June 29, 2017

QDMA Whitetail Deer Report for 2016

Below is the link to the 2016 Quality Deer Management Association Report on whitetail deer. Bear in mind a couple of things. One, I am not a very big fan of QDMA for various reasons. One reason is because I believe they put too much focus on “trophy” hunting and manipulating the resource towards that end. Another issue to consider, should you choose to review this report, is that it is a great example of the saying, “Statistic prove that statistics can prove anything.” While QDMA is presenting information about declines and increases in yearling buck harvest and/or buck harvest in general, as well as antlerless deer, it offers no explanations of why. It’s one thing to report declines or increases in yearling buck harvest, for example, even to go to the point of suggesting trends, but to make specific claims requires much greater knowledge and information about all aspects that effect deer management and hunting harvests.

One might suspect that with QDMA’s insistent pushing for antler point restrictions (for trophy hunting purposes), it would seem logical that the buck harvest might decrease when such restrictions are put in place. The same kind of unknown comparison can be applied to reports in changes of antlerless deer. In states, like Maine, that use “Any-Deer Permits” to regulate the populations of deer, significant changes in the allotment of such permits, as has been the case in recent years, obviously affects the harvest data.

That isn’t to say the report is worthless. It contains interesting data and if taken in its context and applied subjectively and honestly, within the smallest denominator of available data in each state, one might find some interesting comparatives, assuming most things remain consistent…and they don’t.

QDMA’s Whitetail Report 2016

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Out of Control “Any-Deer Permit” Allocations?

You can do most anything with numbers to make a point or to raise a lot of questions. If you add some smoke and mirrors, the sky is the limit in what you can do.

Maine deer managers are proposing to increase “Any-Deer Permits” (ADP) to over 66,000 – a tripling of the number of permits issued in 2011 (26,390). Has Maine’s deer population tripled statewide or within Wildlife Management Districts in six years?

State deer managers use the issuance of ADPs in specific Wildlife Management Districts (WMD) to control deer populations. Reports are stating that deer managers say they now need to reduce deer populations in some WMDs and therefore the need to increase ADPs. However, they also report that they are going to go ahead and issue some ADPs in WMDs that are in desperate need to grow the deer population simply to “provide hunting opportunity.”

Not that many years ago, Maine told people that the deer population exceeded 300,000 and the goal was to grow it even larger. During those banner years (if they even existed) ADPs issued amounted to around the mid -70,000. Now one report from a spokesperson with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) said the state has 240,000 deer. I doubt that, but we have few options than to use that as a baseline.

What doesn’t quite add up for me is even when taking into account the issuance of ADPs according to the needs of each WMD, how can the issuing of 66,000 ADPs for a population of 240,000 deer be reasonable when 70,000 permits were issued when it was guessed the deer population to be over 300,000? Something has changed.

By issuing permits in WMDs that have in the range of 4-6 deer per square mile, simply to “provide hunting opportunity,” seems irresponsible, especially when managers claim they are trying to figure out how to grow deer in these regions.

Another question that needs to be asked, it appears that the largest increases in ADPs come in regions where the human population is higher. The MDIFW has also said that it is important to reduce the number of deer in some Southern and Central regions to reduce the spread of tick-born diseases. Is this decision based on pressure from those claiming to have scientific evidence on this issue, or does MDIFW actually have scientific evidence to show the need to reduce deer numbers? We know that MDIFW, and most all wildlife management departments nationwide, manage wildlife mostly according to the demands of the public, while putting science on the far back burner. Is that what’s going on here and how much so?

It seems odd to me that MDIFW seems to be saying that too many deer causes the population to become unhealthy and may cause a public health concern. For that reason they are eager to cut down the deer population. However, when it comes to moose management, too many moose has resulted in a severe outbreak of winter ticks, which are in turn killing the moose population, and yet MDIFW wants to continue to grow the moose population. What’s going on anyway?

At a time when Maine is still in need of growing and stabilizing a deer herd, even preparing for the next round of “severe winters,” it may be necessary in a few WMDs to reduce deer numbers (a feat difficult to achieve because there is limited land access to hunt), but seems utterly irresponsible to issue any ADPs in WMDs that have no deer to begin with.

One has to wonder if this effort to appease hunters isn’t more about finding ways to cover up the decade long dismal deer harvest.

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It’s Always About Habitat: It’s What’s Easiest to See

Several years ago I asked the question that if Maine’s loss of a deer herd was mostly to be blamed on loss of habitat, including so-called “Deer Wintering Areas” (DWA), then why are there many acres of DWAs throughout Maine that are now empty during the winter months or have reduced numbers of deer in them? One would think that if there’s less habitat/DWA that more deer would be crowded into available space.

