October 18, 2017

Venison 101


Maine Legislature Axes Many Deer Hunting Bills

George Smith’s website lists all the deer hunting proposed pieces of legislation that got shot down. Thanks to the Legislature for addressing this list of useless bills in the fashion they did. It appears that many think “Any-Deer” permits are something to be used for special interest groups only.

In the meantime, those of us who care, are still waiting for the Department of Inland Fisheries and wildlife to release the harvest data for the 2016 deer hunt. So far, this is the third slowest in getting the report out.


Playing With Maine’s Big Bucks…Numbers That Is

I recently wrote an article for a local newspaper in Maine, The Bethel Citizen, about how “Statistics Prove that Statistics Can Prove Anything.” That article didn’t have room for all, or even any, of the graphs and charts I’ve been collecting about Maine’s “Big Bucks,” i.e. those bucks weighing in excess of 200 lbs and those registered with the magazine Maine Sportsman.

If you examine the chart below, you will see in the left column the years 1999 through 2016. Please note that the total deer kill for 2016 is an estimate because the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has not released data as of this writing.

For Big Buck comparisons, focus your attention on the column that shows the % of Big Bucks as to the total deer harvest. This chart might tell us that not only has the number of Big Bucks killed over the past 16 or so years decreased but something worth paying attention to is that the % of Big Bucks to the total harvest has not remained steady. Logic should force us to conclude that if all things are relative and in line with management goals for deer, regardless of the number of deer harvested, the % of Big Bucks should remain virtually the same. It doesn’t.

This next graph, which I found on the Face Book page for Maine Deer Hunters, posted by Troy Frye, gives us a great glimpse at the number of bucks harvested versus the number of “Antlerless” deer for each season, 2000 – 2015. I see an interesting graphic. After the severe winters of 2007/2008, MDIFW cut “Any-Deer Permits” allocation drastically. By doing such, hunters were not able to take the first deer they saw, providing they had a permit that allows harvest of either sex. In other words, an “Any-Deer Permit” does not limit the bearer to shooting only an “antlerless” deer. While during those years, the total deer harvest did drop, the buck harvest didn’t drop by the same percentage as the total harvest.

The percentage of bucks to “antlerless” harvest was considerably higher from the years 2008 through 2015. How does this affect the percentage of Big Buck harvest in comparison with total deer harvest, as shown in the chart above?

That may be a difficult task to answer, however we can see from the above chart that the number of Big Bucks and the percentage of total harvest dropped and essentially has remained low since at least 2008 – none of these numbers remaining consistent.

To provide us with an easier comparison, my techno guru put this graph together for me. I must give credit where credit is due. The basic graph that shows the total number of Big Bucks harvested, from 2000 – 2016 was also posted on the Maine Deer Hunter Face Book page. My techno guru overlaid (in red) the percentage of Big Bucks as compared to total deer harvest. Note: There are some slight differences in numbers used from one source to another. Those differences should not have any measurable influences in determining, or attempting to determine, trends.

The last two charts attempt to make comparisons of the average weights of the top ten heaviest harvested Big Bucks for the years 2006 – 2016. Does anything here jump out at you?

Deer management is a very complex science. While it might be interesting to play around with statistics, with what is presented essentially anyone could make an argument for or against most anything related to deer management. While I, or anyone else, might recognize a possible trend, it is most difficult to make any real firm statements without having at one’s disposal all the data for the years in question due to the many influences that can alter any data from one year to the next.

Having said all that, here’s something that I think should provide information the Maine Legislature, or the MDIFW Committee, or anyone else should consider BEFORE proposing another Sunday Hunting Bill.

The chart, found on Maine Deer Hunter Facebook page, posted by Troy Frye, shows the 2016 Big Buck Harvest and what percentage of that harvest occurred on what day of the week. For example, 31% of the total Big Buck harvest took place on Saturday. That’s because more hunters have that day of the week off from work and take it to hunt.

