In this blog series we're looking at concepts, practices, and approaches that can aid in managing game in a hunter's area. "Game management" in our approach stems from the perspective of "the everyday hunter" rather than someone who owns a ranch and is managing game as a business. We've looked at food plots in depth already in this series and in this entry we?ll look into the concept of "Selective Harvest".
As you would imagine, "selective harvest" simply means what you would expect, being selective about the deer that you shoot. This concept goes against the grain for some hunters because it means not shooting every deer that you see. Given a normal scenario, in order to have mature deer with good genetics on your land, a hunter simply can't shoot every deer he/she sees and expect to see a lot of "Monster Bucks" on the same land. Letting young bucks walk is critical in order to get mature bucks to hold on your land. I have been surprised at the number of bucks we're seeing now simply from practicing selective harvest on our hunting land for a few years.
A while back someone on twitter saw a link to our site and checked it out. Their response tweet was that they liked the design of the site and that it fired them up and made them "want to go kill something?" Obviously this individual doesn''t have a clear understanding of what hunting is all about as his words were a window into his personal view of hunting ...or should I say his trouble distinguishing the difference between hunting and killing.
I often meet people who are non-hunters and sometimes over the course of conversation we end up talking about hunting. Inevitably the conversation trends towards the hunting vs. killing debate. It usually surfaces in the form of "How can you shoot those helpless little creatures?" or "You try to kill Bambi?" This statement is typically a strong indicator that the person asking the question has never hunted.
I'd like to take a look into the hunting vs. killing debate from a hunter's perspective. Let's use a critical lens to analyze and deconstruct the meaning of hunting and also killing. What are the differences between hunting and killing? Where do the differences lie? What are the signs of both a "hunter" and a "killer"? Let's start the investigation by looking at hunters.
Hunters, first and foremost, have totally different motivations, thought processes, and core values than a "killer" does. The fundamental values of a hunter affect the way he/she views the sport. A hunter's beliefs and values prompt actions that are direct indicators that the individual is a true hunter. Over time these fundamental differences are outwardly manifested in the activities in which hunters engage. For this reason, you will find hunters involved in activities in which you will never see "killers" involved. These belief-motivated actions can be noticed both in-season as well as during the off-season.
In the off-season a hunter still enjoys many aspects of hunting. This is because being a hunter doesn't come for a season and then leave, its not seasonal, it's a way of life. Some examples of these off-season activities are those such as "shed" hunting where finding a deer's shed antlers is the goal, or with training any hunting dogs that a hunter may have, doing off-season scouting, competing in target shooting competitions and/or calling competitions, attending trade shows, moving deer stands, building duck blinds, practicing calling techniques, researching, planting and maintaining food plots to help with the health and nutritional diet of the deer, turkeys, ducks or other game in the hunter's area, or even watching hunting TV shows.
During the season a hunter doesn't merely look to harvest anything that walks through the woods, but rather is selective about the game that he or she does choose to harvest. A hunter won't shoot more meat than he or she needs in his freezer. Hunters also help less fortunate people by donating deer meat to them. It's common to find hunting clubs or deer processors working with local organizations supporting the needy. A hunter takes pride in being able to watch an animal mature over time and is challenged to hold the game in their area. A hunter also has a true appreciation for nature and the patterns found within nature denoting intelligent design from above. Hunters grow to appreciate the stillness of being in the middle of the woods, field, swamps, etc where one can momentarily elude the business and noise of everyday life. Sitting on the ground, in a stand, or in a blind offers one the time and place to ponder the wonders of the universe or anything else that may come to mind. The serenity hunters find out in nature can't be found in too many other locations and gives some hunters a natural high. This tranquil and peaceful place is where the hunter remains until he/she either encounters the game or the end of the hunt. Sure, a hunter wants to harvest an animal, yet he/she still enjoys the hunt whether an animal was harvested or not. When the game does arrive, whether it is a duck, boar, turkey, deer, etc hunters enjoy the instant rush that comes over us. The instant rush of adrenaline, rather than the kill, is what gets hunters hooked.
