Once again money dictatesBy JEFF NORTH,
Every year there are numerous discussions between fellow hunters on how everyone’s season is going. It begins with dove season and stops briefly at the end of January. During March and April it picks up for a few weeks when the turkeys are gobbling, then all is quiet until the doves start it all over again. We talk about ducks, bucks, geese, and even squirrels make the conservation circuit at times. Sometimes success abounds among sportsmen and women and all are gay and happy. Other years are mixed with some stowing their gear away with smiles while others end their season frustrated. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but up until this point I have heard more complaining and gloom and doom about the 2018-2019 hunting season than ever before. I’ll offer some opinions, mainly mine, regarding the “dismal for most” year of hunting many of us are experiencing.
To begin with, let’s blame the weather, at least in part. Never have I seen a season that has been so warm and saturated. Many of the worst days have fallen on the weekends and this coincides with when most of us have opportunities for days afield. I know countless souls, myself included, who opted to stay at home rather than battle the risk for soakings that have occurred so many times this hunting season. This weather issue carried weight with both the waterfowl enthusiasts and the deer hunters as well. Can you relate to my assessment that at least part of the reason why many of us have not had the kind of year we would have liked, at least up to this point? I think we can all nod our heads in agreement on this one, and we all know misery loves company. What other factors could also lead to hunters returning home empty handed and frustrated?
Years ago I could drive through the country I frequent so often with rifle and bow and hardly ever see the army of orange vests that I do now. I remember driving the backroads at dawn and dusk on the days I couldn’t hunt just to look at deer and ducks for future reference. Seldom would I see more than a truck or two parked on the logging roads and the same held true at the boat ramps where the duck hunters put in. Today, it almost looks like a bass tournament is in full swing at these same ramps and it’s nothing but duck hunters. Combine the competition for holes and the limited number of ducks to call and you get the picture. There may be four blinds all calling to the same pair of mallards and it doesn’t take long for the ducks, as few as they are to begin with, to figure out the gig. Bottom line is, no one wins. The same holds true in many areas for the deer hunters.
This past Friday I couldn’t hunt but had time to take a little ride to see if the rut was still on. Never in my life have I seen more pickups parked in fields and on the edge of woods than I did this day. The next day I did get to sit on a limb and it sounded like a young war in every direction. Rifles popped continuously for the last hour of daylight. This re-affirmed my conclusion of how many people actually hunt now and how much pressure is being applied to the resource. I wondered what has changed in the last twenty years.
I can remember large tracts of land that had very little hunting pressure not that many years ago. These tracts, with several being larger than ten thousand acres, have over time been split up into many smaller tracts. Think of it like this. Instead of one 10,000-acre tract, now we may have twenty 500-acre tracts. Of course the number of hunters increases exponentially on each of these smaller tracts. There are only so many mature bucks out there to begin with and the competition for them now has also increased exponentially. We begin to lose age classes of older bucks and we whittle the predominant age class from five-year-olds, to four-year-olds, and so on. Additionally, from what I have experienced, most people are reluctant to harvest the number of antlerless deer that are needed to keep the herd in balance. So now we are putting extreme harvest pressure on our “desirables” and everything gets out of whack. Sadly, this is irreversible, though many say you can recover by doing what is necessary but seldom if ever have I seen it occur. So what can we do about this dilemma and return to the fun times and the good ole days we used to have? The truth is, unless you’re content to enjoy what we have, you will continue to be disappointed at the end of the season.
Oh, we could take drastic steps to reduce our pressure on ducks and bucks but there is too much money involved now to ever allow this to happen. We could have a two week buck season and the rest of the year would be confined to doe harvest only, but the sporting goods industry would freak out. Regarding ducks, we could shorten our seasons up and down the flyways to reduce pressure, but again there is too much money involved. Sadly, the sale of waders, decoys, clothes, scents, firearms, bows, and other sporting goods takes precedence over the resource itself. Again, as I stated, this is my opinion. You may comment that regulated seasons don’t affect populations, and you may have different opinions of why ducks and older classes of bucks aren’t as plentiful as they once were. If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear your ideas as well.
The bottom line is, hunting has been promoted through media, tradeshows, and other venues to stimulate the number of hunters to skyrocket. As the human population spirals, so will the number of hunters. It will be interesting to see where the competition for leases and land accessibility will end up, but as water rises and falls, this too will seek its on level. Maybe by some miracle we will find some compromise, but only time will tell. Think about this, if you have solutions, I’m all ears.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.