When you consider that Maine can only sustain a deer herd with a limited total deer harvest, adding Sundays to the hunting season would not necessarily add 3 or 4 weekend days a season to hunt. In short, to maintain a desired and limited deer harvest, the total season would need to be shortened to offset the increased hunter effort.


What Kind of Lazy-Ass Hunting is This?

One proposed bill in Maine concerning deer hunting is LD 62, an act that would legalize hunting deer over bait. Most already know I oppose this as it is not a necessary tool to keep deer populations in check, among other things, and I also find it ridiculous that it is legal to plant a “food crop” specifically for deer and hunt over that, as somehow being that much different than hunting over a pile of bait. Instead of increasing the ability to bait, it’s time MDIFW enacted a law making it illegal to hunt over food crops – those specifically planted at deer bait.


In George Smith’s article about discussion at the committee level on LD 62, there are two distinct comments/testimony made by those in attendance that readers should pay attention to.

One is a man named Guy Randlett, described as a Maine Guide who, among other things, said this: “Sitting in a nice dry ground blind in a comfortable chair from dawn till dusk only enhances it all for me.”

The second testimony is that of Dave Kelso, who favored passage of the bill. Among many issues he presented, he stated: “By allowing baiting for deer, landowners would be in a position to charge a lease fee for bait sites.” In addition, this: “The way that we hunt in Maine is changing and is going to change even more just in my lifetime. Leases and hunt clubs are going to come to Maine. You are going to be hearing about antler restrictions. With limited land and the possibility of having to judge a deer before pulling the trigger, baiting only makes sense to allow everyone an equal opportunity.”

If this is the direction that Maine wants to take its deer hunting, count me out. I realize that each hunter has his own preferences for hunting within the laws that regulate it. I would not suggest denying anybody of those choices. However, what is being described here, as though it is something good, in no way resembles the traditional deer hunting I grew up with. Not unlike catch and release fishing, I find lounging in a recliner waiting for a buck with big enough antlers to satisfy one’s qualifications of “trophy” as being quite perverse.

Because hunting deer while sitting in a blind with all the modern conveniences, staring at a bait pile, is an indication of how deer hunting is changing, I would suggest that, unless I’m the only one left alive who likes traditional deer hunting, we do everything in our power to stop this “progressive” change that will bastardize a once precious tradition.


SAM Opposes Deer Baiting, Sells Wildlife Seeds to Grow Crops for Deer Baiting


I wrote earlier today about how the Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife disapproved a bill proposal that would have allowed baiting deer and shooting deer over bait. In that report I said there were differences between creating a bait station and hunting over that site and growing a crop of food for “wildlife,” and there are. For one, the crop growing site wouldn’t force so many deer, nose to nose, for those worrying about chronic wasting disease. Secondly, the sales pitch for growing the crops, whether beside or near “deer wintering areas,” would be because it provides nutrition for deer prior to and coming out of deer yards. From here you can conjure up any excuse you want for or against the action.

And there’s sort of a difference between hunting over a bait pile versus hunting over a crop grown to attract deer, but I can’t think of what it might be.

So, one has to wonder. According to the Portland Press Herald report, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) opposed the bill that would allow hunting deer over a bait pile. “David Trahan, director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Don Kleiner, director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, opposed the bill because it could put more hunting pressure on herds in areas where deer are relatively sparse, and there’s “no real biological or management-based reason to support (the bill),”

But they more than support growing deer crops and hunting over the crops, even if those crops are planted in areas where “deer are relatively sparse,” as can be seen from the advertisement below. Maybe the fear is that deer bait piles are not nutritious and would be bad for deer…but not for bears?

I doubt there is enough crop growing statewide that is having much of any influence over manipulating nutrition for deer. However, I think for the state to allow hunting over those crops, especially when you consider the location of some of these crops, they need to provide a better more explanation.