I’ve never received an honest answer and know that I never will.

It’s much easier to bitch and complain about loss of habitat. Why? People can look out the windows of their climate-controlled SUVs and see trees that have been cut down. That equates to man is a destructive, non caring, greedy SOB and their actions are killing all the animals and plant life.

Of course I am forced to attempt to explain to the emotional, mental midgets, that habitat is vitally important for all living things…that is ALL LIVING THINGS. Last time I checked I was a living thing, although some mornings I wonder.

Realizing also that there are many who don’t understand that good habitat for a yellow warbler isn’t necessarily the same as good habitat for a Canada lynx. In addition, because habitat changes or is changed deliberately by the actions of man, does not necessarily mean some animals and plants die or are in danger of going extinct, as media and environmental groups state for the purpose of playing on our emotions.

In short, wildlife will adapt and in some cases certain species are more readily equipped to adapt than others.

A decade ago I wrote about predator/prey relationships, which included information about which negative influences had the most effect on prey. In other words, it is easy for most people, lacking any knowledge or understanding of facts, to continue their perverse hatred to the existence of man (excluding themselves of course) to say that hunting kills more deer, elk, moose, bear, etc. than any of the other influences. However, that’s not true, as you might discover if you bothered to take the time to learn.

If you take the time to read the article at the above link, you may learn something about those relationships. Along with your learning, you might discover that protecting habitat, believing the act will mitigate prey losses, is not going to achieve what most people think it will.

If it was a fact that loss of habitat was the major factor in the loss of deer in the State of Maine, then we might expect that protecting and or growing that habitat will help. Saying it is and proving that it is are not the same thing.

I applaud those major landowners who have volunteered to work with the fish and game people to come up with ways of protecting deer habitat, including DWAs, but doing so will not grow the deer herd because habitat is not the largest factor in the loss of deer. Understand loss of habitat may be the major contributor in some areas, but statewide it is not the major problem.

According to all the excuses, climate change and severe winters are the two items that kill the most deer. Are they? Climate change be damned. To believe that climate change is killing deer is to believe that deer cannot survive in warmer climates, when the facts are the opposite. So, then, the deer herd should be growing, right? It is also to believe that such effects happen overnight. Why don’t more people ask deer managers why, if climate change is killing our deer, that severe winters are still killing deer?

When deer managers fall heavily on these excuses, toss in the sob story of how loss of habitat is putting management over the edge, why bother to even have a fish and wildlife management department? According to what we hear, nothing about deer management is within their control. We’re all going to die!

Evidently, while all this is going on, we’ve come to be taught that whitetail deer are worthless creatures incapable of adapting to a changing environment. There is hope, however, when one of Maine’s wildlife biologists was caught saying that there is a “new normal” when it comes to understanding deer behavior. Essentially he stated that increased predator pressure, combined with the public’s deer feeding programs, have changed how deer are spending their winters. Could this be the answer I’m looking for as to why many, many acres of traditional DWAs are going unused? It appears perhaps the deer have adapted but the deer managers are many years behind.

Expending effort to protect habitat for deer and other wildlife can be a good thing. Placing all your markers on forcing land owners to protect the king’s deer, will do nothing except anger a lot of landowners.

The “new normal” theory makes good sense. The wild canines in Maine’s woods are a hybrid of coyote, wolf, domestic dog and just about any and all kinds of dogs, wild or domestic. Their numbers are probably the highest they have ever been. Combine this with a very large bear population and it makes sense that deer must adapt or die. One has to wonder what the mortality rate in those DWAs would be minus the coyotes, and what the fawn recruitment would be like minus a couple thousand black bears? Perhaps those “severe” winters wouldn’t be quite so severe on the deer.

Habitat is not everything and it is not THE answer. Get over it. Time to move on.

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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.

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Maine’s Wintering Deer Have a “New Normal”

When I read V. Paul Reynolds article the other day, I about fell out my chair. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. But, I’m glad I read it. I wonder if it has any real value?

Ryan Robicheau, a state wildlife biologist who oversees and monitors Maine’s deer yard situation, according to Reynolds, said “…that there is “a new normal” in Maine’s deer wintering areas. He believes that coyote predation pressure and more and more voluntary winter feeding programs by citizens is having an impact on deer wintering habits. (They are staying closer to town near the feed and away from coyotes).”

Maybe there is hope. I have been asking for years if someone would please explain to me how blaming the lack of so-called deer yards (Deer Wintering Areas) for poor deer numbers could be a legitimate excuse when many of the existing yards are vacant, or nearly vacant, during the winter. I have contended for some time that deer have a lot more adaptability than people, including our deer biologists, give them credit.

