April 28, 2017

Antler Point Restrictions Eliminates Still Hunting/Stalking

As is often the case, Quality Deer Management and their associates, continue to push for antler point restrictions on whitetail bucks for what I see as mostly satisfying the selfish trophy hunter determined to fill the woods with larger antlered deer. I think the decision should be based on biology and management goals, which I think the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is attempting to do.

When you stop and think about the proposed antler point restrictions, at least three points longer than one inch on at least one side of the antlers, one is almost exclusively regulated to tree stand “hunting” or hunting from a blind. I’ve hunted for many years in Maine, long before the “bucks only” law, or the issuance of “Any-Deer Permits” were formulated. Whether stalking, still hunting, in a tree stand or a ground blind, it’s relatively easy to determine if a deer has horns longer than 3 1/2 inches. In other words, if you see your target long enough to make that recognition, you are therefore, sure of your target, which is the law. It is also my assumption that this length of antler restrictions was decided upon because typically a deer that has antlers longer than 3 1/2 inches, the length is longer due to age. If a fawn (button buck) has started to grow antlers, they are typically just knobs. A 1 1/2 year-old-buck would generally have larger antlers but not necessarily three points of at least one inch. Yes, there are exceptions to that observation.

If you were to change the law to require 3 points of at least one inch in length, that requires the hunter to be in a position where they can see a standing deer long enough to assess the antler points and length, i.e. a tree stand or blind. This would, by default, remove one tactic of hunting and severely limit a hunter’s opportunity to harvest a deer.

I don’t like that idea very much because I am and always have been more of a still hunter/stalker than a sitter. Occasionally I might sit in a ground blind but never in a tree stand because of physical difficulty in climbing.

However, I would support an antler point restriction, different from what it is now, if and when somebody can give me the science to support the need, rather than the want,  in Maine. I have read most of the literature and I just don’t see much of it applying to the State of Maine and its deer herd. But I’m ready to see more proof of need.

On a related note, I read where Maine is in year one of a five your deer study on land in northern Maine owned by the major land owners. Why is stuff like this not announced except as an aside to other issues?

In the same article where I read that, I also read, “The deer are not rebounding the way we think they should despite protection of deer yards.” Now that’s something to think about for all you that blame loss of habitat and global warming for the demise of Maine’s deer herd.

The Case Against the Case For Antler Point Restrictions

In the January/February issue of SAM (Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine) News, Vol. 41, No. 1, author Mike Look presents his argument for Antler Point Restrictions (APR) as they may pertain to whitetail deer management. In essence this was a counterpoint to the case made by Gerry Lavigne against APRs.

Personally, I do not favor APRs for the simple reason that the entire proposal most closely resembles the cries by selfish hunters to grower bigger trophy deer for trophy hunting. It’s easy to say most hunters want this but the only data that I have seen in this case shows that the clear majority of Maine deer hunters want meat for their freezers, and if, while searching for that meat, they are “lucky” enough to bag a “trophy” (a value weighted perspective), then they’ll gladly accept the bonus.

Bearing that in mind, if real science showed that, in Maine, APRs, different from the “Any-Deer Permit” system the state now employs, became necessary to improve and/or protect the deer herd, then I would support some kind of APR. Is Maine trying to grow the number of deer or the age of the deer?

I’m not exactly writing today to support or refute APRs…not exactly. However, I wanted readers to understand my personal perspective on APRs.

In addition to this, the article Mike Look wrote contains what he describes as three questions Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) must have answered before they would consider implementation of an APR program. Here are the three questions exactly as Look presented them in his article.

1. “Will the APR protect at least 50% of the yearlings? (i.e. make the program biologically sound).”

2. “Is the APR supported by a majority of hunters and landowners?”

3. “Will APR results be objectively monitored to determine success or failure?”

There is little need to spend time attempting to answer each of these three questions in detail because any answer can only be answered as honestly and objectively as the questions themselves. In the first question, are we hunters to assume that because an APR program would “protect at least 50% of the yearlings,” that it makes such a program “biologically sound?”

The author uses results from a recent polling/survey company to make claims that the majority of hunters support APRs. The problem with these surveys, and Responsive Management is included, is the results are only the product of the manipulation of questions to get answers that are desirable. Deny this fact all you want but it is a proven fact. To ask those taking the survey if they would approve an APR of three point to a side, has no qualifying information such that the survey taker can make an honest answer. Neither is there such information available from those promoting APRs.

Maine is a unique place in which to manage deer…as is “Anyplace,” United States. All management decisions for deer have to be uniquely considered. This is one reason that wildlife management has evolved into Wildlife Management Districts (WMD). The process of wildlife management evolved to a point that managers realized that it was a better and more responsible way to care for wildlife, if decisions made could be done within smaller areas. I don’t think I need to give examples of this benefit.

Perhaps if APRs could be somehow, relatively easily, implemented within WMDs that would biologically benefit deer, I could support the decision.