Deer Baiting Bill Shot Down in Committee

The proposed deer baiting bill for Maine deer hunting was shot down in committee, I am being told. One reason given was that, “this could really hurt the pride of hunting in Maine,” and explained that shooting deer over bait would incite groups like the Humane Society to “ripping these things apart,” and, “to see our hunting industry jeopardized.” Helloooooo!

The Humane Society of the United States and others, are already doing everything to “rip(ping) these things apart,” and to put the hunting industry in jeopardy. Although I don’t support hunting over bait, this is just the kind of reaction groups like the Humane Society of the United States hope to create – to live in fear of their shadow.

One guide at the hearing commented that it was legal to hunt over “crops” that deer like to feed on, so what was the difference? There are some obvious differences but it is my opinion that hunting over “crops” shouldn’t be allowed either. I like to see hunting as HUNTing not shooting.

But it still comes down as a practice that is not needed in Maine for deer hunting. It only promotes more lazy hunting and could jeopardize the opportunities of others by forcing a shorter season, among other reasons. Should the management of deer in Maine become necessary to implement a baiting rule, then this is a tool that should be available to the department.

Congratulations to the Committee for defeating this measure.

“AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Tuesday against endorsing a bill that would have ended the state’s prohibition on using bait to hunt deer in Maine.”<<<Read More>>>


Deer Management Dollars: Don’t Question Government. Take Their Word as Fact

*Editor’s Note* – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to increase hunting license fees from $30.00 to $34.00, and they say the increase is needed for “maintaining the level of deer management Minnesota has. Not increasing it.” In addition, the government says we’ll have to take their word for it when they say that most of the money from hunting license fees goes toward deer management even if a recent audit didn’t show that…or can’t show that. Officials say that employees of DNR don’t closely scrutinize how much work actually benefits deer….or something. Perhaps they consider Facebook time as deer management?

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) have previously voiced concern the the DNR was doing a poor job at deer management and claim the proof is in the fact that hunting success has dropped off, along with deer populations.

First of all, name me another non governmental organization that gets a greater than 10% increase in their income upon request. I thought so. What’s difficult to understand is, if the MDHA is not happy with the DNR’s deer management, why then are they seemingly negotiating with the government on how much the increase will be for the hunting license and many other fees paid by sportsmen? It appears a simply rejection of this proposal is in order.

This is a classic example of insanity and the redundant belief that throwing money at something makes it better. Over the many years I’ve covered these topics, I often hear sportsmen comment that they think they get a lot for the amount of money they pay for a license. Is that the issue? It shouldn’t be but I assure you it’s part of the problem. The questioning should be as to whether or not YOUR license dollars are being spent in the way you want them spent…without blindly accepting the word of corrupt government that they are looking out for you.

If only $2.00 of a $30.00 hunting license fee goes to deer management, and the overwhelming majority goes toward the “general fund,” in which government bureaucrats say is used to benefit deer and deer management, then Minnesota hunters are being hosed and they should do something about it.

Another issue to consider, but seldom is, is the insanity of something being unacceptable and money is being requested to “maintain” the same level of insanity. Either deer management is good or it’s not. Either way all government fascists should be required to explain precisely where every penny goes. Dumping money into a general fund is the government’s favorite way of using that money for personal pet projects, etc. Perhaps cutting the budget, along with other IMPROVEMENTS, would be a better option. Governments get very comfortable with their lying, cheating and stealing and expect you and I will continue to support their bad habits.

Most sportsmen get quite angry when they find out that any fish and game department is using game license fees to support non game activities. It’s doubly angering when how such funds are being spent is unclear because there is no accounting for it, and triply angering when government says, “TRUST ME.”

