December 2, 2022

Why Do Hunters Keep Supporting the Culture of Corruption in Our State Fish and Game Agencies?

*Editor’s Note* The following article appears in the May-July 2013, issue of The Outdoorsman, Bulletin 52. It is republished here with permission from the author. I encourage every reader to subscribe to The Outdoorsman. You can see instructions and information in the right sidebar on the front page of this blog. Thank you.

The Commercialization of Hunting & Fishing

In his article titled, “Why Johnny Won’t (Be Able to) Hunt,” in the Dec 2012-Apr 17, 2013 Outdoorsman, John Street said evidence of the start of “Commercialization of Hunting (and Fishing)” points to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although that is the period when state fish and game agencies began to misuse limited draw hunts and other schemes to increase their income, the commercialization actually began as World War II ended in 1945.

The arms and ammunition and other manufacturers of the tools of war realized they were losing their number one customer – Uncle Sam. They joined with assorted manufacturers, airline and other travel companies, and retailers that provided food, lodging and outdoor recreation supplies in a massive campaign to create new markets.

The Wildlife Management Institute, run by the former first Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Ira Gabrielson, was funded primarily by arms and ammunition manufacturers. After visiting two-thirds of the states and two Canadian Provinces, Gabrielson provided each with an individual book of game management recommendations that claimed to be based on biological science.

Yet a common theme in his recommendations was increasing the number of non-resident big game hunters to harvest surplus animals in remote areas that he said were adversely impacting their natural food supply.

For example, he said mule deer and elk populations in Idaho’s Primitive Area exceeded the carrying capacity of their winter range. He also said populations elsewhere in the state provided plenty of animals for residents to harvest, and pointed out that creating a second $1.00 deer tag on the Middle Fork had not justified the extra money required for locals to access that area by pack string or airplane.

Concerns for Idaho Big Game

But in the Big Game Section of its Twenty-first Biennial Report for 1945-46, IDFG pointed out nearly a 100% increase in nonresident hunters in one year, from 422 in 1945 to 824 in 1946. Then it expressed the following concerns:
“The nation has had the greatest sales publicity program that so far has been experienced. Resorts, dude ranches, airlines, railroads, sporting arms manufacturers, sporting magazines and many other concerns have used game popularity as an aid in their advertising. Game and fish are definite attractions meriting public enthusiasm, but it is time to give some thought to how we can meet this increasing demand.

“Discriminating use of airplanes for removal of game from mountains near state and forest landing fields in remote areas has been desirable. However in 1946 we suddenly experienced a large increase in plane use…especially private planes. Planes fly to remote areas from out of state, obtain game, and fly out without ever stopping in Idaho except to land and hunt in those areas. Local planes fly in and out with little likelihood of being checked by game department personnel.”

Vulnerability is the Key

Before WMI and biologists began to exploit our big game, our wildlife managers knew that vulnerability is the most important consideration when establishing season lengths. By 1945 and 1946, deer hunting seasons in eastern Idaho, where hunters had reasonably easy access to mule deer, lasted only 10 days, from October 21 to October 30.

Less accessible deer and elk herds elsewhere with more ability for animals to avoid hunters were hunted from Oct. 5 to Nov. 10 and the most remote backcountry deer herds were hunted from Sept. 25 to Nov. 10. Panhandle deer, mostly white-tails, were hunted from Nov. 1-30.

Because Idaho big game check stations historically recorded only about one-third of the deer hunters kill, the 1946 deer kill of 26,936 reported at check stations reflected an actual statewide deer harvest of perhaps 80,000 deer. The 26,936 was considered excessive so the Idaho Fish & Game Commission cut the 10 days in November from the tail end of most deer seasons in 1947, reporting it was done to reduce stress and excessive weight loss during the rut when mule deer are much more vulnerable.

Despite an increase in the number of hunters in 1947, the statewide harvest recorded at check stations decreased by 8,041 deer to 18,895. Reducing the 37-day seasons by the 10 days in the rut when the deer were more vulnerable reduced the recorded harvest by 30 percent.

Statewide harvests recorded at check stations for the next three years stabilized at 21,924, 22,285 and 22,578, indicating sustained annual harvests of about 67,000 deer. But nearly 50 years of restoring big game herds was about to undergo a dramatic change.

