It was interesting to see all the questions about doe tags.
They seemed most interested in my A22 tag, but I'd have rather answered questions about the sorry state of the AO tag and the opportunities in the zones it's good for.
Their hands are tied by state law.
I told them (several times) that we need to get rid of the 2nd deer tag option. We have some of the worse deer hunting in the West......and we're the only state that allows every hunter to kill two bucks.
This is the simple and obvious answer, but it will be politically unpopular so I doubt the Department pursues it. The notion that a doe hunt is a better management scheme to correct buck:doe ratios is plain stupid IMO.
With our system as it is with all the different levels of tags, if they made the 2nd tag only available for certain hunts, like an AO tag, it wouldn't make that much of a difference.
Allowing 2 rifle tags in primary zones is the problem.
If they did something along the lines of what CO (A/B tags) or WY (antlerless) does with their 2nd tags for elk/deer, it would help and the people who want to extend their seasons could continue to do so. I, for one, really like my 2nd tag as it extends my season by a month.
As far as the doe tags, I'd support them IF they cut buck tags and here's why:
1. Putting them (doe tags) in the draw would burn preference points out of the pool. The G13 tag in San Diego takes 300 people per year out of the point race as it can't be drawn as a 2nd choice. San Diego has one of the highest success rates in Southern California (typically more than twice the success rate as Riverside county to the north) and does not seem to be hurting with its 1000 either sex archery tags, 300 rifle doe tags, and 80 ML either sex tags.
2. So many of CA's A, B, and especially D zones have been eaten into a carrying capacity due to fire suppression that are sitting with horrid buck:doe ratios. This causes single births instead of twins/triplets. There's no room for the herd to expand due to food and we give out so many buck tags that too many of the 1.5 year old bucks get shot every year which is why there's no mature bucks to hunt outside the X zones.
Doe tags could actually work if they simultaneously lowered the buck tags in every zone they put a doe season in. The buck:doe ratios would even out some, the herd would shrink a little at first, and this would cause does to start having more twins/triplets which, in the end, means more bucks coming into the herd.
If you have a buck:doe ratio of 10:90 and every doe has a single offspring, that's 90 fawns. In a herd size of 1000, that's 900 fawns. If you have a buck:doe ratio of 30:70 and every doe has twins, that's 140 fawns. In a herd size of 800, that's 1,120 fawns. Herd size is 20% smaller, but there's 220 more fawns being born every year.
It may be the case that shrinking the herd size could actually net us more bucks, although I'd wager that we'd also need to cut a few buck tags (rifle) to actually increase trophy potential in the D zones.
Again, I point to San Diego: Almost 1400 eithersex/doe permits available and it's a better place to hunt statistically than D9/10/11/12/13/14/15/19 . In Southern California, only D17 puts out a better success % than San Diego and I'd bet that the biggest factors for those numbers are its size and how far away it is from the population centers. Sure, there's other reason's for San Diego's good success rates as it has expansive square mileage in the 3-5 thousand foot elevation range, but they also give out a ton of tags in that zone.
Moreover, I think that our biologists are errantly relying on studies on whitetails, which are a much more prolific deer, to make management decisions on our blacktail and mule deer.
I have had the good fortune of being able to hunt on a really well managed piece of property in Mendocino County for the last 19 years. The biologists literally would not believe the land owner's assessment of the number of deer on the property (~100 deer on 1,000 acres) because the books say there can only be 30 deer/square mile - even after the biologist and land owner drove the property and did a deer count which supported it. Because of situations like that, I have little faith in their ability to make sound decisions.
I said all that to make this point: I have NEVER seen triplets in blacktail, even under good feed/environmental conditions. In my experience, blacktails tend to have as many or more singles as twins even when in excellent health. Based on that, if there is a reliance on does having multiple fawns to help the herd recover after we reduce the productive capacity of the herd through a doe hunt, I believe we will be disappointed in the results.
My perspective is that these doe hunts are misguided, because the department is not addressing the two most significant factors which it can influence: habitat quality and predation. I believe you hit on an important point with your comment about degraded habitat quality due to fire suppression. Periodic burns are one thing my friend does on his property, and the results are impressive in terms of habitat improvement.