“Here’s how the $30 from a deer license is currently set up,” Engwall said. “One dollar goes into a special deer-bear management account. Fifty cents goes into an emergency deer feeding/deer health [think CWD] account. Fifty cents goes into a wolf management account. Twenty-six dollars goes into the Game and Fish Fund. And only $2 goes into the dedicated deer management account.”<<<Read More>>>


By Funding Trophy Wolf Hunts, We’re Destroying Real Game Hunts

wolfutah*Editor’s Note* – This post first appeared on this website on October 8, 2014. It was requested of me to republish it as a means of updating the importance of the article as a prediction of the future.

It seems just a short while ago that wolf (re)introduction happened – 1995 and 1996. A lot of water has passed under the bridge and as the water moved downstream, it has blended in with a lot of other water, not becoming lost but perhaps unrecognizable.

As most of you know, I’m writing a book about wolves. Actually it’s really not about wolves other than to point out the obvious behaviors of the animal. The book is more about the corruption. However, in working to put all this information together, I’ve come across some things that I had written about in which I had actually forgotten.

It really began in early 2009, when there was a glimmer of hope that wolves might come off the Endangered list and residents in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could begin killing the animal to get it back down to 100 wolves as promised in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. What? Had you forgotten?

Around about that same time, I began reading about the plans Idaho was going to begin formulating in preparation for wolf hunts. I said then that utilizing a season for “trophy” wolf hunting would not work.

I wrote a five-part series that I know some of you have read, perhaps more than once, called “To Catch a Wolf” – an historical account of the extreme difficulty people had throughout history trying to control wolves to stop them from killing livestock and attacking people.

The real joke was when Idaho officials, in a fraudulent attempt to convince anyone who would blindly listen, that trophy hunting wolves, was going to protect the elk, deer and moose herds. This did not happen. As a matter of fact, it so much did not happen, that Idaho Fish and Game took to helicopters to gun down wolves in the Lolo Region because officials were willing to admit there was a wolf problem….or maybe they were just placating the sportsmen. They killed 5 wolves and yet somehow they want sportsmen to believe that a trophy hunting season will protect the game herds?

The myth here is that increasing or decreasing wolf tags will grow or shrink elk, deer and moose herds. Sorry, but controlling elk, deer and moose tags controls elk, deer and moose herds. Select-harvesting a handful of wolves does nothing to protect game herds.

Why, then, are Idaho sportsmen continuing to fund a fraudulent trophy wolf hunting season that may actually be causing the further destruction of the elk, deer and moose they so much wish to protect and grow?

On November 30, 2012, I wrote and published the following article. I took the liberty to embolden some statements I wish to now more fully draw your attention to.

Trophy Hunting Season on Wolves Destroying More Elk, Moose and Deer?

Recently I read a comment made by Bob Ream, chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) Commission, state that:

We [MFWP] have implemented more and more aggressive wolf harvests. We also increased lion harvests considerably this year.

The word aggressive is certainly an overused adjective used much in the same fashion as say a male peacock when he displays his tail feathers. In the context used in the quote above, I’m assuming Mr. Ream intended his use of the word aggressive to mean something to be proud of, a feat of accomplishment or something related. But when talking about wolves, killing, attacks, predation, hunting, trapping, disease and every aspect associated with gray wolves, “implementing[ed] more and more aggressive wolf harvests” kind of rings a bit hollow.

In its simplest form, wolves, at least under the existing conditions in most of Montana, Idaho and Wildlife, grow and expand at a rate of anywhere between 20% and 30%, I am told and have read as well. Estimates of wolf populations mean little except in political and emotional battles because nobody knows how many there are and they are lying if they tell you otherwise. For the sake of argument, I have read that the tri-state region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have at least 6,000 wolves. On the top end I’ve heard 15,000 but I’m going to guess that might be high but then again I don’t live there and spend time in the woods.

If there were 6,000 wolves then math tells us that 1200 – 1800 wolves should be killed each year just to sustain the population at 6,000; and states like Montana, who according to Bob Ream, are aggressively killing more wolves.

But now the question has been brought up that perhaps states offering hunting and trapping seasons, based on the principle of “trophy” and “big game” hunting and trapping, might be causing even more game animals, like elk, moose and deer, to be killed. Is this possible?