The third question is a killer. It asks if the program is going to be “objectively monitored.” How can this possibly be? Objectivity, regardless of what you have been told, is always based upon somebody’s values. It appears to me that if, say, Quality Deer Management Association, worked with Maine to employ an APR, then what QDMA says is the holy grail. By implementing their rules of conduct and what constitutes winning and losing, then perhaps Maine could “objectively monitor” comparing results with what QDMA considers winning and losing and then we can all hold hands and be winners – we’d get trophies too? (I mean the shiny pins and ribbons.) Success in this instance, appears to be bigger deer, not necessarily a better deer herd.

Age structure is one very important aspect in managing for a healthy, sustained whitetail deer population. Putting in place an APR limiting harvest to only bucks with at least 3 points on one side of the set of antlers, could alter that age structure detrimentally. There certainly are lots more important elements to deer management.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has not supported APRs in the past and I think for very good reasons. In this, I support their decision. With the exception of some central and southern regions of the state, Maine has a more serious management program than making decisions that seem to be pushed by “trophy” hunters.

If QDMA uses these three questions to decide whether to push for an APR program, I would have to question whether their reasons are sound. Responsible deer management must consider much more than protecting 50% of yearlings, (like finding ways to protect at least 30% of fawns in order to become a yearling), whether hunters and landowners want bigger deer and if the results will be assessed according to QDMA standards of success.

I haven’t seen but one or two deer in the woods while hunting in Maine over the past 5 years. To hell with bigger bucks. How about we get to work and figure out how to protect deer beyond Spring fawning?

MDIFW’s Position on Antler Point Restrictions

L.D. 849 was a proposed bill to force the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to implement Antler Point Restrictions (APR) – essentially a requirement that at least one side of a deer’s antlers be made up of at least 3 points longer than one inch. It is believed by some that APR will grow older, bigger deer.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposes APRs and below is a copy of the Department’s testimony in opposition to the bill.

Presented at hearing by Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director:

Good afternoon Senator Davis, Representative Shaw and members of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. I am Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, speaking on behalf of the Department, in opposition to L.D. 849.

L.D. 849 directs the Commissioner to establish an antler point restriction system no later than January 15, 2016 to increase the number of older antlered deer in the State. The system must limit the take of antlered deer to those with 3 or more one-inch tines along the main beam of either or both antlers. The tine restriction would not apply to a junior hunter who holds a valid junior hunting license and is hunting on youth deer hunting day established pursuant to section 11402, subsection 4, paragraph C.

The Department is opposed to the introduction of a mandatory antler point restriction because it may: 1) significantly decrease hunting opportunity, 2) result in high-grading of our buck population, and 3) do little in terms of actually providing a positive impact to the population demographics, or abundance, of Maine’s white-tailed deer.

The purpose of an antler point restriction (APR) is to increase recruitment of yearling bucks into the adult age class. In this regard, the proposed APR would protect most of Maine’s yearling bucks (~73%) from harvest. However, a mandatory APR would also protect approximately 46% (the proportion of adults, aged 2.5-6.5 years, with 5 or fewer points) of adult bucks from harvest. Thus, given the proposed APR, many of the bucks in the current annual harvest would be protected from hunters.   This would significantly decrease the opportunity for hunters to successfully harvest deer.  In fact, we estimate that the annual buck harvest would decline by about 50% if this bill is passed.

In addition, opportunity would also suffer in terms of more limited doe harvests through decreased issuance of any-deer permits (ADPs). MDIF&W often employs expansion factors (e.g., issuing 7 ADPs for every 1 doe expected to be harvested) to ADP allocations in order to help ensure we meet our doe harvest objectives. Because an APR would severely restrict the state’s buck harvest, and not knowing if hunters would thus be more likely to harvest a doe, we would be required to use a more conservative expansion factor.  As an example, if this APR was in place in 2014, MDIF&W would have issued approximately 4,000- 12,000 ADPs as opposed to the over 37,000 it did issue.

In other states APRs are often implemented to allow bucks to grow older, and thereby larger, often with the ultimate goal of increasing antler size. However, some recent studies have shown that APR’s may actually be detrimental to antler growth as a result of increased removal rates of trophy antlered animals from the population. By only harvesting the larger yearlings and not allowing the harvest of the smaller mature males, an APR may inadvertently increase the abundance of the less genetically gifted animals, while simultaneously increasing harvest of the higher quality ones.

Although Maine’s deer population is below objective in some parts of the state, the age structure of our deer herd is very healthy.  A high proportion of bucks live to old age; we aged a buck from central Maine at 18.5 years of age! In fact, some states that have implemented APR did so in an attempt to achieve a buck age structure similar to what we currently have in Maine.  Our deer herd also has a healthy sex ratio, with approximately 1.1 to 2.6 does/buck.   It is important to keep the sex ratio skewed towards does since they are the most important segment of the population for reproduction in areas where the department is trying to grow the population based on public goals.  However, it is important to note that our numbers are well under the ratio of 5 does/buck, which is the point at which demographics might suffer.  Concerns over the number of older-aged bucks in the state are best addressed through measures to increase the total number of deer, not through changes in the percentage of bucks in the population.  Our Department is actively working, through a variety of measures, to increase deer numbers in northern, western, and eastern Maine.