WMI Restructured State Fish & Game Agencies

In 1951, Gabrielson and his D.C.-based biologists were again hired by the 33 State and Provincial wildlife managers to re-organize their agencies. These changes included putting both fish and game management under a single boss, and hiring biologists to provide input to allow maximum sustained harvests of optimum game for the available food supply (see IDFG 1951-1952 Biennial Report).

In 1951, IDFG biologists doubled the deer harvest on the Boise River and increased the statewide harvest recorded at check stations by 47%, from 22,578 in 1950 to 33,250 in 1951! That also included a record white-tailed deer harvest of 3,786 (11 % of the total recorded deer kill).

That represented a probable kill of 100,000 deer and the 33,250 deer was, and still is, the highest number of deer ever checked through Idaho big game check stations in a single hunting season. Despite record snow depths in the winter that followed, the biologists convinced IDFG Director Murray not to feed the starving deer and elk “in order to prevent damage to the winter range.”

The massive starvation losses set their increased harvest program back, but they continued to offer thousands of permits to hunt elk, deer and antelope in 12 game preserves. They also expanded either-sex general elk and deer seasons and in 1954 replaced controlled hunts and bucks-only hunts with lengthy general either-sex seasons.

The Owyhee County Mule Deer Slaughter

In 1946, IDFG Wardens had trapped 172 mule deer at a Boise Valley feed site and released them near Murphy in Owyhee County to supplement the local herd. Then, curtailed hunting and intensive predator control, including widespread use of 1080 poison, resulted in excessive deer populations in much of Owyhee County.

In 1956 game wardens recommended opening a three-day hunt on the State’s general season opening date to prevent excessive numbers of hunters from harassing Owyhee deer that had never been hunted. Instead, biologists scheduled the hunt before the statewide season opener and widely advertised it in California and other states to attract thousands of hunters and would-be hunters.

On opening day, 4,600 deer were checked through just the Marsing check station, with the 3-day kill at all three check stations on the access roads at 9,960! The kill recorded at the same three Owyhee check stations in 1957 was 8,756 in a 3-day hunt again described as “a war zone.”

Several buck racks appeared to qualify for Boone and Crockett listing yet none of them were ever recorded. In the mid-1950s large mule deer racks from the Owyhee, Big Creek and Soda Springs areas were common but most hunters expressed no interest in having them scored.

The Trophy Mania

As deer and elk populations and harvests declined, outdoor writers made it appear that all a person needed to collect a trophy elk or deer was to book a hunt in a remote area, with guides that were automatically skilled hunters and trackers. Lawyers and businessmen from the East and California, along with a smattering of construction workers, firemen, etc., began to replace the handful of bona fide trophy hunters who hunted Idaho’s remote country.

When I began outfitting and guiding to help a back country neighbor who was trying to sell his ranch and outfitting business, it was easy to call in one or two bull elk daily during the mid-September portion of the hunting season. But by 1966, mature bull elk were becoming very scarce, although it was still possible for an experienced guide to find two mature 4-point mule deer bucks for each hunter in a few remote areas (see photo below).


Author with two hunters from Texas posing with the first two partially-caped mule deer they killed in a remote part of Unit 26, on the first day of their September 1966 hunt in Idaho.

In my experience, most hunters given the opportunity to kill mule deer of either sex before the rut, will select a prime mature buck over a female or yearling buck. But the media-generated obsession to take home a buck with a large rack after the rut has rendered the meat less desirable, is called “trophy mania” by Dr. Val Geist.

In addition to being North America’s undisputed authority on deer species, Val Geist has been a lifelong big game hunter. He accurately predicted that holding special “trophy hunts” during the mule deer and elk ruts would threaten public lands hunting and scientific management.

While Wyoming wildlife managers denounced the use of mule deer and elk “trophy” hunts scheduled in the rut or on winter range, IDFG biologists nearly doubled the length of the either-sex mule deer and elk seasons in the back country. Instead of admitting the harvest declines in both species, they ignored the obvious downward trend in check station and hunter reports, and began to exaggerate published harvests in their flawed phone survey (see back-to-back examples over 2 decades in the following chart:)


I quit outfitting in 1967 and, believing that truth would triumph over the bureaucrats’ lies, began publishing The Outdoorsman in tabloid format in May of 1969. Then as now, biologists spent a lot of their time and sportsmen’s license money attacking the whistle-blowers, but 4-1/2 years later it was obvious that many thousands of hunters from the lower 48 States and Alaska cared enough about the wildlife they owned and harvested to demand an end to the biologists’ corruption and lying.