It was nearly 4 years ago that I wrote a series, “To Catch a Wolf“. Much of the purpose of that series and other related articles, was to explain how difficult it is to kill a wolf; historically and globally. It’s one of the hardest things to do over a prolonged period of time and that’s why I chuckle at comments like Bob Ream’s when he describes the MFWP actions toward killing wolves as aggressive. There is NOTHING aggressive about trophy hunting wolves.

The process was long and mostly wrought with illegal actions and corruption, but eventually, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming got the infamous and controversial gray wolf removed from protections of the Endangered Species Act and trophy hunting seasons commenced; after all, wasn’t that the target goals of each of the states’ fish and game departments?

And so how’s that “aggressive” hunting and trapping going to reduce wolf populations?

If any of this isn’t complicated and wrought with emotion and irrational thinking enough already, in an email exchange I received today, the idea was presented that hunting a token number of wolves, in other words, managing them as a game species and classified as a trophy animal, might actually be only amounting to breeding a healthier, less stressful wolf that will eat more elk, deer and moose and become an even larger creature than it already is, further capable of killing more and bigger prey.

This idea is based in science, although those who don’t like the science disregard it. The science is the topic of wolf size. Most people are of the thought that a wolf’s size is determined by the species or subspecies the wolf comes from. I’m not going to pretend I have a full grasp of this science but will pass on that the essence of wolf size is determined mostly by food supply.

Consider then this premise to manage wolves as a big game species, which is what is being done in Montana and Idaho. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which includes managing game for surplus harvest, has worked marvelously well over the years, producing in places too many of certain game species. We certainly don’t want that for wolves as the proportion of wolves to prey/game species will soon get all out of whack. Our only hope then, is that the fish and game departments will fail as miserably managing wolves as they have elk, moose and mule/whitetail deer.

There is a reason why honest wildlife managers classify bona fide game animals as such and coyotes (and it should be also wolves) varmints to be shot and killed on site. It’s the only way to keep them at bay. This would be considered an aggressive move toward wolf control. Anything, short of an all out organized program to extirpate the wolf, would work just dandy and would never danger the future existence of this animal.

In the years that I have written about wolves, wolf “management” and the political nonsense that goes hand in hand with it, it certainly appears to me that there has become quite an effort among sportsmen to protect THEIR “trophy” wolf hunts. Is that in the best interest of actually regaining a vibrant elk, deer and moose population, that is supposed to be managed for surplus harvest, according to Idaho code?

In its most basic form, at least ask yourself how that “aggressive” trophy wolf hunting is effecting the elk, deer and moose herds? At the same time, what has become and continues to become of those elk tags? There just aren’t enough “trophy” wolf hunters to be effective and supporting the farce perpetuated by Idaho Fish and Game isn’t helping. It’s the same as buying a fifth of gin for a gin-soaked homeless fool.

As was relayed to me today, it seems the, “participants are in a race for the final bull elk or big buck in various units.” That’s the direction it seems we are headed.

Here’s a mini refresher course in promised wolf management. When the Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved, leading to the Final Rule on Wolf Reintroduction, the citizens of the Northern Rocky Mountain Region, where wolves were to be (re)introduced, were promised several things. First, we were promised that wolves would be “recovered,” a viable, self-sustaining population, when 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves existed in three separate wolf management zones for three consecutive years. Those numbers were achieved by 2003. What happened? Nothing but lawsuits and wolves didn’t finally get delisted until 2011 due to legislative action.

All promises made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were based on 30 breeding pairs and 300 wolves. They lied!

Second, citizens of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were promised that wolves would have no measurable impact on wild game herds. The only thing that might possibly be needed was a slight 10% or less reduction in cow elk tags should the occasion arise for the need to boost elk production in exceptional cases.

