In 1943, Aldo Leopold said game management is easy, it's human management that's difficult.
Understanding there are significant differences in white-tailed deer management desires is key to the success of this year's National Deer Hunting Summit.
Trophy hunters and deer biologists don't often see eye-to-eye. Land managers and public land hunters have different takes on many topics. What everyone here cares about, deeply cares about, is the white-tailed deer. Working together to shape the future of the North America's most pursued game animal is both a challenge and privilege.
"We are at a crossroads of whitetail deer management and face more challenges today than in years past," Brian Murphy, CEO of the Quality Deer Management Association, said. "Whitetail deer populations are lower today in many states than they have been in many decades, and hunters are concerned."
The restoration period of the whitetail plan is all but complete. Deer numbers escalated in many states beyond original expectations set decades ago. Now we must learn to maintain and balance the right number of deer per landscape.
"In many states populations are down 10, 20, 30 percent or more off their peaks. It's how we address these issues that dictates what whitetail deer hunting will look like in years and decades to come," Murphy said.
Mark Duda of Responsive Game Management studies human behavior towards hunting. He started his presentation at the Deer Summit off by saying, "We really need to step back a minute and talk about the success we have had with this magnificent and unique creature."
Back around 1900, whitetail deer populations were decimated across the U.S. Now, there are so many deer, that if all the deer hunters in the U.S. lived in one state it would be the 8th largest state in the country.
And these deer hunters spend money. According to Duda, deer hunters collectively spend about $18.1 billion per year, or $1,669 each, on deer hunting. This results in more than three billion dollars in tax revenue. That's enough money to make you popular, which hunters surprisingly are.
In 2013, according to Duda, 79 percent of the American public supported hunting in general, and 85 percent support hunting for meat. What turns the average American off is issues like "trophy hunting" and baiting for bear.
It's perception that drives America's acceptance of hunting.
"The public has very low knowledge levels when it comes to fish and wildlife," Duda said. "Only 20 percent of the general population can correctly name their state fish and wildlife agency. But study after study after study on state and national levels show that in general, the public feels their state fish and wildlife agencies do a good job."
Public perception of hunters is high, but we are dealing with a public that is not real informed about hunting. Maintaining a positive public perception must remain a concern for hunters. Figuring out how hunters, game agencies and the general public can collectively work together to manage white-tail deer is key to keeping a positive light shinning on us. We must self-manage. And that's what we are doing here at the North American Whitetail Summit.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected].