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Mediocrity is what some hunters are willing to accept


Dear Woods-N-Water News;

For those of us who started archery hunting in the '60s, using long bows or recurves, downing our first deer was quite an accomplishment, even if it was just a young deer. As our abilities and equipment advanced, we became more selective in our targets, many of us, but not all. Some of us have traveled to other states, Canada and even Africa and the Far East to seek better opportunities to hunt larger and or exotic species.

Long time Michigan residents who gun hunted in the '50s would tell you that they have seen herds of 60 does at one time and no bucks. This was the result of poor deer management, allowing only bucks with antlers 3" or longer to be shot. No doe tags were issued in those years. The low percentage of bucks who survived the hunting season did the breeding. Afterwards they were so exhausted, that in Northern Michigan many did not survive the winter. With all those does to take care of, they also did not have much surplus energy or need to grow large bodies and antlers. They rarely fought, there was no reason for it. Even today, it is estimated that 80% of the yearling bucks in Michigan are shot every year.

Because of different hunting rules, our surrounding states, namely Wisconsin, Illinois, even Indiana and Ohio all have much lower ratio of does to bucks than Michigan, leading to larger deer and also larger antlers. You only need to look at the Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett records to see how poorly Michigan compares to other states regarding trophy deer.

Many Michigan deer hunters complain about the existing situation, yet they stubbornly refuse to accept the principles of Quality Deer Management. And so we continue with our mediocrity. We only need to look at some private hunting properties to witness the result of sound management supervised by wildlife biologists. They do not need to be high fence enterprises and (they) exist in many states.

Several years ago at a fundraiser I sat next to one of the owners of a famous deer hunting preserve. I asked him a number of questions about the operation and was enlightened by their philosophy. First, the number of hunters allowed each year was limited according to the deer population. The hunters were not allowed to shoot bucks with less than 8 points. At the conclusion of the season, surplus does were culled (about 300 yearly) to maintain two does per buck ratio. For a reasonable fee, hunters could come and shoot these does.

Similar programs exist on Turner's properties in Montana and other states. Several years ago I had the privilege of hunting the Flying D ranch. This is a huge property, but the game is not fenced in. The ranch at that time held a population of about 3,500 elk and 5,000 bison. It also held a small population of mule deer, not open to hunting. They likewise limit the number of hunters allowed on the property each year and with cooperation of the Montana Fish and Wildlife cull the elk cows yearly to maintain two to one ratio of cows to bulls.

The culling was done over three weekends by local hunters, who had drawn tags and had to sign in and out of the property. Needless to say, the hunting there is phenomenal. It was the only place where I have witnessed two huge bulls fighting while several others were milling around.

What is the secret of these places? Management by a wildlife biologist, not politicians. They do NOT feed the elk, but keep them on the property by providing them with sufficient grazing meadows, water and cover. Why should the elk leave, when that is all they need?

For many years, I have been deer hunting on a private property in Calhoun County. Three years ago, the owner met with his neighbors and they all agreed to shoot one buck only with 8 points or more. We could shoot all the does we had permits for. On the opening morning of last gun season I counted 16 bucks, two of them "shooters." That has never happened before. And there has been a 12-pointer sighted.

State land hunters will say that is only possible on private property. Not really. If all the state hunters demanded to change the rules of one buck only, 8 points or more, in relatively short time we would see a dramatic improvement in our deer population. Some hunters argue that they do not have time to count the points of a buck they see for a few seconds only. Well, if that is the case then he probably is not an 8 point and you let him walk, it is that simple. Or we hear that hunters would shoot a buck they are not sure of and then leave him there if he is too small. Well, those are slobs and we always had slob hunters. A stiff penalty would cure that. If you want meat, shoot a doe. In southern Michigan, we have an over abundance of does. In the Upper Peninsula, does need to be protected, and so do yearling bucks.

We have hunters who pride themselves in shooting bucks only (regardless of size). That is the "macho" thing to do. They proudly tell that to their friends and neighbors, who do not know that a yearling buck is dumb and a lot easier to shoot than a smart doe. Mediocrity is what they are happy with. They ask, "What is this fascination with huge antlers? I get satisfaction in shooting small bucks and they provide more tender meat." Those are all flimsy excuses of people who are content with mediocrity in hunting.

Milos Cihelka
July 23, 2008

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