Excess and Access

Hunting Whitetails

Here I am with a buck I took in my own backyard.

I grew up with relatives who didn't trust anything the state wildlife department said. My relatives truly believed the wildlife agency was the enemy of all hunters. Although this feeling remains prevalent in some states, the friction between biologists and hunters generally can be boiled down to this: biologists want hunters to harvest more deer, and hunters complain about the lack of deer. This paradox arises in many states because of a common scenario: even on private lands overpopulated with deer, landowners won't give hunters permission to hunt.

In some cases, landowners may simply not like hunters, and in others, they might be saving the hunting for themselves and relatives. More and more commonly these days, landowners lease the hunting rights, which severely restricts hunter numbers. On top of all that, the many frivolous lawsuits filed these days have to scare many landowners. It's easier to say "No hunting," than to face possible liability issues.

Although the sole mission of state wildlife agencies is not to help hunters find hunting property, many states offer public hunting lands where anyone is welcome. Granted, even though hunters' dollars buy and maintain most public hunting areas, many hunters shy away from these lands because the competition is too heavy, the deer too few.

So, to enjoy better hunting, hunters want to gain access to prime private lands, and state game departments want them there to eliminate excess deer. But many properties are no longer open to hunting. What is a hunter to do?

To answer that question, you must understand that every state wildlife agency develops an approved deer management plan. The problem is that very few states meet their deer management goals. Data indicate burgeoning deer populations throughout the country are literally costing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy through crop depredation, damage to ornamental shrubs, collisions with vehicles and aircraft, disease outbreaks, and other problems (see sidebar).

The bottom line is that deer cause billions of dollars of damage annually. In an effort to rectify this, state biologists have commonly: (1) increased bag limits, and (2) increased season lengths. Still, deer populations remain at all-time highs. Why?

Although this is not universally true, in most cases, the best tools for controlling burgeoning deer populations are firearms hunters. Unfortunately, nationwide, most hunters take only one deer and then stop hunting. Why? Maybe they are not skillful enough to take more. Maybe they get tired of hunting. Maybe they don't want to pay butchering costs for additional deer. Or maybe they quit hunting because their families can eat only one deer per year.

To encourage hunters to shoot more deer, states must eliminate these excuses, particularly the last two, and Maryland is one state that has done very well in that regard, by getting hunters to harvest two or more deer each year. In fact, 53 percent of all successful hunters in Maryland take two or more deer.

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Bill Lerner

Are Maryland hunters more skillful than hunters in other states? Probably not. However, in Maryland, one dollar from every hunting license sold goes to the Maryland Chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH). FHFH probably isn't the only reason Maryland hunters have such a high success rate, but it sure helps keep hunters in the field because it gives them a beneficial outlet -- hungry families -- for excess venison at no additional cost to themselves. In Maryland, FHFH pays for all the butchering costs. In 2005, Maryland deer hunters donated 60 tons of venison to the hungry, which equates to 1.5 pounds, or six meals, of donated venison for every deer hunter in Maryland.

Besides feeding hungry families, reducing deer numbers, and increasing recreational hunting days, Maryland's FHFH program inspires other economic benefits. Most notably, Maryland hunters spend more on equipment, which not only bolsters the sporting goods industry but also increases Pittman-Robertson dollars, which contribute to better habitat and hunting. And, of course, higher deer harvest translates to enhanced forest regeneration, less ornamental shrub damage, reduced crop depredation, fewer automobile accidents, and lower rates of Lyme disease.

ALL OF THIS LEADS to the point of this column -- gaining access to hunt excess deer on private lands. I personally have gained access to prime properties by introducing landowners to FHFH. At the very least, my commitment to FHFH shows landowners that hunters really are conscientious people who care about others.

Here's another thought: When asking permission to hunt, take a child along. If you have no children of your own, borrow a friend's son or daughter. Not only might including a child in your plans help you break the ice and gain access, but also it's a great way to involve kids in hunting who may never have the chance otherwise.