IDFG Admitted Falsifying Known Harvests

A Legislative Audit of IDFG conducted by James Defenbach from 1968-1971 reported that IDFG officials admitted they knew population and harvest figures were much lower than the figures they published. F&G Director Dick Woodworth was fired by Gov. Cecil Andrus and his replacement, Joe Greenley, instructed his biologists to remove the exaggerated phone survey figures and use only the mandatory report totals for the preceding decade.

He also insisted they continue to publish only the actual animals reported killed by hunters until a survey, designed by an expert and verified to maintain statistical accuracy over time, was in place. But after he retired and was replaced by Jerry Conley in 1980, Greenley’s policy of providing accurate information was abandoned.

From 1980-1985 inflation increased actual costs by about 30%, yet in those five years Conley doubled the money IDFG spent annually. This resulted from dozens of UN/Nature Conservancy programs he implemented while his biologists falsely assured the F&G Commissioners they had secured donations and grants to pay for them.

Ignoring Biology – IDFG Added Thousands of Limited Controlled Hunts Solely to Increase Its Revenue

Instead, they increased the number and cost of hunters’ license, tag and special permits fees to pay for the environmental programs. But even worse, they added an average of more than 8,000 limited draw deer hunts and more than 10,000 limited draw elk hunts to the handful that existed in 1980 when Greenley retired.

Most of these hunts were simply “bonus” hunts in units where one or more general season hunts already existed for that species. They provided a special privilege hunt during a period when the deer or elk were more vulnerable for those who were willing to gamble for the chance to hunt when more game is available to fewer hunters, and less effort is required to harvest an animal.

The Result of Selling Chances for Special Privilege Trophy Hunts Instead of Managing Wildlife

When Idaho Representative Dr. Fred Wood was an Idaho F&G Commissioner, he praised his special draw hunt for a mule deer buck in Nevada where few, if any, other hunters were encountered and the chance to harvest a mature 4-point buck was good. Unlike Dr. Geist, Commissioner Wood apparently believed that allowing a limited number of hunters to kill trophy bucks when they are most vulnerable would perpetuate them without maintaining a healthy ratio of predators to prey.

The failure of NDOW biologists to properly control predators, even with a fund legislators appropriated for that purpose several years ago, has been cited by bona fide experts as the primary reason for the current decline in Nevada mule deer and sage grouse. On Jan. 30, 2013, As a result of this ongoing dispute, NDOW Director Ken Mayer resigned as directed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Greedy Biologists Have Created a Terrific Mess

Meanwhile Idaho continues to top other states in destruction of its former billion-dollar renewable wildlife resource, and perversion of the so-called “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.” For several decades it blamed farmers and ranchers for its own mismanagement and, beginning in the 1980s, IDFG used a combination of general seasons and limited controlled hunts extending from mid-Summer into December to raise extra money.

A classic example of this continuing through 2013 is the 2,615 square mile unit 39 with five general and four controlled deer seasons from Aug. 15, through Dec. 16; and three general and three controlled elk seasons from Sept. 8, through Dec. 31. There are only four days in that 4-1/2 month (138 day) total season when hunters cannot legally kill one or both species, and several of the seasons either allow or require the killing of female deer or elk.

With elk and deer populations and harvests hitting a new record low in 1993, and the longest big game hunting seasons in nearly a century, many farmers and ranchers suffered extensive hunter-caused damage. The change from reasonable seasons to much longer total seasons also interfered with the harvest of crops and/or the grazing, gathering and handling of stock, so landowners who had previously allowed limited hunting shut it off.

This was compounded by the purchase of Idaho farms and ranches by wealthy non-hunters from other states. Many of them not only closed their property to all hunting but halted access across it to public lands.

