Trophy Minded: Is Trophy Hunting Hurting Our Sport?on Sep 23, 2012
Record-keeping organizations are receiving more trophy whitetail entries today than at any other time in history. There’s no question North American hunters are obsessed with trophy bucks.
Is That a Good Thing?
Data compiled by the Quality Deer Management Association in its 2012 Whitetail Report shows more and more hunters in most states are letting young bucks walk in favor of holding out for older deer. So if it’s trophies you’re after, the hunting is good. Also, hunter numbers across the nation are on the rise again, after a decade in decline – a trend some believe is at least partially fueled by the media exposure given to trophy whitetail hunting.
Does hunting seem to be less about enjoying the overall "experience" and more about how high your buck scores?
But as the trophy obsession has grown, so too has leasing and the hanging of “POSTED” signs, leaving less land to hunt for hunters without fat wallets. And for some, the hunting experience has become more about score than anything else. “I’ve seen more “happy hunters” change their moods dramatically because of a tape measure,” said Doug Doty, owner of Illinois Whitetail Services LLC. “They come in to camp thrilled because of a nice buck they just made a perfect shot on, and then they ask me to measure it. When I do, and tell them the score, if the number isn’t what they were hoping, all of a sudden they feel bad.
“Why should that tape measure matter? We don’t hunt for that. We hunt for that feeling when we’re drawing back on a buck that’s in bow range that we’ve determined at that moment is worthy of shooting. That’s what should matter most. Not the score.”
Around 2000, state wildlife managers across the country began a shift in deer management from producing as many deer as possible to producing healthy deer and healthy forests. In an effort to improve the health of deer herds, managers such as Gary Alt, former chief deer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, have pushed for ways to protect young bucks, primarily through the use of antler restrictions. Herds are healthier, Alt has said, when there are older bucks breeding does.
SIgn of the Times? Absolutely. Never has hunting land been so hard to aquire. The days of a gaining access with a hand-shake and a kind gesture are gone.
The fact that older bucks also grow bigger racks is a byproduct Alt said is appealing to hunters, but it not so imprtant to management. Age is most important, he says. Well, there’s no question whitetail bucks are being given a chance to see more than one birthday. According to QDMA data, 60 percent of the bucks killed across the U.S. in 1989 were 1.5 years old; by 2010, that figure had dropped to 38 percent.
For a state-specific look at the change, check out Nebraska’s buck-kill figures. In the mid-1990s, only about 35 percent of the bucks shot by Cornhusker hunters were 2.5 years or older. In 2010, the percentage of bucks age 2.5 and older killed across Nebraska’s 18 management units ranged from a low of 65 percent to a high of 93 percent. The statewide average was 75 percent.
It’s no secret that the three ingredients to growing trophy bucks are genetics, nutrition and age. Twenty years ago, age likely was the leading impediment to having lots of trophies running around. In recent times, that’s been a decreasing problem.