June 18, 2019

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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SOME DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ZIMBABWEAN LION CASE 

…hunting is the ‘right thing to do’ to aid conservation. Mr. Smith told The Observer: ‘Poor Cecil the lion was 18 years old, losing his teeth and going downhill fast. The American dentist probably did his offspring and his pride a favor.’

Source: SOME DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ZIMBABWEAN LION CASE | African Indaba

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A Discussion on Maine Antler Point Restrictions for Buck Deer

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

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

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

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

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

The “what we know” is listed as such:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s the Antlers, Stupid!

Ha, ha! I’m laughing this morning because of mostly opposite perspectives on what is important to deer hunters. Just nine days ago I posted a story entitled, “It’s the Meat Stupid” where surveys conducted by Responsive Management showed that more hunters hunted for meat rather than for antlers.

Today, we have a story that’s all about the antlers and how every hunter dreams of bagging a big set of antlers. Bob Humphrey, outdoor writer in Maine, while presenting an excellent piece about the whys and wherefores of antler growth in deer, I’m not sure actually how many hunters might dream of that mighty rack but the reality is they want meat.

In fairness to Humphrey, he doesn’t present the desire for big-antlered deer as generally some obsession and makes the statement, “There’s little question that every hunter’s dream is to one day bag a trophy buck…” I will agree that it is a dream but how many obsess on obtaining that dream? Even Humphrey says that few hunters will pass up meat: “most hunters are satisfied with shooting any antlered deer.”

It’s the meat, stupid! And should a hunter take a buck with heavy body weight and/or a large brush pile on top of its head, what a bonus.

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

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

The Commercialization of Hunting & Fishing

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns for Idaho Big Game

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

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

Vulnerability is the Key

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

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

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

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

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

WMI Restructured State Fish & Game Agencies

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

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

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

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

The Owyhee County Mule Deer Slaughter

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

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

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

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

The Trophy Mania

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

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

twohunters

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

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

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

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

chart

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

IDFG Admitted Falsifying Known Harvests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greedy Biologists Have Created a Terrific Mess

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

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

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

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

LAP Tags – Part of the Unresolved Mess

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

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

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

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

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

Are There Any Trophies That Qualify for B&C?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Spending Even Higher Than Conley

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

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

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

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

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