A hunter also has the discipline to watch their game for hours and never pull the trigger. When a hunter does pull the trigger, it is a calculated moment that has been in the making for some time rather than being a moment that randomly happens by chance. Harvesting an animal is the culmination of many factors some of which are: off-season scouting, scent control, successful hunting tactics, food plot, land/game management, successful calling, well trained dogs, and yes, an accurate shot. All of these factors coming together at once is not an easy feat to pull off. Therefore, when an animal is harvested it's the intersection of preparation, patience, and nature.
Hunters usually have hunting partners with whom they go hunting and spend time. Having a hunting partner is a good safety measure, it helps when any work needs to be done, and offers a chance for fellowship while participating in an activity that both individuals enjoy. It's commonplace to find fathers and sons hunting together. You see hunters also care about passing the tradition on to younger hunters. Because of the burden to share the sport and experiences in the outdoors, hunters strongly support activities which promote and educate hunting to youth. Fathers also appreciate the opportunity that hunting gives them to spend time with their children.
To see what happens when a non-hunting, father-son, duo goes hunting and realizes the rush of the hunt and the experience that they'd just had together see the below video
Hunters also get involved with organizations that support their sport and focus on the conservation of the sport so that everyone can continue to enjoy the outdoors. Organizations like Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Ducks Unlimited (DU), National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and the National Rifle Association (NRA) are ones that you'll see true hunters get involved with. These organizations bring a wealth of research, information, and synergy to their respective sport of hunting and work for the greater good of the hunting community as a whole. Hunters get involved with these organizations because the core principles and values of the organizations align with the core principles and values of the hunter.
The last thing I'll mention is that, due to the strong differences between hunters and killers, you'll seldom find hunters associating with killers, the two just don't mesh. Sure they may bump into each other at a processing plant every now and then, but you won't see them together much other than that. The old saying goes "You are what you hang around" and because of this notion, hunters are careful about the company they keep. Take a look at the people around you who hunt and think about who they do and don't hang around to see if it holds true.
We all have different perspectives, but the above is my perception on what makes a hunter and how you can identify and distinguish a hunter from a killer. Since I've elaborated on what I believe comprises a hunter, now let's look at the other side of the fence. Let's look at characteristics that I believe make up a "killer".
A "killer" is essentially the opposite of all the characteristics mentioned above that encompass a hunter. In my opinion, killers give hunters a bad reputation. In the same way that you'll see a hunter involved in specific activities and carrying out certain behaviors, you'll see killers not taking part in certain activities and also engaging in contrasting behaviors. Most of the time a killer's behaviors are in stark contrast to those of a hunter.
In contrast to a hunter, a killer does not appreciate the hunt because the hunt is what stands between them and a kill. Killers don't genuinely appreciate the wait, the silence, and the necessary time in a stand/blind that most hunters love because a killer doesn't really enjoy the peacefulness of nature, but rather is in a hurry to pull the trigger.
Killers don't respect the land they hunt on or animals they harvest. They don't mind littering or damaging the land they hunt on because the environment and conservation is not of their concern. Killers are also what we like to call "trigger-happy" and will shoot the first deer, turkey, duck etc. that they see. In the deer hunting world killers live by the motto "If it's brown it's down" because they're not concerned with game management or limits. I remember an instance related to this topic that happened when I was a kid that still sticks out to me.
In the mid 90's we were at one of our locals processing plants and everyone was talking about deer hunting while the guys were cleaning deer. The environment was the normal, upbeat, good-humored, environment that you've probably experienced before at a processing plant. We had been there about 20 minutes when some guys came up and bought in a very young doe. The deer was so small that it looked like it had just got rid of its spots. At the time I didn't really know what was going on because I was so young, but I distinctly remember the old man that was processing the deer's reaction to the situation. The guys drug the small deer up and immediately the whole processing plant went silent. Tension was in the air and it was thick. I vividly remember the awkwardness of the moment. The guy who shot the deer said he wanted some "tender meat" and that did not go over well at all with the processor. He gave the guy a death-stare and then shook his head in disappointment to let him know that what he had done was wrong. After that the whole place remained quiet until the individuals who brought the deer in left. Being young, I didn't exactly understand what had just taken place, but my dad explained it to me on the way home. In retrospect, I now respect the processor even more because even he didn't want to make money cleaning a deer that was so young because he respected the game and disliked doing business with a killer.
