August 8, 2020

Buy Em Guns, Send Them to Hunt, and Then What?

I was reading Bob Humphrey’s recent article about making this year “The Year of the Hunter.” As I have come to expect, Bob Humphrey, one of Maine’s better outdoor writers, is always full of words that are constructive and positive, something perhaps I should take a lesson in. However, I am too strong a realist to be drawn so far away that I would find myself showing up to a birthday party that has no balloons, ice cream, and a cake.

Mr. Humphrey laments of the continuing decline in hunter participation. We tend to superficially putter along with suggestions of how to increase hunter participation, with perhaps not putting enough focus on the balloons and the birthday cake.

All of the writer’s suggestions make a lot of sense: recruitment, mentorship, apprenticeship licenses, involvement in “R3 Program” (recruit, retain, reactivate), controlling social media, improved landowner relationships, joining deer conservation and advocacy groups, and basically speaking out about the positive aspects of hunting.

While Humphrey sort of casually mentions, “Since 1988, the Quality Deer Management Association has promoted “sustainable, high-quality deer populations, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences through research, education, advocacy and hunter recruitment.”

There are many groups of all variety of make-up that “promote sustainable, high-quality deer populations,” but what does promote mean? Are these groups forming because state-funded government fish and game departments are incapable of sustaining high-quality deer populations? Don’t we need our fish and game departments to go beyond marketing a not-so-good product…with a straight face no doubt? Fish and game departments should be the leaders not the followers of advocacy groups.

All dressed up for the party, with invitation in hand, and all the supporting propaganda telling me what a great party this is going to be, arriving at the party and finding no cake and ice cream means I won’t be hanging around for long, and will become gun shy (sorry) to return again.

All states’ deer hunting problems are different. All states are suffering some degree of hunter loss. With a dwindling population of hunters (I would bet with continued hunter loss those retaining an interest are more serious about what they do and thus will seek out those places where they have the best chance a bagging a “trophy.”), competition becomes real and it is a no-brainer that if the party has no cake and ice cream, the interest will continue to decline and Maine is removed from consideration as a destination hunting ground and interest within the state continues to shrink.

Yes, there are other problems too that contribute to the lack of interest, but an unsustainable, poor-quality deer population makes all other “recruitment, retentions, reactivation” efforts a bit of a futile effort.

People in Maine are a bit dishonestly led to believe that the deer population is “healthy” and that while numbers may not be at peak levels, there are plenty of deer to go around. It is when we honestly examine where the deer are concentrated we realize the majority of geographic and huntable areas, have deer densities that make it, let’s say, a poor product that is very difficult to promote “retention, recruitment, and reactivation.”

Back in October, I commented on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (MDIFW) efforts at promoting “R3” by recruiting some greenhorns and sticking them in a ground blind in the middle of a game preserve. Oddly enough, from a state that is not exactly all in with “canned hunting” they use canned hunting in an attempt to recruit new hunters. The question I asked is why didn’t the MDIFW put them in places where the rest of us are forced to hunt? The answer is simple. Sitting in a blind for hours on end seeing nothing, is like going to a birthday party with no cake and ice cream. Are you getting my point here?

Not that we should give up all the efforts that Mr. Humphrey and others have suggested to recruit more hunters, but retention and reactivation is going to be a very big task to accomplish unless those huntable regions of Maine grow more deer.

So, the big and obvious question is how do we grow more deer in Maine’s huntable and deerless regions? Let’s first begin with what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t use terrible excuses, like Climate Change and claiming there’s just as many deer now as there used to be – there may be but they aren’t where they can be hunted. If a warming climate, the most favorite of all excuses, was real, then Maine deer regions to the north would be seeing deer growth as the winters become less severe and the forests change. The news is they are not.

We need to work even harder with landowners, even the big ones, to protect deer wintering areas. But large predators growing at unchecked rates is a real problem. While some efforts have been undertaken to reduce coyote/wolf populations, more effort needs to be done. We eat deer. We don’t eat coyotes…at least not yet.

At the same time, serious efforts need to be taken to cut the black bear population down to “healthy” levels – healthy for the bears and healthy for deer. Bears are killing fawns soon after the fawning season, seriously cutting into fawn recruitment, making sustainable deer populations impossible.

The Maine Legislature needs to stop dawdling and caving to special interest groups, like guides and outfitters, and do what is best for all game populations, not necessarily bank accounts.

Consider what has changed since deer populations in many parts of the state have dwindled. In those same regions, black bear populations are growing out of control, coyote/wolf numbers are at all time highs, and moose numbers remain strong. Why is it that all that can be seen is finding fault with the Climate?

