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, December 24, 2010

Will Market Hunting Make a Comeback?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 24, 2010.)

If you think hunting is facing
serious challenges now, wait until
every deer is turned into dollars.
Did you know American sport hunters were the saviors of many species that were headed for extinction almost a hundred years ago? It’s true.

In those days whitetail deer were rare, partly because of market hunting. Wild turkeys were scarce except in isolated pockets. And market hunting forced passenger pigeons into extinction. Sport hunters saw other species also heading for disaster, and we spoke up.

We asked for hunting regulations. We promoted the idea that wildlife populations should be a public resource in every state. That became a core principle of wildlife management, and that’s when wildlife began to thrive.

Today, that principle is being challenged. A September 2010 article in Michigan Farm News outlined an idea to create a “licensed cadre of Elite/Master Hunters to sell wild Michigan venison commercially to restaurants, food distributors, grocery stores, individuals and other outlets.”

Yes, some people are saying that hunters should be permitted to profit by selling the meat they harvest. It’s a thoroughly bad idea because historically, market hunting was not good for wild animal populations.

Sport hunters were the saviors of wildlife because we advocated restricted seasons, bag limits and other regulations. We volunteered to pay special taxes for game conservation. Why would America want to turn away from what spared species from extinction?

Not only does sport hunting conserve healthy wildlife populations, sport hunters are also the drivers in the conservation organizations that spend millions and millions of private dollars annually, investing in wildlife habitat and lobbying for sound wildlife management.

Not only have game animal populations thrived because of sport hunting, but so have all other animals that share the habitat.

Not only has sport hunting created countless opportunities for the common, everyday hunter to enjoy a wholesome pastime, it has also created a thriving economic industry that thousands upon thousands of hunters participate in – even though sport hunters have never asked to make a direct profit from the game they bag.

The hunting industry already offers endless ways for hunters to make a living in the hunting industry. Plenty of hunters invent and market animal calls, treestands, clothing and other products. Hunters are writing books, selling photographs, creating artwork, conducting seminars, developing television programs, promoting sport shows and more.

You say, “Wait a minute, Sorensen – only a few people can do that.” Yes, that’s true – as it’s true in every field – not everyone becomes an entrepreneur.

But suppose we create a class of privileged elite market hunters. Suppose I’m one of them, and I make an agreement with several farmers to kill and sell the deer that are eating their corn. That gives me an enormous advantage over you, the ordinary hunter. My market hunting is taking deer that you might otherwise have an opportunity to hunt.

Anyone reading this like that idea? …. I didn't think so. You might say, “But I don’t live in Michigan.” True again, but an idea that takes hold in one place will spread to others.

Sport hunting is one of the things that still works well across this great nation. Yes, we continually tweak it, but it certainly isn’t broken, so it doesn’t need fixing.

Establishing elite class of hunters will create a new rift in the ranks of hunters, and end up monetizing wild animals in a way that would likely eliminate sport hunting altogether and remove wildlife from public interest.

The people who have come up with this terrible idea label it a “win-win,” but it would end up being a “lose-lose” because government tentacles seldom know their limits. It would be a way for states to sell a new kind of license and give deer a commercial value.

Then, what’s to stop government from taxing you when you harvest a deer? Ultimately, wildlife would become a commodity and market hunting would end up becoming a cost to us all. It would eliminate sport hunting. It would remove wildlife from the public interest. Wildlife would no longer exist for its own sake. It would be regulated to benefit government, and not the interests government should serve.

If you think wildlife and hunting are facing some serious challenges now, wait until every deer is turned into dollars.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How Deer Hunting Has Changed

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 11, 2010.)

Some of our favorite
hunting areas have become a
specialized kind of shantytown.
I shot my first deer in 1967. It was my fourth year of hunting deer, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever fill out a tag.

I remember a few things about that day. I remember patchy snow on the ground. I remember the swish-swish sound my corduroy pants made with every step as I found my way to the tree I planned to stand beside. I filed away a mental note never to wear corduroy pants again while hunting.

An hour or two after daylight my eyes caught movement. Three young bucks were picking their way through the woods. I anxiously waited until they got about 30 yards away, and fired my .222 at one. It dropped, and the two other bucks sprinted away. My buck shed his 5-point rack when he fell to the ground.

Much has changed. Back then, hardly anyone would sit up in a tree or in a ground shanty all day. While on stand, we’d often see other hunters oozing their way through the woods, and those hunters would invariably cause deer to move, guaranteeing that the stand hunters could count on seeing deer.

Most young hunters hadn’t learned still hunting skills, so we’d sit on a log or stand by a tree until we got cold, bored or impatient.

If a hunter didn’t see a buck to shoot, and was lucky enough to draw a doe tag, he’d have an extra day to harvest a doe. Many hunters considered a doe a consolation prize.

Today, many hunters complain about reduced deer populations as though that’s the only change. But the truth is that everything is different. Antlered and antlerless seasons run concurrently. We have new wildlife management units, and our targets are limited by antler restrictions.

Hunters compete with a high black bear population and plenty of coyotes – both of which eat most of their venison during the spring fawning season.

Hunting competes with youth sports programs, video games and heavy doses of “must-see TV” that have brought an urban mentality even to rural areas. All those television sit-coms are so very appealing to youths – they take up nearly every subject except hunting.

The family has changed. Smaller families are spread out farther around the country, and opening day is becoming a less important tradition. More broken families mean that more kids have no dad to take them hunting.

Aging hunters are dying off or their bodies are wearing out faster than youths are taking their place, so on opening day fewer hunters are in the woods.

We’ve succumbed to advertisements, hunting videos and magazines – most of which convince countless hunters that they can’t succeed without treestands or ground blinds. Some of our favorite hunting areas have become a specialized kind of shantytown.

I’m not opposed to hunting from stands and shanties, but with so many stationary hunters it’s possible for a hunter to hunt the entire opening day and not see another hunter. I’ve done it several times. And we need to realize that when hunters sit tight, so do deer.

More land is posted to keep hunters out. Some landowners want to protect their personal hunting paradise, some are nervous about having people with guns on their property, and some think they’re doing deer a favor. Whatever the reasons, it’s harder every year for hunters to find private property open to hunting.

Some changes have made hunting better and safer. We dress in fluorescent orange instead of red Woolrich plaid. We have hunter education classes. We have better gear, better clothing, and better guns, bows and arrows. Most of us use higher quality scopes and binoculars. We have easy access to maps and to better weather forecasts via the Internet. We find ways to control or minimize our human scent. We know more about deer habits.

I’m smart enough now not to warn deer that I’m coming with the swish-swish of my corduroy pants, but that doesn’t mean deer hunting is easier.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, and you probably have your own thoughts about how and why deer hunting has changed. It’s not just that we have fewer deer. Too many things have changed for hunting ever to return to the way it used to be. And I suppose there’s good and bad in that.