Another sign to look for that denotes a killer is what they do in the off-season. Killers rarely participate in, and do not enjoy, the off-season work that hunters love because its actual work and it doesn't involve or even come close a kill. Hunters know that working in the off-season can help their game and also keeps the hunter's flame burning year round. Killers on the other hand may do some off-season work, but from what I can tell, they don't seem to be too motivated about it.
After a killer does harvest a deer, they commonly boast about the kill as if it builds social status whether their animal was a trophy animal or not. Of course a hunter may brag about a nice deer, duck, turkey, etc they've harvested, but they won't go to the extent of self-promotion that a killer will. A true hunter doesn't need any self-promotion and doesn't thrive on his reputation because to a hunter it's not a competition, but to a killer, it is.
Killers aren't interested in taking others hunting because it only lessens their chances of making a kill. Sure everyone hunts by themselves at some point in time, but (if okay with the hunting club and/or land-owner) a hunter is always open to taking another person hunting, especially a kid because a hunter wants to share the enjoyment of the sport. A killer's viewpoint on that matter is the opposite because he/she isn't interested in sharing the sport as much.
Killers aren't concerned with adhering to the state/county regulations on game and don't mind breaking the rules because they don't respect the game, land, or sport as much as a hunter does. Due to this lack of adherence to rules & regulations killers will do things such as spotlighting deer at night, shooting before legal shooting time, hunting on land that isn't theirs, harvesting more animals than they are legally supposed to, etc. For whatever reason, a killer seems to feel above the law.
In the above paragraphs I've used a critical lens to compare, contrast, and note my view on the characteristics of both the "hunter" and the "killer". Looking deeper into the debate and deconstructing the meaning from a hunter's perspective provides unique insight with which you have the right to agree or disagree.
The term "Epistemology" refers to one's "way of knowing" and really forces one to ask the question "How do I know what I know to be truth?" Knowledge is derived from the merging of what we know to be true (truths) and what we believe (beliefs). This is demonstrated by the graph on the right.
Given an epistemological viewpoint, one can be more informed about hunters from understanding a hunter's core values and beliefs. One must know the truths about hunters and understand the sport from a hunter's perspective in order to be knowledgeable and informed in the debate. Looking at hunting from the vantage point of a hunter offers valuable insight for non-hunters and those who are critical of hunters.
Determining whether an outdoorsman is a hunter or a killer is a judgment that can only be made on an individual basis. Stereotyping hunters as blood hungry killers is unfair because many times that is simply not the case. I'm not denying that there are some killers out there. I'm just saying that you can't call us all killers until you get to know us and understand us a little.
The notion of herd balance is one that not all deer hunters consider. The term "herd balance" most commonly refers to the ratio of bucks to does in a given area, but it is also related to a deer's habitat. The overarching goal of herd balance is to have a quality deer herd. A quality deer herd means that the population of deer is in balance with the available forage and cover. A balanced herd has deer that are healthy, well nourished, and the herd has a well-balanced ratio of bucks to does. A balanced herd will produce healthy fawns that survive winter and will also have an even distribution of deer age classes.
A significant number of hunters prefer to harvest antlered deer in comparison to antlerless deer, which leads to unbalanced sex ratios in the population. Dr. Dave Guynn, professor in the Department of Forestry, Clemson University and a member of the QDMA's Executive Board posted a great article on herd balance on QDMA's web site. In his article he asked the question "Why should we concern ourselves with maintaining a natural social balance in a managed deer herd? Because, to survive as long as they have, deer long ago developed social rules or mechanisms that would keep deer herds and their individual members fit and competitive. However, when harvest regulations allow hunters to deplete certain social classes (with deer, this is usually most or all bucks 1.5 years old or older) in an unscientific, haphazard manner, the herd's social mechanisms can become stressed". As hunters harvesting deer every year we should keep the concept of these social classes in mind. If we only harvest the largest bucks we see then we?re causing an imbalance in the herd that can have longer-term effects on the quality of deer in a given area.
As deer hunters we often game-plan our hunts based on available food sources and rut activity, but we don't really factor in water sources that much. Not including water sources into the game-plan may be a mistake on our behalves. Think about it, food and water are the most elemental needs of a deer with water being the more critical of the two. Trying to look at deer hunting from a "water", perspective can prove beneficial,especially in drier areas.