I don’t know of any hunters who seriously want to see the Big Woods of northern Maine teeming with deer. However, an increase from 1-3 deer per square mile, to 2-5 deer per square mile or even 3-6 might make a huge difference in accomplishing the 3 “Rs.”

If Maine is going to push this recruitment, retention, and reactivation thing, let’s lay the groundwork first to make sure we got the cake and ice cream. It sure would make all that work a lot easier. Who knows, if Maine had a terrific deer product to market…if you build it they will come?

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Can coyote predation risk induce reproduction suppression in white-tailed deer?

Abstract

Predators can have powerful nonconsumptive effects on their prey by inducing behavioral, physiological, and morphological responses. These nonconsumptive effects may influence prey demography if they decrease birthrates or increase susceptibility to other sources of mortality. The Reproductive Suppression Model suggests that iteroparous species may maximize their lifetime reproductive success by suppressing their reproduction until a future time, when conditions may be more favorable. Coyote (Canis latrans) range expansion in the United States has exposed white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations to increased predation risk, and coyote predation can have profound effects on white-tailed deer reproductive success. We evaluated effects of temporal variation in predation risk (i.e., coyote–deer ratios) on fecundity and reproductive success of white-tailed deer on the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in southwestern Georgia, United States, by exploiting a rapid decline in coyote abundance to establish a natural experiment. We measured fecundity by examining ovaries for evidence of ovulation, and measured reproductive success using evidence of lactation from deer harvested before and after the decline in coyote abundance. We found that incidence of ovulation and lactation increased following the decline in predation risk. Our results suggest coyotes may be able to influence deer recruitment, independent of direct predation, through interactions that result in reduced fecundity. More broadly, our study suggests that in order to understand the totality of the effect of predators on prey population dynamics, studies should incorporate measures of direct and indirect predator effects.<<<Read More>>>

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Jim Beers’ Rebuttal: Why Recruit Hunters?

*Editor’s Note* This information has been provided by Jim Beers.

The following letter to the editor by a reader of the St. Pail Pioneer Press poses a question well worth considering and answering. What follows his letter is a letter I submitted to the St. Paul Paper in response. Since such letters require brevity, please forgive my less than comprehensive treatment of this matter. Jim Beers 14 Oct.

*Note* – Not fully knowing the copyright infringement rules of the Pioneer Press, I opted instead to provide just a link back to the original Letter to the Editor.

A SELECTIVE SERVICE FOR HUNTERS?

Recently a reader challenged DNR Commissioner Landwehr’s commitment to “recruit more hunters”. Although by reading between the lines I suspect the author is what might be termed an “anti-hunter”, I find myself (an avid hunter) in partial agreement with his position.

I disagree with his statement that, “If the DNR needs more money, just raise the subsidized fees on the current hunters”. In truth the DNR wildlife folks, like other state’s wildlife agencies, and unlike other state functions like Parks, are almost entirely supported by excise taxes on arms, ammunition, archery products, and fishing tackle/products (termed “user fees”) PLUS the license revenue from state licensing of hunters and fishermen. That the wildlife agencies get or require “subsidies” is due to all the non-revenue producing and mandated activities like wolves, songbirds, native species and other activities that appear as somehow worthy but are, in fact, intended to overwhelm and replace hunting and fishing management by state governments.

I do however agree with his incisive question that since “the state doesn’t recruit more golfers” etc., “Why do the fish and wildlife sectors of our economy need to be subsidized by the general population?” As he correctly observes, limits could be “increased” and fees could be “raised” although the latter, like raising taxes, would likely backfire and ultimately result in lower revenue as people adjust. Hunters and fishermen are free Americans, not pawns of the state.

The real answer to “why” is state bureaucrats’ pay, promotions, bonuses, retirement and growth. It is all the Ducks Unlimited’s and Pheasants Forever’s memberships and staff’s pay and benefits. It is the sporting’s goods dealers and their business. It is the federal bureaucrats and all the “strings” they have on state agencies that have made them little more than federal subcontractors. Finally, it is all those state and federal politicians and “wannnabee”-politicians that reap votes and support from unsuspecting hunters and fishermen as they pander to the illusion that catering to the anti-hunters and anti-fishermen is somehow good for hunters, fishermen and the cultural traditions and sport they so love.

Jim Beers
14 October 2013

If you found this worthwhile, please share it with others. Thanks.

Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.

Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting. You can receive future articles by sending a request with your e-mail address to: jimbeers7@comcast.net

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Is Maine’s Whitetail Deer Age Structure Changing?

