March 31, 2023
Over the past two decades, this column has been based on the latest deer research conducted by some of the top deer biologists in the country. These scientific findings are not simply someone’s opinion; they’re peer-reviewed results.
My job is to excise the big science words from this research and present the findings so the average bowhunter can understand and apply the results in their neck of the woods. More than ever, many hunters now are interested in acquiring deer data from true professionals who aren’t just trying to sell a product. And except for a few magazines and websites, this data seems to be harder and harder to find.
The number-one e-mail question I receive from Bowhunter readers is, “How do I become a wildlife biologist?”
My answer to that question usually goes something like, “Because of the intense competition within the profession, plan on going for a master’s degree in wildlife management/biology. If you love whitetails as much as I do, then colleges such as Texas A&M Kingsville, Mississippi State University, University of Georgia, and Auburn University are good choices. Granted, you can get a job with a four-year degree, but most employers are looking to hire those who hold advanced degrees. Once you get a job, your next challenge is convincing your spouse that your work is not your hobby, but rather your hobby is your work!
Although you may think this question only comes from students, many adults rephrase the question as, “I’m now a professional (fill in the blank), but I almost majored in wildlife biology. Is there any class available to help me advance my deer-hunting career?”
If you’re one of these folks, the National Deer Association (NDA) now has a solution for you. NDA’s online video Deer Steward Level 1 class is a goldmine of information on deer research and management advice from some of the country’s top deer biologists and college professors.
Over the past 10 years, these classes have gained more and more followers from average deer hunters to the folks at state deer agencies. This course has become so popular that the NDA recently partnered with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) to provide a customized three-day Deer Steward course for their staff and leadership.
And Arkansas is not alone, as the NDA has held customized Deer Steward courses for five other state wildlife agencies. The beauty is, the average deer hunter and landowner can take the exact same advanced online training course that teaches key principles of deer and habitat biology, ecology, management, and hunting.
AGFC Deer Program Coordinator Ralph Meeker said, “NDA’s Deer Steward course is a great opportunity for hunters and managers alike to learn more about the most recent deer and habitat research, and how it directly applies to our management efforts. NDA did a great job communicating many of the individual components related to deer and habitat management and how they tie together. This made it much easier for our staff to not only understand but also, undoubtedly, to communicate those same ideas to our constituents.”
Once I found out that various state wildlife agencies were donating time and money for their employees to take the course, I signed up for the same online Deer Steward 1 course. And man, was I impressed!
There’s simply no other course that informs and educates hunters on deer-hunting research more than this one. What immediately stood out to me was how the instructors put their information together in a very simple and easy to follow format.
The class is divided into five sections, but my personal favorite is instructed by NDA Director of Conservation Matt Ross. Matt put together numerous papers from around the country on deer movements and home-range use. The end result was something I call, “the science of deer hunting,” and Ross deserves much credit for his incredible PowerPoint presentation. Without a doubt, few college courses, websites, or articles can ever provide more practical knowledge and in-depth training on deer biology and habitat/herd/hunter management, than the NDA’s Deer Steward 1 class.
After each of the five sections, you’re given a quiz where you must earn a 70 percent or more to pass. And although the course is graded (which you can take multiple times), the tests were thought-provoking and fun. Like many hunters and deer biologists who have taken the class, I learned a lot and highly encourage all my deer-a-holic friends to take the course.
For those hunters interested in getting their hands dirty, the Deer Steward 2 class is for you. It covers establishing food plots, aging jawbones, determining the rut using fetuses, reading a soil test, herbicide use, calibrating chemical sprayers and no-till drills, prescribed burns, forest and field management, and so much more. If you own or manage any land for deer hunting, this class is for you!
You can argue that deer biologists have failed miserably in educating their most valuable resource — deer hunters. But that doesn’t have to mean you. Hunters can learn more about deer hunting with the NDA’s Deer Steward classes than a lifetime of personal hunting experiences will ever teach them.
Deer Steward 1 provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the key principles of deer and habitat biology, ecology, and management. Deer Steward 2 will teach students how to apply the principles and applications learned in Deer Steward 1 through hands-on field experience. At the end of Deer Steward 2 training, attendees can plan and implement advanced strategies wherever they hunt. As it stands now, nearly 6,000 people have taken either the Deer Steward 1 or 2 class since the program began. Maybe you should be the next? If you’re interested in signing up for the Deer Steward 1 class, go to deerassociation.com/steward/deer-steward-online/, or contact Ben Westfall at firstname.lastname@example.org.