Deer get water from a variety of sources, such as ponds, streams, and lakes. They also get water from the dew on plants and the water contained within plants. In some articles I read it was noted that, if lush forage is available, deer may be able to meet their body's water demand solely from the water within plants. This has not been scientifically proven, but it appeared to be a believed concept.
Also, typically the richest soil in a given area will be near a water source. The moisture in the water helps the soil be more fertile. This richest soil will grow the best forage and this provides deer with succulent forage to browse on along with providing great cover. These aspects of areas near water sources are very attractive for deer?naturally they will want to be near these areas.
It?s evident that managing game on one's land can have long-term benefits for hunting. In this blog series we're looking at the concept of Game Management. So far in the journey we've discussed Food Plots, Selective Harvest, & Herd Balance and with this entry we're going to look into the concept of deer surveying.
Deer surveying is exactly what is sounds like, surveying the deer on your land. Recent technology has made surveying deer (and any species of game) a whole lot easier, mainly via the creation of the game camera. The invention of the game camera has undeniably changed the way we hunt. Game cameras give hunters an advantage by providing valuable information about the deer in our area. Obviously game camera pics don't give an outdoorsman a 100% accurate read on the deer in a given area, but they do give way more insight about the deer herd than if we didn't have game cameras.
Game cameras are the most common (and affordable) way to survey one's deer herd. Though, there are more scientific and expensive methods of surveying deer. I heard one speaker at a conference say that in some locations they were flying airplanes over tracks of land taking thermal imagery to survey the game on the land. I imagine thermal imagery is more accurate and way more expensive too! I also know that DNR uses some more advanced, scientific techniques for surveying deer population & growth. These are all neat methods that provide more accurate data, but any method besides a game camera falls out of my financial range. Nevertheless the importance of having a feel for the game on your land is the main point to be noted.
Why is having knowledge of the deer in an area important for game management? If you are herd balance conscientious then surveying deer can give you a feel for the ratio of bucks to does on your property. Sure it's not accurate down to a finite percentage, but it does allow more informed decisions to be made about the herd in a given area. From this insight a hunter can help determine which deer he or she should or shouldn't harvest based on numbers. Essentially a hunter can get a feel for the herd balance in the area they are hunting through surveying the game on their land. You'll find that die-hard hunters survey deer year round and move their game cameras around a few times a year. Surveying deer, like game management, is a year round process.
Surveying the game in a hunter's allotted hunting area also helps one determine the age class of deer in the region. Viewing the size of deer in a game camera's pictures can help hunters determine the age of bucks based on body size, rack size, and other traits of mature bucks. Along with viewing the different age class of bucks any recent fawns, yearlings, and does can be observed as well. Viewing the deer in your area helps you get a feel for the health of deer as well.
Knowledge of the game in a track of land is a must in any effective game management strategy. Whether you survey deer through more expensive techniques or simply through a game camera, surveying deer pays dividends and helps hunters make informed decisions. Surveying deer allows hunters to watch deer mature over time and gives insight toward the herd balance ratios. If you haven't already, start learning about the deer in your area and you'll be a better hunter because of it.
As we all are aware SCDNR is hosting public meetings around the state to discuss the deer management legislation (Senate Bill 454) that’s up for vote. If you haven’t attended a session I encourage you to do so to let your voice be heard. I support the bill and think it will be a good thing for the state given the condition of our deer population and tendencies of some of our state’s hunters.
Last night I attended the meeting held in Lancaster, SC. I really didn’t know what to expect as far as how many people would attend and what the discussions/comments would be like. I know that hunters feel differently about the legislation and for some it gets pretty personal and emotional. I was interested to attend and hear the data from DNR as well as the reactions from the crowd.
I met coyote slayer Gavin Jackson there and upon arrival it was obvious that DNR had a heavy presence at the meeting. I bet there were 25 to 30 DNR representatives and officers present. There were also some gentlemen wearing business coats who sat down at the front. I assume they were politicians, but am not sure as they didn’t say much, but seemingly were just there to observe.
Charles Ruth was the presenter for DNR. Charles is a Wildlife Biologist at SCDNR and he is over the turkey and deer programs. He went through several PowerPoint slides pretty fast to start the presentation. He gave some background on the current state of deer hunting and regulations within the state. One thing he pointed out early on was that buck limits are not a function of SCDNR, but rather it's voted on at a higher level in government. DNR simply enforces the laws that are adopted by government. Even though he stated that fact, some obviously didn’t understand it, but more on that shortly.
