Management Deer Hunts and Trophy Bucks

By Dr. Jim Clary

Everyone who hunts has dreamed about that monster trophy buck that we hope to get a crack at some day. However, have you ever given any thought as to how they get so big? While studying wildlife management in college many years ago, I was intrigued by the predator/prey relationship and how it affected the populations of animals. Left to their own devices (i.e., without human intervention), animal populations are subject to significant cyclic variations. As the prey (deer) increased in numbers, so did their predators (wolves, pumas, etc). Then, as the predators continued to multiply given the abundance of food, their food supply (deer) began to dwindle. With the decrease in their food supply, a decrease in predator numbers followed. These cycles were often wild in their fluctuations and rarely resulted in a stable population of either deer or predators.

In the absence of predators (including hunters), deer populations will still undergo substantial cyclic fluctuations. This time the cycles occur when population numbers which exceed the carrying capacity of the environment. Under those circumstances, starvation and disease devastate the population and numbers drop drastically; e.g. the Kaibab deer in Arizona.

The point of both examples is that deer populations (elk, antelope, etc), when left to the tender mercies of nature are never stable. The numbers fluctuate from unsustainable highs to unacceptable lows. Enter scientific wildlife management techniques.

Predator/prey relationship.

Game ranches and hunting reserves, in the United States and Africa, utilize wildlife management techniques designed to maintain populations at the highest sustainable levels without wild cyclic fluctuations. To accomplish this, the herds are “culled” on a regular basis. This management process requires the harvest of excess animals (both trophy and non-trophy) to insure that the remaining herds are healthy and have sufficient food and habitat to survive. In the absence of natural predators, there are only two choices: Pay professionals (with taxpayer money) to cull excess animals, or let sportsmen buy hunting licenses, clothes, rifles, etc. The latter puts money into the economy, rather than taking it out.

In short, hunters are an essential part of scientific wildlife management. If the anti-hunting fanatics of the world had their way, wildlife populations would fluctuate wildly and be subject to regular disease outbreaks and starvation. The “good” (and I use that word very loosely) intentions of these misguided and ignorant folks are founded on junk science and ignorance. They probably went to school with the anti-gun crowd who believe that disarming law abiding citizens will reduce crime, although statistics clearly show otherwise.

License quotas in most states are based on the best information available to the management biologists (i.e., the number of animals which can/should be harvested to maintain a stable population). In addition to their regular trophy tags, game ranches and hunting reserves across the globe often have regular management hunts. These hunts are designed to harvest excess animals (usually non-trophy) to maintain the health of the overall population.

Management hunt whitetail buck trophies.

The hunt for these animals is every bit as challenging as for a 170+ whitetail deer, except their antlers won’t make the record books. Even so, their racks make fine skull mounts to preserve the memories of your hunt. So, the next time that you head out for a fall hunt; remember, harvesting a “non-trophy” deer is just as important to the overall welfare of the population as taking that monster wall hanger. The three whitetails pictured above were taken by my wife and daughter during a management hunt in south Texas. The decision was made by the ranch manager that the genetics of these three were not desirable, hence the management hunt. Mary and Susannah had a wonderful four-day hunt, taking four whitetails, a black buck and a surplus cow elk. Our freezer is full of meat for the winter and the herd is better off. The next time you hear someone disparage management hunts, remember: without them, there would be fewer of the trophy animals that we all hope someday to find.

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Copyright 2010 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.