June 10, 2023

Cost to Hunt Rising Presence of Game Shrinking

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*Editor’s Note* Below is an article, republished here by permission, from George Doval, editor of The Outdoorsman. While the focus of his article is on the state of Idaho, please read the piece and simply inject your state, your game, your license fees, your opportunities, etc., and you will soon discover that much of what Dovel writes, he could just as easily be writing about your state.

More Examples of State Officials Ignoring the Destruction of Our Rural Livelihood and Lifestyles

By George Doval (republished with permission)

Author and great-granddaughter, Tiana, returning from a ride observing antelope in the foothills above the Jerusalem Valley in September 2012.

When my great-granddaughter Tiana, now a multi-talented senior at Vallivue High School in Caldwell, turned 12, she was an enthusiastic graduate of IDFG Hunter Ed. Her mother gave me a call and asked if I would take her hunting on the mountain where most of my sons grew up and killed their mule deer on opening day.

I explained to her that my wife and I had recently hunted mule deer there, both on horseback – and afoot as my sons had. But the influx of wolves plus hordes of hunters cruising the mountainside on four-wheelers, prohibited the chance to enjoy a pleasant hunt – with a possibility of a standing shot on a mule deer at a reasonable range for a first time deer hunter.

Instead, I suggested she hunt with one of her uncles in a unit where taking her first deer would be easier. But as happens with most youngsters in Idaho, despite her abilities and desire, and hunting several years with experienced hunters, she has only shot one small yearling buck in Owyhee County three years ago.

On our recent ride, she described seeing the antelope up close as a really neat experience. Yet the odds of her applying for and receiving a coveted permit allowing her to hunt before experienced archery or rifle hunters have scattered the spooky mule deer are very remote.

How North American Model of Wildlife Conservation Was Quietly Destroyed by State Wildlife Managers

The three large Owyhee County units where IDFG offers 15 days of October general season mule deer hunting for two-point bucks only, had an estimated 2011 harvest of 928 two-points, plus 168 females by youth hunters*. With 28.5% hunter success, it required an average of 10.8 days of hunting for each two-point buck or female mule deer killed. (* youth general season for females ended in 2011)

Although these units are touted by IDFG as being one of the better opportunities for juveniles to harvest a mule deer, they are actually proof of the lousy odds for the average juvenile hunter. How does a youngster manage to miss school for up to 10 days in mid-October for three years in order to hunt the average of 11 days each year for the chance to kill just one small buck in 3-1/2 years?

When I pointed this out to an IDFG official, he responded that the real value of hunting these units was the special draw hunt for “big” bucks during the November rut. If you entered the lottery drawing for the 195 Unit 40 buck permits in 2005, there were 2,690 applicants and the odds of drawing were 1-in-14 (the average wait was 14 years before you drew a permit).

But seven years later, in 2012, there were 4,299 applicants for the same 195 permits and the average wait has increased to 22 years. If you started drawing in 1994 when Conley implemented the special late buck hunt in Unit 40, the odds are you probably won’t draw a permit until 2016.

But by 2016, as bucks become increasingly scarce, the drawing odds will be much higher and the only group that benefits from this will be IDFG. Discouraged young hunters, and others who do not support the IDFG scheme to charge still more money to harvest even fewer animals, will simply quit hunting.

In his widely circulated September 7, 2012 op-ed response to the Wildlife Summit criticisms published in the Idaho State Journal, F&G Commission Chairman Randy Budge wrote; “The purpose of the Wildlife Summit was not to change the (North) American Model of Wildlife Management (Conservation)…” Of course it wasn’t.

Wildlife Becoming “Playthings for the Wealthy”

Budge and his fellow Commissioners, including those who preceded them in recent years, have already destroyed several of the seven provisions of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. As Canadian big game expert Dr. Valerius Geist so eloquently explained in a “Bugle” interview a decade ago:
“The miracle of North American conservation is that it is basically a blue-collar system, grounded in the political and financial support and the active participation of large numbers of middle-class citizens who bring their basic honesty and decency to bear on important issues. This is just the opposite of the elitist system that has existed throughout Europe for centuries and is spreading like cancer around the world today, even right here at home.

“There is a tendency afoot today in North America to follow the European pattern, where wildlife become playthings for the wealthy and powerful. Under such a system, game is protected from the public in favor of the privileged few.

“I personally can’t stomach the idea that my grandchildren might not be able to buy a license and go hunting on public land and enjoy the great privilege of putting wild meat on the table, as we have always done.”

“Liberal” Harvest Regulations Destroyed Idaho Deer

Although my grandchildren and their children can still buy a license and go hunting on public land in Idaho, putting wild meat on the table is no longer an option unless they are either wealthy or lucky. When IDFG changed to what I&E Chief Martel Morache called “liberal” harvest regulations in 1988 – F&G included multiple antlerless mule deer harvests – and hunters were told it was because there were too many deer for their natural food supply.

Yet six years later, general season antlerless mule deer hunting had been replaced with limited special draw antlerless permits, which continued to harvest fewer deer but generated several hundred thousand more dollars in extra application and license revenue. In 2001, juvenile hunters were given the opportunity to kill mule deer does or fawns during the general buck season in all but the outfitter units and that remains in most units today.