Prey species, like deer, are not stupid. Why go hang out where they know they will become dinner for coyotes, bobcats, lynx, etc. when they can move into more heavily human-populated areas where it is safer?

If the population of your Maine hometown is half what it was when you were growing up, does that mean all those people died? Or perhaps that they moved someplace else.

It’s time to figure this stuff out. How can Maine devise a viable 15-year deer management plan if they are still looking for deer where they ain’t?

 

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A Most Excellent Quote of How Statistics Prove Statistics Can Prove Anything

In a rapidly growing email exchange about effects of ungulates, particularly deer, on forests, I read the following most excellent statement contained within a larger E-mail response:

“…if folks want to play with words or numbers, as I’ve often seen done in the name of “science”, one could produce almost any number desired.  For example, why stop at a group of deer in a deer yard?  How about a doe and fawn standing on 10 sq. ft. of ground?  That compounds out to 5,575,680 deer per sq. mile.”

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More Proof That the Scientific Method Has Gone to Hell

I just finished reading an article in which the author claims that utilizing “spotlight surveys” to count deer is a “waste of resources.” Spotlight surveys are when an individual or a biologist sets up cameras in the forest in order to “spot” deer, identify them and try to determine how many deer inhabit a prescribed area. The author states that the information from these cameras is so inconsistent that the data becomes useless. I’m not so sure one can make such a broad, sweeping statement completely disregarding the tool and what information is gleaned from the equipment, if they don’t know the processes used by all spotlight surveys. I’m also left with some puzzling questions that need to be asked, along with seeking who, if anyone anymore, has even the basic knowledge of the scientific process.

The author explains why the data taken from spotlight surveys can be so variable it may become useless, and I sort of, almost, tend to agree. But there’s a lot more to this than is being discussed. Let’s look at the bigger picture first.

The author says that deer biologists wrongly state that, “…[deer] density estimates are a requisite for good deer management.” And further states this to be a fallacy and without explanation. I, like probably a few million other deer hunters in America, would like to know how any biologist, or group of such, can responsibly “manage” a deer herd if they don’t have a solid idea of about how many deer they are dealing with. This population estimate must go beyond just a simple statewide guesstimate. It should be broken up into the smallest wildlife management areas as is practical. This increases accuracy.

If we continue with the belief that deer populations are an important and integral part of deer management, then the honest question will become, “Do deer managers ever exactly know how many deer are at any point at any time?” Of course they don’t. But how precise are they in their guesstimate?

One thing most of us understand is that, generally speaking, the more precise we want to be in knowing deer numbers, the more money needs to be spent to do that. However, please understand that most tactics used to count or estimate are riddled with poor scientific method.

Before I get into poor scientific method, I did want to point out something that was written in the article about the author knowing that spotlight surveys were inaccurate…at best. The first question I had about that was how does he know that? To make a statement this bold, one must know the number of deer there actually are. Otherwise, how then can one state the other information is wrong and at what percentage of the time it is wrong?

This information is not provided so can we, or do we, assume that within a test area, procedures were undertaken in which an “exact” count of deer was taken and then was compared to what the spotlight surveys said? If that is factual, imagine attempting to do this statewide in Texas. It easily becomes cost prohibitive. Therefore, it is the reason shortcuts of estimating deer populations have been employed.

Are they accurate? As the old saying goes, garbage in – garbage out. Or it’s only as good as its weakest link.

Maine is in the midst of deer and moose studies. A few years ago, as they began the studies, they began aerial counts, while boasting of how accurate these fly-overs were. Are they? Perhaps in comparison to other methods but don’t bet your farm on the results.

Let’s return to basic science. I remember in 7th Grade the first thing I learned in order to be able to honestly assess and obtain useless data was that all things must be consistent – never changing. In other words, if biologists are doing aerial counts for deer, each time they go up, it must be identical to the last time they went up and the time before that, etc. If it’s 10 or 20 years between aerial counts, all effort must be made to do things exactly as they were done before.

I have spoken with pilots and counters in the past. They explained to me that aerial counting presents a bunch of problems that few people can understand. All stated that the most important aspect to aerial counting is the relationship between the pilot and the counter(s). Each time managers fly, is it always the same counter and same pilot? Is it even the same plane or helicopter (think noise or size)? Is the weather and visibility, in the air and on the ground, the exact as before? Does the aircraft fly at the exact same altitude? And these are some of the obvious questions.

Does this mean that we throw the baby out with the bathwater? No, it means that without this basic understanding of consistency, then how reliable is any information collected which translates into poor and inaccurate determinations? The more “scientific” the process, the more accurate the results. Surely we can all agree on that. One of the problems that exists with those who argue in support of global warming, is that scientists keep changing the locations of test equipment and the processes they are using to collect the data.

