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Saturday, February 19, 2011

HSUS Responds to the Everyday Hunter

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 19, 2011.)

If we’re quibbling over
unsubstantiated numbers, then
the best way to stop is for
the HSUS to quit repeating them.
In response to my January 22 column titled “Poaching Statistics – HSUS Style” I received an email from Elise Traub who manages the anti-poaching program of the Humane Society of the United States. She included the text of a letter from another HSUS official to the editor of the Warren Times Observer. Both women objected to my view. Here’s my reply to Ms. Traub:

Thank you for your response to my January 22 opinion column, and for the courtesy of emailing me the letter of another HSUS official to the Warren Times Observer.

I’m surprised that you would question my thoughts on HSUS poaching statistics without backing up those statistics. The Time magazine article you cite from 2007 says, “Wildlife officials estimate that the number of poached animals matches the amount of game legally taken each year.”

Who are these anonymous “wildlife officials”? Are they game managers? Agency heads? Enforcement officers? Biologists? Might these “wildlife officials” also be members of anti-hunting groups, such as the HSUS? No one knows, but I’ll bet only a small minority of “wildlife officials” would support that statistic.

And since Time magazine did not source the number 100 million poached animals annually, I don’t see how anyone can responsibly promote that number without knowing and reporting how that estimate is reached. The HSUS discredits itself by not doing so.

You say you have seen the statistic cited widely, but I’m suspicious that the only reason the statistic is cited widely is that the HSUS relentlessly trumpets it, and all citations may in fact trace back to the HSUS.

You say Time magazine “received their information from state wildlife agencies.” Did the Pennsylvania Game Commission contribute to it? The number doesn’t reflect the realities in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania, like every state, has hunting laws and regulations that the vast majority of hunters cheerfully obey. Poachers are a tiny minority who disobey laws and resent regulations. Poachers have no more in common with hunters than a bank robber has with a bank’s depositors.

You’re the manager of an anti-poaching program that focuses solely on illegal hunting. I don’t fault you for that, but HSUS efforts to combat poaching would be more credible if it actually supported hunters and hunting. Instead, even though the HSUS recognizes that hunting is a lawful activity, it scorns hunting as “lethal wildlife management.” It actively opposes legal methods of hunting, and often uses the phrase “illegal hunting” while never using the term “ethical hunting” – indeed, it appears to believe hunting is never ethical.

The HSUS blurs the clear line that exists between the illegal abuse of hunting laws and wildlife by poachers, and the active support of hunting laws and wildlife by the largest contingent of conservationists in the world – hunters.

The HSUS official’s letter to the editor does not counter the views I expressed, but clouds the matter by raising issues I did not address. I did not deny that poaching occurs too often. I did not deny that poachers have no regard for the law or for fair chase. I did not deny that poachers put people at risk and are enemies of all citizens. A normal reader might easily be misled into thinking I said something I did not say. The truth is that those are a few of the reasons I, and hunters everywhere, oppose poaching.

The letter actually reinforces my view that the outlandish numbers cited by the HSUS are indeed extrapolated from a few isolated cases. Astonishingly, it suggests that questioning the HSUS claim is “quibbling over numbers.” If we’re quibbling over unsubstantiated numbers, then the best way to stop is for the HSUS to quit repeating them.

Finally, the letter to the editor says “poaching is a serious crime that should concern both the animal protection community and the hunting community. Rather than quibbling over numbers, wouldn’t time be better spent working to combat poaching together?”

Hunters do combat poaching, and we’re thankful that most people oppose it with us. Unfortunately, the HSUS combats poaching, and hunting too. That does not make the HSUS a friend of hunters.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Yearlings -- a Critical Year of Transition

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 5, 2011.)

They've graduated from mama’s
tutelage, but yearling bucks
still have much to learn.
“I shot a fat yearling buck – only had nubbins on his head, but he’ll sure be good eatin’.”

We’ve all heard many comments like that, and it’s not wrong to congratulate that hunter. But hunters who’ve said it have made a mistake. It’s not a mistake in shooting what they shot. It’s a mistake in what they called it.

A well-fed buck with nubbins on his head isn’t a yearling. It’s a fawn – less than six months old in the fall deer seasons. You don’t have to call them fawns if you don’t want to – in Maine they call them lambs.

Many hunters believe a yearling is a deer in its first year, but it isn’t. A yearling is a deer that has reached its first birthday – a deer in its second year. If it’s a buck, he might be a spike, he might be a forkhorn, or he might be bigger.

Almost every yearling buck is wearing his first rack, and those are the bucks that antler restrictions are designed to save for another year.

Yearling bucks are the deer that whitetail behavior expert Charlie Alsheimer equates to 13-year old boys. These are the bucks that are for the first time beginning to feel the effects of testosterone in their bodies.

Yearling bucks are the deer that have recently had their mothers’ apron strings severed and have dispersed to new territories from five to 20 miles away. They’re not stupid, but they are inexperienced as they face their first winter in new surroundings without mama. They’re trying to figure out how to survive. They don’t know every tree, every cropfield, every creekbed, every hillside, every thicket like they will in their third year.

The yearling is in a critical year of transition. Graduation from mama’s tutelage doesn’t mean yearling bucks don’t still have much to learn. Newly dispersed into unknown territories, yearlings have entered a new stage of survival school.

But old habits die hard and the yearling continues to seek relationships with does. He’s surprised when adult does avoid him, even drive him off. But, they must do that – they have their own young to care for.

This forces yearlings to get acquainted with other bucks in their neighborhood. They join bachelor groups and begin being sorted in the pecking order.

Those bachelor groups are important to the socialization of bucks. The younger bucks often groom the older bucks, and sometimes get the favor returned. Older bucks learn to tolerate younger bucks, and the interaction often forms a bond.

So, here’s where the bond with older bucks benefits the yearlings. When the rut is over and they regroup as bachelors to pal around with bucks that have a hunting season or two under their belts, they learn new life skills. By soldiering up with bucks that outrank him, the yearling will learn how to make survival decisions on his own.

Before antler restrictions came along, yearling bucks made up most of the deer harvest in Pennsylvania. One reason for that, besides the fact that they were legal game, was the fact that we had few older bucks and yearlings became pinball bucks, bouncing off one hunter or another until a bullet found its mark.

Most are now spared that fate, and live to 2½, 3½, or more.

Next deer season, keep this in mind. When you head out in pursuit of an antlered buck, you’re not hunting inexperienced yearlings. You’re not hoping for a confused, reckless, testosterone-loaded juvenile to present a shot as he dashes by.

You’re now hunting a veteran warrior who knows better how to avoid you than you know how to find him. He’s likely too smart to bump into you accidentally, and if he does he knows how to give you the slip.