But hunting scarce deer that have been pursued by archery hunters for 32 days and by hordes of rifle hunters in the same October season, rarely offers a decent chance for a one-shot kill. Most youngsters with no experience at hunting small game or “varmints”, either miss a running or long range shot, or hit the animal outside of its vital areas.

IDFG’s Michele Beucler Objects to Widespread Recruitment and Retention of Hunters

In her presentation titled “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; Reflections from a Non-hunter,” IDFG Human Dimensions Specialist Michele Beucler cites statistics from 2001 when only 57% of hunter ed. graduates bought a hunting license. And after that first year, the number who bought a license steadily declined.
Beucler cited a 2007 national study showing that declines in hunter recruitment or retention between 1990 and 2005 occurred only in the nearly half of Idaho households where family income was below $40,000. Some of the youths and parents she questioned said that IDFG should change seasons that intimidated them, and also make hunting cheaper.

But instead of recommending IDFG return to obeying Idaho Wildlife Policy in I.C. Sec. 36-103 (i.e. to provide continued supplies of wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping) Beucler brazenly ignored the law and insisted this Policy had destroyed nongame species, damaged ecosystems and undermined Idaho’s Public Trust Doctrine.

“We think that some degree of recruiting citizens into hunting is good business. However, we also feel that it has become misdirected and overemphasized. As a result, recruitment and retention efforts may be ineffective and may be distracting state wildlife agencies from engaging non-hunters and broadening wildlife conservation.”

Her False Claim That Wildlife Values Have Shifted

Beucler then said that states should reduce recruitment and retention efforts because they are a symptom of the need for wildlife managers to adapt to changing public attitudes. She insisted wildlife values have shifted from wildlife use to wildlife protection.

That may be true in Washington, D.C. but it’s certainly not true in Idaho. After more than a dozen years of IDFG using one underhanded trick after another to stop the legislature from allowing Idaho citizens to vote on making it a Constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap, it was finally approved by both houses and placed on the ballot in 2012.

Despite environmental activist Rocky Barker’s Idaho Statesman article, quoting a retired IDFG employee falsely claiming that our right to hunt is not threatened, Idaho citizens passed it by an overwhelming 77% of those who voted! Following Barker’s effort, “Right to Hunt…” still received 66% of the vote in Ada County, and passed by 77% of the vote in neighboring Canyon County – the second highest county population in the state!

Predictably, the only Idaho County where it failed to pass was the wealthy population in Blaine County where it only received 47% of the vote. A media campaign to defeat it because it also protected trapping may have contributed to its defeat by the small margin.

Her False Claim That Hunters Are Declining

Beucler and her bedfellows in state fish and game agencies ignored recent industry surveys showing an increase in the number of hunters nationwide. After presenting her “Mirror, Mirror” attack on hunting to the Wildlife Management Institute Annual Workshop in Phoenix in 2008, and the Idaho Chapter of the Wildlife Society meeting in Moscow in 2009, Beucler authored an article in the Spring 2010 issue of Management Tracks titled, “The Death of Wildlife Management?”

Published by the Organization of Wildlife Planners with Beucler serving as its President, her article states:
“For some time now, I’ve heard the siren call of ‘declining participation in hunting and fishing’ and what it might mean to the future of fish and wildlife management. Yet, despite a plethora of recruitment and retention efforts, annual participation rates continue to decline across much of the nation, and state fish and wildlife agencies are struggling to address 21st century conservation challenges such as rapid growth and development in key habitats, climate change, and nature-deficit disorder.

“Hunting and fishing will remain important threads of the American tapestry regardless of how many people participate – it is too much a part of human DNA, too much a symbol of American freedom, bounty, and wildness to fade away. Are we courageous enough to say that traditional fish and wildlife management must die?

“…we can choose to consider this death as part of a natural evolutionary cycle, as transformation, and not something that disappears forever. Ultimately, state fish and wildlife agencies may not have a choice—the risk of inaction is death by ballot initiatives, lawsuits, and irrelevance.”

IDFG Project Manager for Idaho Wildlife Summit Michele Beucler wears many hats, claims managing wildlife to provide continued supplies of game for hunters, fishermen and trappers undermines the Idaho Public Trust Doctrine (Facebook photo).

IDFG leadership has been working closely with Michele Beucler for several years and Director Moore quietly appointed her as Project Manager for the recent Idaho Wildlife Summit. She and her co-conspirators have worked behind the scenes for years while reasonable harvest opportunity was removed from grassroots hunting families and given to wealthy hunters.

Wealthy Hunters versus “Second Class Hunters”

One of the schemes IDFG uses is selling lottery chances for what it calls “superhunts”, which permit the “lucky” few who draw the permits to hunt in any open hunt for that species in Idaho. When my three oldest sons began hunting, all they needed to hunt small game, upland birds, predators and deer anywhere in Idaho was a hunting license and a deer tag – total cost $5. If they also wanted an elk it cost $3 more.