So, I ask. How many elk tags have been lost since those promises were made? As a matter of fact, all promises made were reneged on. There is no reason to believe or support anything promised us by government. Stop giving government money to run their con game. At this rate game animals will all be gone soon enough and no hunting opportunities will prevail….except possibly trophy wolf tags.

What will it be. As the old saying goes, “Pay me now or pay me later.”


If I Were In Charge of MDIFW

The Maine Sportsman, a print publication, carried an article in their January 2017 edition written by Joe Saltalamachia, Director of Admissions at Unity College in Maine. The title was, “If You Were in Charge of DIF&W…” In the February, 2017 edition, the magazine published comments left by readers who responded to Mr. Saltalamachia’s suggestions of what things he would change in order to, “increase the number of big deer in Maine,” by changing the whitetail deer hunting rules.

First let me give you the brief list of the author’s recommendations:

1. No rifle hunting during the November rut in the southern third of the state.

2. An early two-week muzzleloader season and expanded archery opportunities.

3. A delay in the firearms season to the first two weeks of December

4. Youth Day rules all season for those younger than 16.

We should draw our attention to the fact that the author’s suggestions are based, evidently, completely upon the concept of increasing the number of big deer in Maine. This is a common desire for those who seem to be hung up on trophy hunting rather than meat hunting. One of the aspects of Quality Deer Management seems always focused on growing older and bigger deer, not necessarily for the health of the deer herd but to grow bigger deer for more opportunities to bag trophy deer. I guess that’s fine if that is the purpose of deer hunting and has no serious affects on the health of the herd, including, but not limited to, age structure and sex ratio. But surveys still indicate the majority of deer hunters are meat hunters, but would be happy to bag a “trophy” in the process.

I’ve been searching to find where one outdoor writer suggested that making rules and regulations, i.e. antler point restrictions or most any rule changes for the purpose of growing older and bigger deer, would bring the structure of the deer herd more in line with a natural selection. I can’t find it, sorry. But, Huh?

What would the age structure, sex ratio, etc. of deer look like if man disappeared from the planet? Of course nobody knows…even if they think or say they do. What would the age structure, sex ratio, etc. of deer look like if man didn’t necessarily disappear but left deer management up to “natural selection?” That we might have a bit of a better idea, depending upon who’s “science” you want to believe to support theories. Despite Romance Biology and Voodoo Science ideology, the ups and downs of Natural Regulation would provide periods, perhaps extended periods, of shortages of game and relative abundance. Perhaps the worst case scenario would be a predator pit environment – where depending upon the availability of alternative prey, predators can and do tear deer and other ungulate populations to effectively zero, but certainly unsustainable levels.

So long as man walks the planet, his influence will be felt in many ways, including the existence and prevalence of whitetail deer in Maine. It was realized at least 100 years ago that if man wanted to sustain and perpetuate game animals as a resource for sustenance, they had to do more than just let things take care of themselves. Game management was born and has been evolving since then – mostly for the good but of late is tending to be dominated by misguided scientists trained by environmentalists with agendas – huge supporters of Romance Biology and Voodoo Science.

In know I have gotten off task just a smidgen, but the point to make is that everything that man does in regards to game/wildlife management is a manipulation, done presumably for the benefit of man for purposes such as hunting the surplus populations to regulate game populations. Whatever we do, to some degree, we are manipulating the age structure, sex ratio, etc. Some activities will strongly and perhaps wrongly alter the age structure and sex ratio., etc. and those acts we need to consider seriously before creating the wrong manipulations for solely selfish reasons – that is, provided we understand what the structures need to be in order to accomplish the goals set out in our plans for game management.

With this in mind, we must then ask the question of whether or not the suggestions being made, to grow older and bigger “trophy” deer, are in the best interest of the deer herd or the best interest of the trophy hunter, both, or are there any real differences worth noting?

