Misery for a deer hunter is reaching into the mail box when permits are drawn and finding an apology letter instead of a license.
Deer hunting is perhaps the pinnacle big game experience for the majority of North American hunters. For generations deer numbers have been on the rise and family traditions reaching holiday proportions have developed around deer camps and seasons.
Father, and increasingly mother, hunters dream of passing on their cherished knowledge, passion and equipment to their children. So nothing is quite as disheartening as the realization that one or more of your party will be left out for another season.
Yet regionally the combined forces of man and nature have pulled the reins back on deer populations. Predators, weather, disease and the economy have joined forces to slap regional deer herds with substantial reductions.
Concerned hunters can do much to help herds rebound during the off season. Here are six steps that every hunter can utilize to promote their passion, save a fawn and pass it on.
1. Habitat comes first. Deer need dense cover to hide from predators and survive storms. Such habitat is rarely found in a plowed field. If you own the land, resist the temptation to beautify by picking up every branch or taking a chainsaw to every downed tree. Don’t pick up nature’s “mess."
When one tree falls down through the efforts of blizzards, wind, beavers or disease, nature uses it to create a shelter for dozens of young trees and shrubs that would otherwise be trampled or devoured. Join and promote an active conservation organization. The RMEF, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever help all wildlife in their efforts.
2. Send a message. Pass on doe tags for your area. Despite declining populations, biologists still offer doe tags or youth deer tags for almost every region. They are used as hunter recruiting and retention tools and to help individual landowners who might be suffering from pockets of heavy deer density. As farmers increasingly remove tree rows to maximize profits, deer concentrate and can create the illusion of plenty. Pass on the does.
3. Shoot a coyote. These mini-wolves are deadly predators and account for 70-80 percent of fawn predation in studies conducted in South Carolina and Texas. Coyote calling is a great winter challenge and saves the lives of dozens of fawns come spring. Game and trail camera imagery that has been shared by hunters online is also proving what many have suspected all along. Coyotes hunt in packs and can easily kill healthy adult deer.
4. Give deer a break from your company. Increasingly, wildlife managers are controlling access to winter ranges in order to decrease stress when deer herds can least afford it. Shed antler hunting has become big business and a consuming hobby. By waiting till spring to do your antler collecting, you allow deer to save their reserves to fight the weather and promote winter survivability.
5. Befriend a biologist, read their work and bone up on the basics. Become a student of the trends and statistics related to your regional wildlife. Having your facts straight helps you better understand the intricate balancing act that game departments are forced to walk between hunters, landowners, politicians, and mother nature.
Seeing the big picture buried under the pages of data produced each season will make you a more persuasive advocate for wildlife issues. Discovering when the last big decline occurred and how long it took to recover can take some of the sting out of waiting for a tag.
6. Become a vocal and educated activist. Write your representative to ask that the next farm bill contain competitive funding for the Conservation Reserve Program.
Farm belt hunters can testify, when deer herds are concentrated into ever-decreasing parcels of shelter, disease can take a tremendous toll. Every year biologists send out post-season harvest surveys.
Let your game managers know the details of your particular area. They can’t be everywhere and need the onsite information provided by hunters in the field. Be an advocate and help game managers make the right call for wildlife.