IDFG presently charges both adults and youngsters $117.25 for a “Sportsman’s Package” to hunt the same animals they could hunt for $8 in 1969. That is more than double the total inflation since then and still does not allow the hunters to participate in hunts with better odds of harvesting. Instead, IDFG encourages big game hunters to buy multiple chances for the superhunt permits so the rich hunter can buy dozens or even several hundred chances to improve his odds of drawing a permit.

He can also afford to pay people to locate a trophy animal, monitor its movements with fixed-wing or helicopter, and pay the guide who arranges the opportunity to shoot it. If the antler score is high enough, he may pay tens of thousands of dollars total to the state F&G agency and all the people who helped him kill the illegal “trophy”.

And like the auction tags, sometimes referred to as “Governor’s Tags”, establishing such extreme values requires that the “second class” general season hunters be limited to mid-October seasons. Even for an experienced hunter, the “Indian Summer” seasons are usually the most difficult time to locate and outsmart an older male animal.

Trophy Hunts Cause Overcrowded Hunters

But even if you beat the superhunt lottery odds of up to 1-in-2000 and receive a permit, it is no guarantee that you will harvest an elk or a mule deer with a large rack – much less a bona fide trophy. Although the IDFG website shows elaborate color photos of two bucks and two bulls taken by hunters with superhunt tags in recent years, none of them scored high enough for listing in the Boone & Crockett “Records of North American Big Game.”

The move throughout Idaho to further restrict the ability to harvest an animal in general season hunts, and then add so-called late-season “trophy” hunts in one or more units in each region, is forcing thousands of hunters who don’t draw a permit to either move to other already overcrowded general season units – or else give up hunting. No wonder these exploited license buyers are referred to as “second class hunters.”

The 2012 Panhandle Region Crisis

For the first time in its history, predation has reduced elk calf survival in the Panhandle Region so much that the Region’s wildlife managers have eliminated all general season cow elk hunts. Shortening the “any elk” seasons dramatically did not stop the decline for the 18,880 A and B tag purchasers in 2011, so in 2012 it offered them the chance to compete for 900 either-sex elk tags in units 1, 2, 3 and 5, plus 50 late antlerless tags in a part of Unit 5.

That meant that only five percent of hunters who had some opportunity to kill antlerless elk in the Panhandle in 2011 had a similar chance this year. Each of the four units now include a limited-participation 25-day Sept. archery season, followed by a 15-day mid-Oct. rifle season, plus a Dec. cow/calf season for the portion of Unit 5.

Unlike the southern Idaho F&G employees who travel to the Panhandle to hunt either-sex elk and/or either-sex whitetails, my great-granddaughter Tiana and her cousins lack the wherewithal to make that trip. Yet by offering a reasonable chance to harvest in an area close to home only to those hunters who pay them extra money, F&G forces the youngsters to forget harvesting game.

The “Sacred Cow” in the State Sage Grouse Plans

Every legitimate scientific study of the multiple causes of sage grouse declines has implicated predation as a major factor causing the decline. Yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sample Sage Grouse Plan does not include Predation as a direct cause of grouse decline and the plans approved by the various state governors do not address predator control.

Instead they blame human activity such as building roads, fences, windmills, transmission lines or other potential predator perches, operating landfills and clearing sagebrush to grow crops for the decline. Outdoorsman readers may remember when FWS Rocky Mountain Wolf Project Leader Ed Bangs published the claim in the Federal Register that wolves and other predators are never the primary cause of prey declines.

The article on Pages 13-14 of this issue titled, “The Introduction of Agriculture and its Impact on Sage Grouse,” is the second article I have published by Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen. It provides historical facts to counteract the unsupported claim by FWS and non-governmental groups that water development and livestock grazing are destroying sage grouse populations.

The article was provided to Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Jeff DeLong, who, in a July 18, 2012 article, said that some (people) insist ravens are causing sage grouse declines. He said the experts at Nevada Department of Wildlife admit ravens are an issue – but not a big one.

NDOW Sage Grouse expert Shawn Espinosa admitted the 500-600 percent increase in raven numbers throughout the West has created a problem but said the raven increase is caused by human activity. Wildlife Services is removing 2,000 ravens each year But Asm. Hansen reportedly said that is not enough to reverse the damage.

NDOW Director Ken Mayer was critical of Hansen, saying the Service (USFWS) has not identified predation as a threat and said, “Focusing on the predator issue now could be dangerous when attention must focus on the key issues such as the impact of wildfire and invading vegetation on habitat. Those issues are generally recognized as the most important ones when it comes to loss and fragmentation of sagebrush landscape in Nevada.

“The Carpenters of the world could actually facilitate the listing of the bird. We don’t have the time and the resources to focus on things that are not driving the listing process for the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

(Back when Idaho’s wolf oversight committee ignored reality and approved IDFG copying the FWS Wolf Plan without addressing predator control, Idaho Legislators refused to consider their plan for another 10 years. But now that the governors have adopted the FWS Sage Grouse Plan, which also fails to address predator control, the state legislators are silent and appropriate millions of dollars to implement a plan that will not restore sage grouse.-ED)