How effective are hunters at controlling deer populations?

February 10, 2017 admin No comments exist

It is a great time to be an outdoor writer. I have a lengthy list of columns that I am busting at the seams to write. Issues and controversies abound. Putting a new column together every day would not be difficult. Every time a writer or bureaucrat or sportsmen?s club opens their mouth it breeds a new controversy. My problem is deciding which are the most important issues to bring to you.

If you subscribe to any national sporting magazines you should be noticing a growing trend. The national boys are writing more editorials about the future of our traditions. The more progressive magazines are giving far more coverage to the issues and less print on how to kill better. This is a good thing but requires a careful eye. I am suspect of those who built their reputation on traveling the world to harvest trophies, but they are now political pundits.

Most of the “hunter turned editorialist”topics are vastly similar. “Can Hunters Control Our Deer Herds”, “Will Contraceptives Replace Deer Hunting”, “Is It Time for Really New Deer Management” are common titles for the gibberish I see each month. I suppose the national boys are searching for new territory. Let?s be honest, how many times can one write or read about “Where to Place Your Treestand.”

A continuous theme of these “born again” writers is that hunters are unwilling and possibly incapable of controlling our exploding national deer population. My suspicions are these writers are either bowhunters or biodiversity freaks. Of course, if writers can convince hunters and society we have a deer epidemic, it is an impetus for lengthening bow seasons. My advice to the “doom and gloom” boys is to do a little more reading before they destroy their reputations.

In 1972 Wisconsin deer researchers conducted a study that I encourage all PA deer hunters to obtain a copy. Wisconsin?s Sandhill Wildlife Area is a 9,150-acre tract of land surrounded by a 9-foot deer-proof fence. Excluding water areas, this equates to 12.6 miles of outstanding deer habitat. This is one of the largest fenced areas in the nation that allows public hunting. It serves as a whitetail deer laboratory and research area for the State of Wisconsin.

It was estimated that the area held about 625 deer. Wisconsin researchers wanted to uncover three critical facts. First, they desired to know the efficiency of gun hunters. Secondly, they wanted to know the accuracy of their deer population estimates. Lastly, they wanted to see if harvests mirrored the sex and age of the existing population within the enclosure. Wisconsin?s “expert” researchers estimated that at the end of their experimental hunt at least 50 deer would survive.

So the researchers devised a hunt to accomplish their objectives. This would be a 44-day hunt averaging 138 hunters selected by lottery to be on the property every day. The bag limit was one deer of either sex. Hunters were permitted to use rifles and slug guns only. Needless to say, thousands applied for permits by mail. Hundreds of hunters stood on line waiting for permits. The desire to get in the enclosure and kill a deer was extremely high.

Whitetail DeerWithin 28 days the gun hunters had accomplished what the Wisconsin “expert” biologists thought was impossible. Every single living deer was killed. Actually, within 17 days, 95% of the deer were harvested. The hunt continued for the full 44 days. Obviously, not a single deer was sighted during the remaining 16 days of the hunt. The final kill was 593 whitetails. Crippling losses were a mere 6.9%. After the hunt, only 38 deer were found dead, unrecovered by the hunters.

As a bonus Wisconsin?s “experts” proved a final point. As deer numbers were reduced each day, deer sightings also went down. One would think this is basic common sense, but many of our PA experts argue this exact point. Our hunters are told if they don?t see deer, they aren’t hunting hard enough or smart enough. Interesting.

There are 15 million deer hunters in this nation. Estimates say our national deer population is approximately 20 to 25 million animals. Considering the advances made in rifles and slug guns, scopes, topographical maps, rangefinders, new roads, global positioning systems and two-way radios, whitetails are no match for the modern gun hunter. Deer hunters hunt to harvest deer. For some, it is the most important accomplishment in life. Extend the season to 28 days of either sex hunting across this great nation and in one or possibly two years whitetails will approach extinction. Deer hunters can be relentless.

The writers that pontificate that whitetails cannot be overharvested are either fools or are just plain ignorant. Whitetail deer are a finite resource with great resiliency, but we can easily kill too many. Having too many or too few is not sound deer management. Hunters and society seek that consistent, but the appropriate presence of whitetails that ensures their future for all to see and enjoy. In view of our recent national tragedy, I changed the ending of this column. Discussing deer management does seem insignificant compared to the recent loss of American lives. We need to take a moment to thank God and all those that gave their life for our freedoms. It is because of them that we have the liberty to discuss and debate the future of our great traditions.

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