Switching the pressure from one age group to another does not protect the deer population, or even necessarily alter population demographics. It generally just switches the pressure from one age group to another age group. In addition, the natural mortality rate of the younger cohort of deer is much higher than the mortality rate of adult deer, so protecting the young bucks from harvest, does not necessarily ensure their survival; especially in a state with winters as severe as Maine’s. The most effective way to increase older bucks in the population is to increase the herd in total.

ObamaSucksDeer

This buck would probably meet the minimum requirements for Antler Point Restrictions.

Jackalop

This would not!

 

A Discussion on Maine Antler Point Restrictions for Buck Deer

Here we go again! Another debate about antler point restrictions for the perverts who only want to kill “trophy” deer. While this discussion builds, once again, most Mainers are not filling their freezers with the deer meat they want because of a diminished herd. And the talk involves trophy deer hunting?

In an article in the Lewiston Sun Journal by V. Paul Reynolds, he writes of antler point restrictions (APR). I guess I cannot classify myself as either for or against APR. In the case of Maine, I would be all for it if there actually existed sound science that shows it would grow a deer herd in numbers and not just in size (perhaps?).

Reynolds states that “what we know” about APR from what appears to be information he has gathered from Pennsylvania.

Here is what we do know: After six years of APRs in Pennsylvania, state biologists are calling antler restrictions there an unqualified success.

(Question: How can we “know” this if it’s “unqualified?”)

The “what we know” is listed as such:

1. Increased buck survival – (My note: How is this measured? #4 states there there is no change in hunter success rates. It seems the only way to have increased buck survival AND unchanged success rate is to have a pretty healthy herd growth, with good recruitment, each year. Then again, can there be “increased buck survival” simply because the younger bucks, which generally make up the larger percentage of buck harvest, are not being killed? Unsubstantiated, this claim could be misleading.)

2. No change in breeding timing (My note: This could be important but deer managers have continued to extend the deer hunting season well into and beyond the breeding season. I don’t see how APR could change this.)

3. Avoided negative genetic impacts – (My note: Assuming that means that APRs will not “destroy” the gene pool, a lack of understanding of genetics might lead someone to think such. Newsweek ran an article a few years ago on how trophy hunting (whatever that was as it was never defined) was destroying the gene pool, i.e. killing off all the big animals, would result in a weaker, smaller species. If you kill off all the big animals, the overall size of the herd may be smaller in size because that is what’s left, but this has nothing to do with genetics. (Please see this article for information about genetics and gene pools from Dr. Valerius Geist, Wayne Heimer, Michael and Margaret Firisna, Eric Rominger and Raymond Lee.)

In addition to this, Lee Kantar, former head deer biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and now head moose biologist, explained to me a few years ago about his thoughts on genetics and trophy hunting.

In the big game management world researchers have been looking more at potential consequences of trophy hunting and how it affects social hierarchies as well as the genetic structure of a particular herd. In order for real effects to take place, a significant number of older age class animals would need to be removed from the herd consistently over a number of years to start to have effects. In isolated herds with low total population numbers this could certainly be of concern…

In essence, the only way genetics, much like buck to doe ratios can be seriously altered is due to extremely poor management or none at all and unrestricted hunting, and/or a deliberate attempt to change genetics.)

4. Maintained hunter success rates – (My note: In the same article in reference here, Kyle Ravanna, MDIFW’s new deer biologist says, “if Maine imposed antler point restrictions, our hunter success rate on bucks, based on current statistics, would decline nearly 50 percent.” Note Ravanna didn’t say COULD decline 50% but WOULD. I’m not sure how he can make that determination. He may have preconceived notions based on information he has and what he would intend to do should Maine implement APR. I would concur that in Maine, with the present state of the deer herd, employing some kind of antler restriction that further restricts a hunter from being able to harvest a deer, would certainly lower the success rate AND anger a lot of hunters. Ravanna also stated that if an APR program wasn’t used “properly” it could actually harm the herd. And that I agree with.

For Pennsylvania to claim that APRs did not change the success rate, then they must have an abundant deer herd that reproduces well enough to not diminish the hunters’ chances at bagging a deer. Maine does not have an abundant deer herd in most areas and therefore, all I can envision by implementing APR is even more of a loss of opportunity to put meat in my freezer.

I strongly believe that the majority of deer hunters, do so for meat. A few are strictly “trophy” hunters, but most will be as picky as conditions permit but in the end they want meat – a trophy becomes a bonus. And probably most would like to have an increased chance at bagging a trophy but not at the expense of losing opportunity and/or reducing success rates.)

5. Increased number of adult bucks – (My notes: The only way this can happen is if the deer herd is healthy enough to consistently recruit enough fawns and yearling deer each season in order that with a consistent success rate, the number of “adult bucks” would remain the same or increase.)

6. Increased age structure of bucks – (My note: This would only stand to reason, provided of course recruitment remained basically unchanged. Age structure is a good indicator of the health and condition of a deer herd. This needs to be monitored carefully and management practices employed in order to meet the goals of a sound deer management plan. Simply increasing the age structure of a deer herd in not necessarily a good thing.)

Before any serious thought can be given to any kind of APR program, Maine has to get it’s deer herd back to a more consistently populated herd, with good age structure and recruitment.