Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Man -- the Essential Predator

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 21, 2010.)

Any common sense discussion of hunting
must recognize that man
historically has been a predator.
It’s normal for a wolf. A way of life for an owl. No fox or hawk or coyote or mountain lion ever questioned whether it was moral to kill any songbird or rodent or turkey or deer.

I got to thinking about the morality of hunting when I recently re-read an article in Sports Illustrated (Nov. 24, 2008) about the decline of hunting. It ended with this sentence: “Wolves do not make moral decisions.... They just hunt.”

Hunting isn’t a moral issue for wolves or any other predator – and there are many of them. Is it for man? I think the answer is yes. For man, hunting is a moral decision. To think about whether hunting is a right moral activity, let’s begin by looking at the past.

We don’t have to go as far back as man’s so-called “hunter-gatherer” stage. Only a few hundred years ago, newly minted Americans began settling in the wilderness of the New World. No one considered hunting to be wrong. It’s what people had always done.

In fact, man has been a very creative predator, inventing countless ways to capture and kill animals for food. Historically he has been nature’s most efficient predator. Animals of all sizes were his prey, from fluffy bunnies to the shaggy bison of the American plains.

Today most of us don’t hunt. That’s a good thing. If all 12 million people in Pennsylvania took up hunting, dramatic changes would be needed in wildlife management policies, or we’d quickly run out of wildlife. But the fact that most people are non-hunters has no bearing on whether hunting is moral or not.

People who argue that hunting is immoral will say all the meat we need is available in hermetically sealed transparent packaging. That’s irrelevant. Meat packers and refrigeration can’t make immoral what has been moral since the beginning of time.

They’ll say hunting is only legal because governments allow it. That’s untrue. Hunting seasons and bag limits exist because hunters saw the need and pushed governments to act. More than a hundred years ago hunters knew that a bourgeoning population of humans would rapidly marginalize wildlife, and that market hunting would surely exterminate it from all but the most remote places. And since that time, wildlife has thrived. All wildlife – not just game animals.

Not a single species has ever been threatened by regulated hunting. Not even the beloved polar bear, poster child of the global warming movement. The fact is polar bear populations are now at an all-time high. Hunting hasn’t hurt them a bit. In fact, it has helped them.

Hunters have done more for wildlife than any government anywhere at any level. Most of the dollars spent on behalf of game animals – on research benefiting all wildlife and on the creation and preservation of habitat – come from hunters.

And not just from the sale of hunting licenses. The money also comes from an 11% Federal excise tax on sporting gear which the Federal government distributes directly to the states for programs that support wildlife and habitat. That wasn’t a tax forced on hunters. It’s a tax hunters insisted on, and a tax wildlife depends on.

The money also flows through an alphabet soup of conservation organizations where hunters love working together for the benefit of wildlife. Hunters have done more for wildlife than any body of legislators, humane society, or anti-hunting organization. Anti-hunters think they're doing wildlife a favor. They’re actually working against the best friends wildlife has ever had.

Any common sense discussion of hunting must recognize that man historically has been a predator. Has been from the beginning. Still is. He’s the essential predator. He’s the predator who knows that he holds the keys to the future of wildlife. He’s the only predator who is thoughtful about the health of his prey species, the needs of his prey species, the future of his prey species, and his impact on species that aren’t his prey.

So, is hunting moral? If doing good is a measure of morality, then hunting is moral. Hunting is normal for a wolf. Hunting is normal, and moral, for man.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Reporting on Whitetails in Pennsylvania

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 7, 2010.)

Considering that it’s a scientific treatise,
“Management and Biology of White-Tailed Deer
in Pennsylvania, 2009-2018” is not hard to read.
What’s the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s plan for managing whitetail deer for the next ten years? It has just released a 123-page report on the subject, and there’s plenty in it. My aim here isn’t to provide a synopsis. That would be impossible in 750 words.

My intention is to point out some of the statements I found interesting and that might encourage more people to take a look at the plan.

In several places, the report inserts quotations from long ago. Here’s one from an October 1947 editorial in Pennsylvania Game News magazine that shows biologists have been trying to balance deer populations, wildlife habitat, and public needs for a long time:
“The White-tailed deer is today Pennsylvania’s most striking game animal. At the same time, it is also the Commonwealth’s most complicated game problem.”

We’ve had combined antlered and antlerless deer seasons only since 2001. I thought that was a new idea. I was wrong. Here’s a quote from the state president of the Izaak Walton League addressing the board of game commissioners on May 16, 1930:
“The deer problem in my mind will never be settled until you open the season on both doe and bucks, and have only one season for both and allow no deer to be shot under a certain size. This has been the remedy in other states and has been found to work to the satisfaction of every one.”

Once in a while we hear about an antlered doe. How rare is that? According to the report, about one of every three to four thousand antlered deer is a female.

Did you know that the first chamber of the whitetail’s four-chambered stomach helps it to avoid predators? It enables deer to eat quickly without much chewing, then regurgitate and chew at a later time while safely bedded in cover.

What’s the impact of poor habitat on whitetail reproduction? As little as a 10 percent reduction in food consumption inhibits skeletal growth and fat accumulation, stunting the growth of female fawns and preventing them from breeding. That’s why, after a reduction in the deer herd and the improvement of habitat, biologists are seeing higher body weights, earlier maturation of females, and more fawns per doe.

In two study areas, predators (mostly black bears and coyotes) were the leading cause of fawn mortality. Most predation occurs during the fawn’s first three months.

Most hunters know that yearling bucks disperse from their birth area. Did you know that dispersal happens in spring and fall? And did you know that they travel about 5 miles on average, and distances of more than 20 miles are possible?

Among the people who report watching wildlife in Pennsylvania, 59% are between the ages of 35 and 64, and 22% are 65 or older. That means only 19% are younger than 35. Isn’t wildlife interesting to people in the first half of their lives? Fifty-one percent are male, so the split between men and women is about equal.

How big is the impact of hunters on the economy? In 2001, big game hunters in Pennsylvania spent more than $488 million on food, lodging, transportation, and equipment. That doesn’t include licenses.

I’ve known for a long time that house cats are the biggest predator on songbirds. But did you know that deer can also reduce songbird populations? An Allegheny National Forest study showed that indigo buntings and eastern wood pewees disappeared when deer densities were too high. Why? Because deer browse the vegetation at the level where those birds feed.

Many people who don’t like hunting think a good alternative is trapping and transferring deer to new locations. But a trap and transfer program neither protects individual deer from stress and mortality, nor is it a needed method for restoring deer populations anywhere in the state. It can also introduce diseases to new areas. The good news is that regulated hunting has proven to be the most effective management tool, and the most efficient and least expensive technique for managing deer numbers.

Considering that it’s a scientific treatise, “Management and Biology of White-Tailed Deer in Pennsylvania, 2009-2018” is not hard to read. It covers information on diseases, the rationale for the current wildlife management units, and much more. Whether you agree with the PGC policies or not, you’ll benefit from reading it. You’ll find a link at the Game Commission website and at www.EverydayHunter.com.