Even when presented FHFH information, and when seeing children involved, some landowners remain skeptical about allowing access onto their properties. Can you do more?

Many hunters are now using professional deer management plans to convince landowners to allow them to hunt. These plans include a mission statement/purpose, a letter to the prospective landowner, hunter application, permission letters, and references. Examples of these letters (Microsoft Word documents) can be found via these links:

Deer Management Program Permission Form

Dear Homeowner...

Each Landowner Will Receive A Copy Of Our General Liability Insurance

Membership Application

Mission Statement

Although these Internet examples are designed for an organized group of bowhunters working with a homeowner's association, golf course, or nature center, it can help open the door for individual hunters approaching landowners as well.

I have found that two of landowners' primary concerns relate to liability

and safety. A hunting group I belong to buys a $1 million liability hunting insurance policy through the Quality Deer Management Association (1-800-209-DEER). It costs about $235 per year. To address the safety issues, our group hunts from only elevated treestands; all members must pass the National Bowhunter Education Foundation course (www.nbef.org); all hunters must wear full-body safety harnesses; we inscribe our names on all arrows; we park in specific locations with an orange parking identification tag; and we give all landowners a portfolio for all hunters.

Feel free to copy and plagiarize this plan from the Bowhunter website and use it to fit your specific needs. Without a doubt, public relations and professionalism are the keys in acquiring access to prime hunting properties.

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CJ's Summary:

To gain access to prime hunting properties, get involved with FHFH or similar venison-donation programs in your state, take a child hunting, and create a deer management plan that demonstrates your professionalism to landowners. Since 1997, FHFH hunters in some 30 states have donated more than 1,600 tons of venison and other big game, providing over 1.28 million meals to the hungry. A 100-pound deer yields about 200 meals. Average processing cost is about $50, which equates to $1 per pound, or about 25 cents per serving. If you are interested in donating to or starting an FHFH chapter, contact: 1-866-GET-FHFH; www.fhfh.org. Without a doubt, the FHFH program is one of our most cost-effective options for promoting the value of our cherished sport well into this century.

Deer Damage

Here are a few documented references to deer damage around the country:

Conover and Decker determined that losses caused by whitetail deer exceed losses associated with all other wildlife species in the United States.

  • In 1996, researcher Wywialowski found that in the top 10 corn-producing states, deer damage exceeded $21 million.

  • In 1995, researcher Isleib estimated that annual crop losses to deer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula exceeded 25 percent of all field and forage crops grown.

  • In 1987, researcher Purdy from New York found that, on average, deer commonly do more than $15,000 in damage per orchard.

  • In 1992, researcher Craven concluded that agricultural producers generally tolerate about $500, or 10 percent crop loss (whichever comes first), in wildlife damage.

  • Many state governments provide compensation for damage caused by deer or issue depredation permits to allow for the removal of depredating animals. Furthermore, some state agencies provide assistance to landowners for constructing deer-proof fences (e.g., The Wisconsin Wildlife Damage Abatement and Claims Program). In addition to fences and repellents, other methods used to control deer damage include modification (e.g., lure crops), live trapping and translocation, fertility control, frightening devices (e.g., scarecrow), and lethal control (e.g., hunting). In many cases, fence costs were too high to be profitable or were considered incompatible with other land uses.

  • Deer collisions with automobiles and aircraft threaten human health and safety and cause substantial economic damage. In Bowhunter's "2006 Deer Forecast," 32 states reported more than 480,600 deer were killed on highways in the United States. Research has shown that the actual figure would be at least double that, or more than 950,000 collisions. Throughout the year, a minimum of one deer dies per minute on the nation's highways. In 2002, researcher Conover estimated these accidents cost motorists approximately $1.6 billion annually.

  • In 2006, researcher Dolbeer determined that deer were the most hazardous wildlife species on airport runways, causing an estimated $85,093 damage per collision with aircraft.

  • Connecticut deer biologist Howard Kilpatrick determined that whitetail deer serve as a host for the primary vector of Lyme disease. Reducing concentrations of deer can reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease in humans.

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