Scientifically I cannot fully answer that question, and I’m not sure who can. Yes, we’ll have those who swear by and make claims that these suggestions have proven a great thing (personal value-weighted perspective) in other places across America, but Maine is not other places. To suggest otherwise might be tell-tale of one’s ignorance of the myriad of influencing factors found within a deer’s habitat.

We can have our ideology, but doesn’t, or shouldn’t, the bottom line come down to science? Should game biologists and administrators buckle to the pressures of seemingly selfish trophy hunters just to keep them happy, even if this is to the detriment of meat hunters – or vice-versa? Isn’t this just another example of attempting to manage deer and other game animals based on social pressures rather than sound science? If the science finds changing rules to grow bigger, older deer has no real affect on the deer population, then it may be appropriate to look into finding ways to satisfy the social demands, while at the same time satisfying the majority of hunters. On the other hand, let science trump social demands. It may anger some, but the onus will be on the scientists to factually explain the science behind their decisions. I’m not sure that is being done effectively.

So, from the perspective of the context of what the author is looking for, growing bigger and older bucks, then the discussion can focus on whether or not the four suggested deer hunting rule changes would accomplish that task.

I have some concerns.

First, bear in mind that in my review of the comments from readers about the article in question, it appears that readers were nearly equally split. However, I do not know whether the comments published were all comments or even a representation of the whole. There were those that were fully on board with the author’s suggestions, and while the remainder may not have outwardly opposed the rule changes, many voiced concern (?) that it would be a daunting task to convince the majority of “meat” hunters in Maine to go along with such deer management manipulations. These things I understood.

What appeared obvious to me from the comments was that the majority of those who appeared in favor of bigger and older bucks, also believed in accomplishing this manipulation there would be more deer and that their efforts to harvest that trophy buck would require less effort. Is this the direction we want to go in? – i.e. bigger, older bucks for trophies, more deer with less effort. That’s hard for me to swallow. As much as I might gripe and complain about not seeing many, or any, deer, aren’t we decreasing the value (yes, value-weighted individual perspective) of the hunt. Remember the old adage our parents once taught us that you appreciate more the things you have to work hard for.

I don’t have a lot of understanding about rule proposals 1, 2, and 4. The only comment I will make has to do with no hunting during the rut in the southern third of the state. I have heard the argument that when bucks are shot during the rutting season, this prevents does from getting bred. I would like to see actual science behind this theory, as what I have studied does not suggest this. Most past studies will show that does will get bred. This is partially supported by the fact that a doe will continue in estrus until such time as she has become successfully bred.

This reminds of the study undertaken at Cornell University as they attempted to “solve” a problem with too many deer on or near campus. Scientists, and the help of students, created an experiment in which they essentially prevented the does from getting pregnant through the process of tubal ligation. The result ended up with more deer than they started with because the biological manipulation may have stopped the does from getting pregnant but left them in perpetual estrus – a giant calling card for any buck downwind.

To move the regular rifle season on deer to the first two weeks in December, could actually be quite detrimental to the population of bucks and surely would end up killing off older bucks. It is for this reason I have generally been opposed to the muzzleloader seasons that run into the second week in December. Fortunately the hunter effort for this late season is not nearly as great as what is seen in the regular rifle season.

Now, move the rifle season to the first two weeks in December, placing tens of thousands of hunters in the woods chasing already exhausted bucks because of the rut, and the harassment will further prevent the spent bucks from replenishing what little time they have before yarding up, driving them deeper into exhaustion further limiting their survival through the winter. This makes little sense to me. Also keep in mind that shortening the rifle season to two weeks, instead of four, could possibly result in 4 times the amount of pressure on bucks, at this late period of the season.

I am also reminded of a piece of scholarship written by Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor emeritus, Faculty of Environmental Design, The University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in reference to whether or not killing “trophy” bucks would weaken the gene pool. It should only be fitting that some kind of a definition be given to what a “trophy” deer constitutes. Perhaps my description that I used in the above referenced article will suffice: “the effort of hunters to select an animal for harvesting that has large antlers/horns in combination with big body mass.”