Let’s return to the spotlight surveys for a moment. According to information provided in the article, the author makes statements which leads one to believe that enough work and collection of data was done that he was able to tell readers that spotlight surveys only “averaged” accuracy about 41% of the time. Again I ask, how did he arrive at that conclusion?

It is stated that there was inconsistency in the use of the cameras, i.e. locations changing, observers, equipment, etc. If the spotlight surveys were set up and run with a consistent scientific process, employing the utmost in consistent testing, can that 41% be raised to something higher? I believe it can.

Once again, assuming that deer populations are important to know and that there is no real way to ever exactly know deer populations, on a wider scale than just 20 or 30 acres, deer population estimates then become an estimation based on known values. The more consistent the testing for known values becomes, the more accurate the estimating then becomes.

If enough research was done to establish a solid 50% accuracy rate with spotlight surveys, then employing surveys as part of the process, doesn’t it all become relative? In other words, if the data at this moment in time is good data that tells me that my spotlight surveys are consistently giving me deer estimates that are 50% below actual, how then is the employment of spotlight surveys a waste of time and resources?

If the deer managers industry is or soon will be, employers of the notion that it is a fallacy that good deer management doesn’t require a good handle on the population, then none of this any longer matters – there soon will be no deer left. But, how would they know this?

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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.

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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?

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Is Maine Seriously Considering Managing for Moose OR Deer in the Northwoods?

George Smith’s latest article suggests that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) is seriously considering whether to manage the state’s Northwoods for either moose or deer but not both.

It appears that history as been put far back in the darkest closet that could be found at MDIFW headquarters. Maine used to have a “balance” (poor choice of word) of moose and deer in the north country. There also seems to be a major roadblock to any rational discussions about management due to the echo chamber of “loss of habitat” and “global warming.”

In 8th-Grade science, one of the first things we were taught was to look for what might have changed that could have caused a change in results. Evidently blinders exist on things that biologists don’t want to see and that is part of the major roadblock.

Northern Maine has never seen an overgrown population of deer. And I really don’t know of anyone with half a brain that wants it any other way. I spoke with a hunting guide who operates out of the Allagash and he told me that having 4-6 deer per square mile in the “Big Woods” was exactly the way it should be. It is part of the draw that leads hunters to those locations.

I’ve not seen any information coming out of MDIFW that would indicate that the density of deer in Northern Maine has changed much with the overgrown existence of moose, but this dynamic hasn’t existed that long in the grand scheme of things. Moose have been allowed to grow so large in numbers, disease (a natural process) has taken over and is accomplishing what man refuses or can’t do, because of social demands.

In what little information I have seen or heard about in the MDIFW’s draft moose management plan, they are considering using one Wildlife Management District (WMD) to seriously reduce the population of moose in order to see if this reduction will get rid of or effectively ease the presence of winter ticks. This might be a good idea, especially since this department seems only to think the ticks are related to nothing other than global warming.

My fear in creating these draft plans is that decisions are going to be made about the welfare of the moose, deer, bear, turkeys, etc., based on economic idealism and pressure from social groups and demands, including the fake “Wildlife Watchers.” This is a giant loss for wildlife.

Queer isn’t it that what once was a convenient means of “viewing” wildlife, is to visit a marsh or some other location where those wildlife live on a regular basis. If anyone was interested in spotting wildlife other than from a platform, they had to get off the fat rear ends and get into the woods to find those creatures. But not anymore. Somehow this lazy, perverse society demands to see every species of animal from their living room window or their climate controlled automobiles. If those animals aren’t there, they claim hunters killed them all and demand more of them. Disgusting as this may seem, it’s even more disgusting that fish and game managers are dictated to by lawmakers to abandon, to some degree, science in exchange for enabling more social demands. This is absurd.

MDIFW is asking for more money to further study moose. It is only reasonable to be skeptical about this demand as all too often we see governments throwing money after bad. However, giving them money without specific guidelines in how that money should be used, is tossing the money into the toilet. Money must come with specific goals and specific results.

If lawmakers believe that managing the Northwoods for moose and to hell with deer, is in the best interest of the people and the animals, then I would like to see some fast, hard data that shows at what level the economy increases due to moose watching versus the loss of deer hunting. I want also to see some serious research into the so-perceived mystery of winter ticks and moose. It seems to be the number one topic so why isn’t it being researched?

This is all crazy! As I have said, it seems that all of a sudden game managers are incapable of doing their jobs because they HAVE to find a balance between social demands and sound scientific management.

NONSENSE!

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