the General Treasury was necessary both years to provide enough revenue to maintain flat budgets. The last license increase was in 2000 and, like all license regulations, required an act of the state legislature. Recognizing the need for additional revenue, the Council believed a "Bonus Permit" was a fair way to raise revenue in the short term and could be done without requiring new legislation.

The long term strategy is to examine the license structures in other states, and determine if there is a better way to do business in New Jersey. This will be a joint effort with the Division, the Council and the State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. If a new license structure is developed, legislation will be required to implement it.

Division Funding History

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has been around since 1892, under various names, managing New Jersey's wildlife resources. Historically, game management has been funded by hunters. The first hunting license was sold in 1902; in 1922 the Hunter and Angler Fund was established from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and dedicated to the Division "to be expended for fish and game activities."

In 1938, Congress passed the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act, better know as the Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R). The P-R Act is an excise tax on bows and all their various parts and accessories, handguns, and long guns and ammo. These tax dollars go into a dedicated fund managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and redistributed to states in a 50:50 formula based on land area and number of hunting licenses sold. Not only is New Jersey a small state, area wise, but hunting license sales have been declining since the 1980s at a rate of about 4% a year. So, despite the fact that we are the most densely populated state in the country and have thriving wildlife populations, we don't receive adequate funding. In 1940, the division received $9,420 from P-R; for Fiscal Year 2007 the amount was $5,654,947 - seemingly a large amount, but in reality not a lot of money in today's world to operate a state agency with such wide ranging responsibilities.

In 1950, Congress passed a companion bill to P-R, called the Dingle-Johnson Act, which is similar in nature to P-R but dedicates its funds for sport fishing.

These are the Division of Fish and Wildlife's primary funding sources; historically, it has not received funding from the state's General Treasury until the past three years. Every year, salaries and expenses go up (just look at fuel!) - licenses and permits have not been raised since 2000.

Yet, annually the Division continues to manage over 313,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas, raise and stock over 2.7 million fish, raise and stock almost 60,000 pheasants and 5,200 quail, conducts wildlife research, has the most progressive deer management program in the country, hosts numerous school and other groups at its Pequest, Hackettstown and Sedge Island facilities, holds wildlife workshops and distributes educational materials to teachers, conducts environmental reviews, trains an estimated 5,000 future hunters and trappers, enforces wildlife laws, and manages New Jersey's game, nongame, freshwater and marine resources.

The cost of everything increases each year. This includes the management of our fish and wildlife resources. Historically, it has been hunters and anglers who have shouldered the burden to the benefit of all New Jerseyans. But they’ve also been beneficiaries of some of the greatest variety of hunting opportunities and season lengths found anywhere. The Division of Fish and Wildlife staff thanks all the hunters and anglers who support New Jersey’s fish and wildlife resources and hope we can count on continued support in the future.


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Last Updated: November 20, 2007