LAP Tags – Part of the Unresolved Mess

Landowner Appreciation Program (LAP) tags were theoretically implemented to be sure landowners in units with no general season got a tag to hunt the species on their own land every year. But in reality, about one-third of the 3,000 or so LAP tags for deer, elk and antelope are for limited antlered or either-sex controlled hunt permits that are highly coveted by wealthy trophy hunters.

Although Idaho law prohibits any tag holder from selling their tag to another person, it also allows the F&G Commission to proclaim the annual LAP rules. Both I.C. Sec. 36-104(b)5(B) and the 24-page proclamation titled, “Idaho 2013 Landowner Appreciation Program,” clearly allow the landowner to designate an “agent” who will receive the tag and use it.

The F&G Commission recommends charging an access fee to hunt on the landowner’s property as a monetary reward to the landowner for allowing people to hunt there. If large bucks and/or bulls are there during the season, this fee could be very high to the designated hunter – especially if no one else is allowed to hunt there.

But what can the landowner charge if the animals are not present during the hunting season? The LAP tag allows the hunter to hunt anywhere in the unit or units covered by the limited controlled hunt, so he can hunt on public land – or on other private land where the animals are if he satisfies that landowner’s monetary requirements.

LAP tags for bucks or bulls in some Units are highly desirable with a high success rate and a high percent of four-point or larger deer and 6-pt or larger elk. Drawing odds of one-in-ten or higher make these LAP permits very valuable and the high number of LAP tags in these units prompt LAP recipients to keep lobbying for the right to advertise and sell them.

Are There Any Trophies That Qualify for B&C?

If any deer or elk with antlers qualified for entry in the Boone and Crocket Record Book exist in Idaho today, they are probably in areas closed to general public hunting. To produce trophy racks repeatedly, a unit must not only have animals with the proper genetics and nutrients, it must also limit the killing of males younger than eight years old in order to produce trophies in the future.

The attempt by states like Utah to let landowners and even state parks produce valuable record-book heads for sale to the highest bidder ultimately raises the entry bar even higher for other trophy hunters. Among the things IDFG officials have tried to bribe me with, to make me stop telling the truth about their corruption, is telling me where to take my family to harvest big game.

I have rejected their bribes for two reasons: First, my goal is to stop the corruption and restore honesty – not become part of the problem; Second, I know far more about game in my area than any biologist as do several readers who communicate with me from other areas.

The following photo, taken on February 14, 2013 before the buck had dropped its antlers, shows an Idaho mule deer with the type of antler growth that might qualify for the B&C Record Book in another few years if it continues to avoid hunters and predators:


Idaho Mule deer buck with does and fawn, photo by Outdoorsman reader who I respect enough not to publish his name or location.

One reason this buck has survived even this long is no hunting is allowed during the rut in the unit it inhabits. Another is the deer are scattered on hard-to-access summer range during the limited hunting season.

Current Spending Even Higher Than Conley

From 1980-2012 inflation increased actual costs of equipment, labor, etc. by 178.6% or 2.786 times the 1980 F&G budget of $10,335,300. Yet actual IDFG expenditures in 2012 were nine times higher and the agency can’t keep blaming that on Jerry Conley who left in 1996!

IDFG’s claim that it was forced to accept these extra programs is a flagrant lie. As we have thoroughly documented, it either lobbied the Legislature to approve every one of these programs – or brazenly violated Idaho law to install and operate The TNC Conservation Data Center, authorize wolf transplants, participate in the CWCS/State Wildlife Action Plan fiasco, etc.

I also documented the fact that, in these extremely costly programs, IDFG lied to the F&G Commission when it claimed to have adequate donations to match the federal money. At its website under “wildlife/nongame” it says: “The Wildlife Diversity Program works to protect almost 10,000 species. That is 97% of Idaho’s biodiversity! From songbirds, raptors, bats, squirrels, frogs, and lizards, to thousands of insects and other invertebrates, as well as Idaho’s native plants.”

With another record low mule deer harvest in 2012 and no biologically sound attempt to correct it, hunters who have not already quit hunting continue to support the F&G lottery to help pay for the destruction of their game and their hunting heritage. If you are one of them, I urge you to read the following article describing how our wildlife agencies support and implement the United Nations Agenda 21, Sustainable Development and Biodiversity.