Environmentalists have often attempted to attack deer hunting, as well as all forms of hunting, in various ways. One way was to make up “science” and the claim that “trophy hunting” spoils the gene pool. Not only does the evidence show this claim is false but studies suggest some very interesting things about big-antlered and big-bodied, so-called, “trophy” deer.

Geist writes:

“Optimal results were achieved by artificially preventing males from rutting. Males that did not rut had no need to heal the severe rutting wounds suffered by rutting males, and were thus able to shift their body resources from repair and re-growth into increased body and antler growth. Moreover, the absence of wounding would lead to the desirable symmetrical antler growth.

“However, stags that reached maximum antler development were severely handicapped by their unwieldy antlers in fighting and tended to lose out to normally antlered males. Not infrequently trophy stags locked their complex antlers and died. Large trophy antlers conveyed no apparent benefit to their bearers, quite the contrary. This suggests that in freeliving populations, male deer with exceptionally large antlers may be non-breeders, and thus individuals of low fitness.”

During a time span when there seemed to be much discussion about how, if at all, “trophy” hunting was somehow weakening the big buck gene pool, I posed the question to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) head deer biologist (at that time), Mr. Lee Kantar. Essentially I asked him if hunters became obsessed with only killing “trophy” deer (see above for definition of trophy) would it disrupt the age structure, or have any negative effects like a weakening of the big buck gene pool. Follow this link to read my complete question and Mr. Kantar’s complete answer. His answer, in it’s entirety might surprise some. Here is part of what he said:

“…about 93% of the bucks are taken in November-December and therefore have most likely had the opportunity to breed. Behaviorally these trophy bucks are covering a lot of ground during the rut and because of their social dominance they are having the first crack at does coming into estrus. Past research in Maine has shown most females come into estrus during the 3rd week of November. Although does are coming into estrus probably in the beginning of November well into December. Last year about 45% of the bucks were harvested after November 13th when the height of the rut was coming on, this provides ample opportunity for mature bucks to breed does. Does that come into estrus earlier will most likely be bred my mature bucks earlier in the season based on social dominance.”

Most don’t understand the rut, the actions and reactions of deer, specifically bucks, which deer are, do and can breed with a doe in estrus, nor do they have much understanding about genetics and how this effects the perpetuation of “trophy” deer. I doubt very few understand taxonomy and how it influences antler growth and body mass.

I believe, and I think I have science to support that belief, that under most conditions all does that are able to get bred, will get bred. Usually, the “dominant” buck will be the successful breeder and as such, the perhaps incorrect belief, is that this “dominant” buck is also a “trophy” buck. Many fear that if the “trophy” bucks don’t mate all the does when they come into estrus, and are killed off before or during the rut, will go unbred. They also lose track of the fact that on offspring of their fabled “trophy” buck may get a jump on dear ole dad and get the breeding done in his absence. Aren’t the genes still being passed on?

It certainly appears that manipulating hunting rules and regulations to grow bigger and older bucks, under some conditions, will not cause harm to the age structure or sex ratio. This manipulation will not alter the gene pool.

However, seriously increasing hunting pressure on deer, including bucks, as late as into the middle of December, could have serious, negative ramification for survival of those dominant, breeding bucks.

Perhaps in search of satisfying our selfish whims to hunt bigger and older “trophy” deer, with considerably less effort, does little good for any deer herd.

A wise deer biologist once told me that if managers are doing the right thing to grow and care for a healthy deer herd, under consideration of the North American Model of Wildlife Management (surplus harvest) most all special interest (selfish) hunter’s dreams will be taken care of. Trickle-down biology?

There will always be places where, historically, that “trophy” (personal, value-weighted perspective) can be found. My advice would be to save up your dollars and make that trip to find the trophy. It’s not always in the best interest to try to make where you are into your dream trophy hunting Shangri-La.


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?