Trophy Minded: Is Trophy Hunting Hurting Our Sport?on Sep 23, 2012
Big Bucks for Big $
The biggest of the trophy bucks most likely are those that are truly mature – age 4.5 or older. For a buck to reach 5.5 years of age he either has to be an exceptional escape artist or he has to live in a place where hunting pressure is limited. Killing a 5.5-year-old buck on public ground, where access is not restricted in any way, may just be the rarest of all hunting accomplishments.
On private property, trophy potential generally is considered to be better, since access is controlled and bucks have a better chance at surviving. Hunters old enough to have hunted prior to 1996 probably can remember gaining permission to hunt private property simply by knocking on doors and asking. Money rarely was involved.
Increasingly over the past two decades, hunters have turned to acquiring land either by buying it or leasing it. And besides securing a place for them to hunt, a primary goal is to keep others out. “I had 35,000 acres that I could hunt for 23 years, and I never had to pay a thing for it,” a Kentucky bowhunter said. “Word started getting out about the bucks Kentucky was growing, and people started coming in from out of state and leasing everything up. I can’t hunt any of that ground I used to hunt. It’s all leased.”
Hunters used to hunting private ground who can’t afford to pay for access, now find themselves forced onto public ground, where the hunting can be crowded. Many hunters believe hunting is becoming a rich man’s game. And to hunt many of the places that grow the biggest bucks, you’ve got to shell out the biggest bucks just to get in.
With 46 typical entries and 16 nontypicals in the Boone & Crockett Club’s record book, Buffalo County, Wisc., leads North America in trophy production since 2000. A large outfitter that operates in several Midwest states said he was offered 3,000 acres in Buffalo County to lease for $100 per acre. In Missouri, he leases land for about $30 per acre. “We didn’t take it,” he said. “It would have cost us $300,000 just to break even on the lease.”
The cost of hunting doesn't end when you aquire land. Is hunting becoming a "Rich Man's" sport?
At $4,000 per hunt, he’d have to run 75 hunters through just to cover the lease payment. He’d still have to pay for lodging, meals and gas to fuel his guides’ trucks, which would mean raising the price on the hunt or pressuring the land even more by signing up additional hunters. On the flip side, landowners are benefitting mightily from the booming interest in trophy bucks. When the weather ravages their crops, cutting their fields’ per-acre yields, they can count on some extra cash from hunters to make ends meet.
“It’s another way for them to generate income from their land that might mean the difference between keeping it or having to sell out,” said a Midwest land broker, who connects hunters with landowners looking to lease their ground for hunting. Selling out can lead to development, which means fewer places for hunters and deer. Even with many landowners taking in hunting lease payments as a fairly new source of farming income, the American Farmland Trust reports 7.5 million acres of rural land was converted to developed uses nationwide from 2002-2007. That’s a rate of lost farmland of 1.5 million acres per year. Anything to slow that trend is a good thing for hunters and the wildlife they chase.
The Ugly Side
It’s unfortunate, but a result of efforts by hunters to secure their own slice of deer heaven and turn it into a trophy hotspot can be fights with neighbors. Hunters who nurture sizable properties to attract, hold and grow large-racked bucks can get peeved when a neighbor who is less concerned about antler size shoots a young buck that strayed off the trophy paradise. They can get even more miffed if the neighbor shoots a trophy buck that the other hunters had been watching and feeding for the past four years.
Big antlers can devide even the closest friends. How does it affect your relationship with fellow hunters?
“Guys start accusing neighbors of shooting ‘my deer,’” Doty said. “Twenty years ago, those two neighbors probably would have worked together and hunted each other’s land. Now they’re fighting over a deer because it has a big rack or it had the potential to grow a big rack.”
What is your opinion? Let us know what you think about the direction hunting is headed in. Is it good or bad?