Bowhunting Insight; What Are You Giving Back?

 With the Christmas Holiday still fresh in our minds, we certainly feel a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for the time spent with family and the gifts we received.  Often times, however, we forget about what we gave and how those gifts impact other’s lives.  Unfortunately, this is often the case in the world of deer hunting as well.  We get so caught up in the “take, take, take!” aspect of bowhunting that we forget to give back.  With precious resources such as the wilderness and whitetail available to us, I feel that what we give back to Mother Nature is far more important than what we take from Her.

   I love shooting deer as much as anybody I know.  The feeling I get from having outsmarted a whitetail’s wits provides me with a high that can literally last for days.  First, the adrenaline rush immediately following the shot is unlike any other; I wouldn’t trade it for the world!  Recovering the deer is a testament to my tireless work ethic during the summer practicing with my bow to make sure I make a quick, clean kill.  Being able to hold the antlers of a bow harvested buck is indescribable, and it feels good to know that I was able to provide food for myself and family.  I earn respect of friends and fellow bowhunters every time I slay a whitetail and I share beautiful harvest pictures of my trophy on the internet to let others know of my success.  Man, it feels good to take a deer doesn’t it?!  Yes, of course it does, but in that sequence of events you didn’t once hear me mention of what I gave back to Mother Nature in return, did you?  I sound pretty selfish now, huh?  Giving back to Mother Nature, your deer herd, and the sport of bowhunting in general is far more rewarding than actually taking a deer and there are endless ways of doing so.

A scenic shot of three does feeding in a clover plot with my family’s hunting camp in the background.  It’s images like these that make me want to keep giving back to Mother Nature and the property I hunt every year.

   I’ve been fully engulfed in the world of Quality Deer Management (QDM) for about 4 years now.  On my home piece of property in Virginia, my family and I have invested countless hours and a lot of money (more than I care to admit!) towards bettering the habitat for not just deer, but wildlife in general.  The 7 food plots we plant yearly have had a tremendous impact on our deer herd.  Fawns are born healthier, does are heavier and the bucks sport larger racks.  Allowing power lines and fields to grow tall and thick has provided excellent fawning areas for does, increased overall bedding area and allows more deer to feel comfortable on our property. However, it has also helped the grouse population on our property rebound, which in turn provides a delicious food source for the foxes and bobcats that call our property home.  Every winter I head out with a chainsaw and cut pole size poplar trees at knee level to allow the deer to browse on the young, tender buds during winter.  The following spring, the stump will sprout several young poplar saplings which will again provide tender, nutritious browse.  Every winter my family and I will plant 5-6 fruit trees to provide a delicious food source in the coming years, and we also prune the natural fruit trees to allow for better fruit production.  The local black bear population sure appreciates this! This past spring, my brother and I transplanted close over 50 yearling autumn olive bushes to provide cover and food for deer, bears and turkeys that otherwise would have been cut and mowed over.  We also transplanted close to 20 white cedars that weren’t receiving enough sunlight.  This will provide a food source for birds, squirrels and deer, as well as providing some thermal bedding cover for the deer during the winter.  It may sound as if I am patting myself and stroking my ego, but that’s not the case.  The pride and fulfillment I derive from giving back to Mother Nature is simply a great feeling.

These two pear trees were planted in the Spring of 2008.  They likely won’t produce any fruit for a couple more years, but knowing the deer will have a sustainable food source in the years to come keeps me planting fruit trees every year.

   Sure, the food plots are expensive.  By the time you buy the seed, lime, fertilizer, and diesel fuel for the tractor you have spent a lot of money.  The fruit trees aren’t cheap either, and it takes at least 5-6 years for them produce fruit and there is no guarantee they will live to reach maturity.  However, watching deer feed in the food plots before dusk and monitoring the fruit trees growth every year is worth every penny.   Carefully planned timber harvests have also had a positive impact on our property’s habitat and can produce a good source of income as well.  Removing trees that provide little benefit to wildlife such as Virginia pine, black locust and yellow poplar among others, allow for more sunlight to reach the forest floor which results in a thick understory of lush, nutritious vegetation for all animals. 

Too many deer can create a lot problems including disease and winter starvation.  Harvesting does is a great way to ensure a healthy deer herd.

   Habitat management is just one aspect of QDM that enables you to give back to the deer herd.  Herd management is equally rewarding and has a far greater impact on the overall health of a deer herd.  Regularly harvesting does will decrease the threat of disease transmission and preserves the habitat for the rest of the deer herd and other creatures as well.  It’s hard to believe, but whitetails actually eat between 1-1 ½ tons of food per year.  Removing just two does off a hundred acre piece of property provides the deer herd with up to three tons of food the following year!  It’s truly amazing when you think about it.  Harvesting does is also a great way to put food on your table, and allows you to donate the meat to needy families who need it more than you.  Think about it, by harvesting just one doe, you aren’t just putting more food in the bellies of the wildlife on your property, but providing a family with several meals as well.  Giving back sounds pretty good right now doesn’t it?

Regularly harvesting does benefits many.  It contributes to a healthy deer herd and an overall healthier ecosystem, and puts delicious meat on the table for you or needy families.

   QDM isn’t the only way to give back.  Introducing a kid or friend to hunting protects the future of our sport and can change their life in the process.   Hunting numbers is declining with the majority of our nation’s hunters being 50 years old or older!  This is frightening news for the future of our sport.  We have got to pull kids off the computer and video game systems and introduce them to the outdoors.  It will change their lives for the better, and can change yours too if you let it.  I credit my father for getting me involved in hunting and the patience, persistence, determination and work ethic I have developed today came directly from sitting in a tree stand from October through January as a kid.  

 With the 2010-2011 deer season wrapping up in many states across the United States, now is a perfect time to sit back and reflect on the past year, but more importantly plan for the year ahead.  For the 2011 season I encourage, no, challenge you to give back to whitetail woods more than you take.  It will be your best season to date if you do so.

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