*Editor’s Note* The graph and information below was crafted by contributor Richard Paradis from information provided by me in addition to his own information.

One of the most telling events that can occur in a deer herd is a change in age structure. In brief, age structure is a dynamic investigation into the complete breakdown of how many deer make up specific age categories. We are often discussing the relationship between male and female deer as well as the number of fawns (new born) in relation to the number of adult female deer. Seldom, or at least not to the same degree, is the age structure of a deer herd discussed.

A well educated and experienced biologist, providing they have been able to collect the necessary data, can tell what percentage of a deer herd makes up fawns; up to 1 and 1/2 years of age, young deer; 1 and 1/2 to 3 and 1/2 years old, and mature deer; over 3 and 1/2 years. The same biologist should know, according to the geographic information, as well as available habitat, etc. what the age structure of a herd should be in order to classify it as healthy and to make determinations as to what any harvest should be like for the upcoming hunting season based on herd structure and trends.

There can also be certain movements in that age structure that can indicate to the biologist that something is changing, alerting them to the need to investigate what those influences might be and make changes to the management strategies to maintain a viable and healthy herd.

Some people believe that in order to destroy a deer herd, something has to kill off all the deer, adults included. This is not entirely true. In theory, if there were never any new born deer to add to the herd and in combination with all other mortality to the deer herd, how long do you think it would be before the deer herd disappeared? Not long.

In this kind of scenario, an examination of the age structure might alert us to what could be happening. For the sake of discussion, let’s say a healthy deer herd looked something like this: fawn recruitment, that is the percentage of new born fawns that live to see their first winter, is 20% of the herd; Young deer, 1 and 1/2 – 3 and 1/2 years 50% and mature deer 30%.

In an attempt to keep this as simple as possible, let’s say that with the above situation of 20%, 50% and 30%, the average age of the deer is 2.9 years. If you played around with those percentages you would soon discover that it takes quite a dramatic change in those percentages to effect a noticeable move in the average deers’ age.

As an example, let’s say that in one year, the fawn recruitment was wiped out, i.e. 0%. That would increase the average age of the deer to approximately 3.3 years (I divided the 20% loss evenly between the remaining two age groups). Notice that what appears to be a rather small change in average age (less that 1/2 year), a complete loss of fawn recruitment is a devastating event. If we carried that out for a few years, where fawn recruitment remained at 0%, we can see that the age of the deer herd gets older and older. Once this is discovered, trust me, I think the deer herd is in trouble.

As far as Maine’s age structure for deer, I don’t have the kind of data necessary to calculate age structure and I’m not sure whether the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) does either. I am assuming they must. What I did do is to extract some of the data that MDIFW provides in their deer harvest information to use to see if there can be determined any trends in age structure.

All that is available on the MDIFW website is harvest information beginning in 2005 through 2011. In each of these reports, MDIFW provides in their harvest data the percentage of take based on the same age classifications I have used above, i.e. fawn, young and mature. I pulled out of these reports those percentages and listed them by year. Mr. Paradis was kind enough to compile them into a graph for better visual comparison.

However, bear in mind a few things. The data extracted may not be a clear representation of the entire herd of Maine’s deer. This is harvest data only and there are restrictions to the sex and age of what deer can be taken and in what geographical regions. Therefore, the only way we can make good comparisons is with the ability to compare those items that remain constant.

In theory, if we had for these seven years the same number of “Any-Deer Permits” in all the same regions, this harvest data would be a bit more accurate and reliable for my purposes. However, the changes in the issuing of Any-Deer Permits did not change drastically statewide until 2009 when Any-Deer Permits were halted in Northern, Western and Downeast Maine and again for the 2011 deer hunting season. As such, I’m not sure exactly how to use harvest data for 2010 and 2011 in comparison with all previous years.

From the graphs and information below, you can clearly see the percentage of Young and Mature deer taken for each of the years listed, 2005-2011. Over the span of the seven years, the average percentage of Young deer harvested is 46.4% and for Mature deer, 20.4%.

Not really knowing how to handle the 2010, 2011 harvest data, one could conclude that there is a slight trend upward in the age structure according to harvest information. Is this something to be concerned about. I would think so. Is MDIFW keeping an eye on this data and any trends? I certainly hope so. If the age structure of Maine’s deer herd is on the increase, there has to be a reason, which is generally related directly to fawn recruitment. Without good fawn recruitment a deer herd is doomed. Depending upon the severity of that loss, will determine how quickly a herd becomes decimated.

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