As far as answering the question regarding if the zones are at carrying capacity, I can't comment on the A/B zones a lot because I'm a southern Cal guy. In fact, the A, the B, and the Sierras are hugely different areas, but the fact stands that these units don't have doe tags now for the most part. What we do have a lot of, is a pretty good success rate, but on a ton of forked horn deer.
I believe the D zones are at carrying capacity. I've talked with a lot of guys who've been hunting these areas for decades and watched the deer numbers wax and wane with the fires. Fires come, deer numbers go up, overgrowth comes back and the deer numbers suffer. Areas that are solid old-growth ribbonwood just have no deer because, while it's great fawning ground/bedding, it has no food in it.
I see twins and triplets in certain areas of San Diego and Riverside where there's ample food, more so in good acorn years. Maybe blacktails are not pre-disposed to triplets.
The area around my house has an huge fire break in mixed pine/oak areas that gets cleared of low lying brush every 10-15 years and there's tons of deer in it because there's always areas with new ceanothus and buck brush, in addition to the acorns. It also all happens to be in one of the game preserves, but people still hunt it because F&G doesn't stop anyone from doing it and the deer still have great numbers.
Where I see tons of deer, is in San Diego. And I mean tons of deer. Mostly in areas where there is private land interspersed or as a majority, but still, I quoted the doe and either sex tags in San Diego and the herd is doing well in San Diego, although the trophy quality could be better if they cut the buck tags some.
BTW, there are no bears in the areas of Riverside and San Diego I speak of, so that only leaves lions and coyotes. Coyotes will never be "controlled" and I really wonder how many lions were actually coming out of San Diego and Riverside before the ban. Was it actually enough to make a difference in the herd size? I doubt the difference was significant.
If your theory on food is correct, it would be better to make more food than to make less deer. But like most things in CA, the politically expedient alternative will likely win.
On the 'bright' side, with the State in its infinite wisdom mandating non-lead ammo next year, there should be a lot more wounded and not recovered animals, so that may drive up the overall attrition rate. I haven't found a non-lead bullet my rifle likes - they run about a 3-4" minimum group, and I've heard lot of rifle hunters saying the same thing.
All in all, the State does provide a first class example of how not to legislate or manage wild game, and that (and our reporting of it) is helping to keep the cancer from spreading.
I've seen 3 sets of triplets in the past 5 years, although two sets were the same doe that lives near my house which is surrounded by perfect deer habitat. In this small area, twins are the norm. Another spot nearby where the oaks drop acorns pretty much every year in a large area around a spring, all my summer pics show doe with twins.
It's not new news that several species have more offspring when conditions are good for it.
Nor would I think that lots of doe tags would be a good idea. Again, going back to San Diego, where 300 rifle doe tags and 1000 either sex archery tags are given out in a unit that has a quota of 3000 branch antlered tags, the doe tags are a small fraction. The dept doesn't report the doe taken with the archery tags, only the bucks, so it's anyone's guess how many does are being killed, but it's reasonable to expect that it's around 10% of the tags. It's also reasonable to expect that the doe harvest from the 300 rifle tags is pretty significant.
I'd guess that the numbers are reasonable for what's given. 10% rifle doe tags, a handful of ML either sex tags, and 30% either sex archery tags. It doesn't seem to be hurting San Diego. It's possibly helping.
Again, it'd need to accompany a simultaneous cut in buck tags, but it could possibly help trophy quality in several zones.
And again, blacktails, being a completely different species, may have to be managed completely differently.
I think the prudent way to institute it, would be to start with 10 zones scattered across the state and watch the numbers over 5 yrs.
I'll concede the point, I was more trying to explain how it's "supposed to work." In theory, it could potentially work. More likely than help, a few doe tags and cutting buck tags could do very little at all.
You're right though, labeling CA as "at carrying capacity" is painting with a pretty broad brush.
Last thing though, I definitely see the deer numbers up in the burns and that's everyone else's experience that I've talked to down here. If we don't have more controlled burns with a specific plan, then I doubt anything that fish and game has the power to do will make much of a difference either way.