In the “Background” section Mr. Ruth highlighted a lot of information. He noted that the declining deer population in our state was due to several factors. The factors he noted were:
Regarding the lack of a reasonable bag limit Mr. Ruth pointed out how much of an outlier SC is. He noted that just about every state has some type of tag program and the states that don’t have tag programs have “antler restrictions”. South Carolina and Hawaii (which Hawaii doesn’t have native deer) are the only ones with really no type of regulations, tag programs, or antler restrictions. From that perspective it’s easy to see that SC is an outlier.
Mr. Ruth also noted that while we have fewer deer now and deer harvest numbers are down… we still lead the southeast in terms of harvest per square mile. Since he went through his slides quickly I wasn’t able to jot down all the data points, but I did capture a few that I thought were interesting:
Mr. Ruth also noted that DNR conducts surveys and polls + they have worked with independent agencies to conduct surveys over the last few years. From the polls and surveys they have been able understand both quantitative and qualitative data as it relates to deer hunting across the state. Some of the sentiment and data they gleaned was:
Current Status of Bill 454
Senate Bill 454 was filed on DNR's behalf in January and has passed the senate. It’s up for vote in house shortly in the upcoming session. Mr. Ruth noted that the proposal may not please everyone, but DNR had to come up with 1 proposal that attempts to please everyone. If the bill is passed in the next session it will still take a year to implement. If it doesn’t pass then the process will have to start over.
The legislation would provide the following:
Open Forum Q/A Session
After Mr. Ruth’s presentation he wanted to get to the questions from the audience and he also wanted to conduct surveys both via raise of hands and via paper. During this session I was reminded that I was in Lancaster as several of the audience members were interrupting each other, complaining that DNR was trying to “Help the rich man and hold the poor people down”, and just not being courteous to one another in general.
Some audience members asked about reviving the check-in locations, rolling big-game license cost & tags into same fee, call-in harvest reporting, and wanting punishment for people caught with illegal deer. Mr. Ruth answered the questions as best he could. As the session went on the environment became more animated.
I was glad that I attended the meeting and got the info and am up-to-date on the current state of Senate Bill 454. I was also disappointed in some of our fellow outdoorsmen that were present and I think we collectively owe Mr. Ruth an apology. Several audience members were disrespectful to Mr. Ruth during his presentation. They made snide comments, interrupted him, asked him questions and then didn’t let him answer before interrupting him again. Even worse some crowd members were essentially holding Mr. Ruth solely responsible for the way the government works, the way the legislation is written, and how laws are interpreted. It was as if they didn’t understand how our government currently works and what DNR is trying to do. Mr. Ruth and DNR are trying to help the deer population and hunters across the state, but the way some interacted with him you could tell they didn’t understand.
It was also obvious, at least to me, that everyone came and voiced their own unique perspective, but yet didn’t consider the scope of the greater task at hand for DNR. Whether it was a bow hunter that was mad about when the season starts in various game zones, or a processor worried about tagging deer in his cooler, a person who wants to blame coyotes for everything, or just a redneck in general who changed positions on a question half way through his response… all attendees had an individual perspective and concern that was voiced. There seemed to be a disconnect in that DNR has to collectively consider all of the unique perspectives, but yet the audience didn’t care about other hunters perspectives, rather they only considered their own. I did not envy Mr. Ruth’s position on stage last night, but I do respect him for delivering the info and taking the misdirected heat. It was impossible to please a room full of 60+ hunters from one area of the state so I can’t imagine trying to please all hunters across the entire state in 1 bill. Though, even though the crowd was animated during the survey session the majority of the crowd was in support of adopting the new legislation, which was a positive.
I thought Mr. Ruth handled the increasingly animated crowd very well and was very professionally even when some members hurled insults at him and his organization. Kudos to the DNR team for hosting the event, remaining professional, and working to get this bill passed. I think the future of deer hunting in our state will benefit from it for years to come. I for one appreciate your efforts and recognize that the challenge before you with this legislation is not an easy one to get across the line. Thank you!