This is part two of a two-part series on the status of deer hunting nationwide in general and deer hunting and management in TN in particular. The opinions stated are my own. It is this writer’s feeling that deer hunting is on a slippery slope of which most hunters are not aware. I also want to clearly state, I personally, do not care how or what a hunter does long as it is legal and to some degree, ethical. That is their business.
Record Books, Competition, Antler Envy. “If squirrels had antlers, there wouldn’t be a one left in the woods.” I heard a biologist say that, many years ago. I wonder what he thinks, now? Animals with antlers are measured or scored by inches. The length and circumference of each point is measured, Then, air is measured-the width between antlers. All those figures are totaled and the final score is determined. That is what is being referred to when a hunter says, “I shot a 160-inch buck.” It is that which fuels the innumerable questions on online forums of “What will he score?” Much big game hunting has almost become a game of inches. Record book animals. Score, age and what will he be next year. It gives rise to the fallacy that a state can manage for trophy animals, to the thinking, TN can produce deer with Midwest antlers. (next)
But another fact has emerged. If you have the time, the drive and the money, you can kill a record book animal. Especially the money. And, you can, provided you have the cash, buy a genetically altered, pen-raised whitetail buck of just about whatever score you wish. It is common. (next)
Recently, a famous, television hunter killed a buck in Texas. It scored something like 206-inches. What he failed to mention was, that buck was genetically engineered, pen raised and behind a high fence. To a lesser degree, a great deal of deer hunting for wild, free-ranging deer is becoming a matter of money…and inches. If you have the money, the time and a modicum of skill, you can hunt places where your chances of killing a record book animal are greatly increased. I must now, post an admission. (next)
I was, for some years just such a hunter. By my rough estimate, I have 19-animals that qualify for various record books. One was killed in TN. I spent about 20-years, traveling and hunting all over the United States and Canada in search of record book animals. It was my job. And all of my hunting was done for free-ranging, completely fair chase animals. I admit it. (next)
I heard another television hunter, say, “Joe Hunter is the greatest bowhunter of all time.” Now I happen to like “Joe Hunter”. I consider him a friend. He has killed a tremendous number of trophy animals, as far as I know, all free-ranging. He is a nice guy and honest about his hunting. I also do not consider him to be in the top ten or maybe even top 20, bowhunters. Hunting, by my estimation, is not about the trophies on the wall. It is about enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the fruits of your hunting skill, enjoying the meat provided and most of all, enjoying the satisfaction of just going. It is not about heads or antlers on the wall. At least, it shouldn’t be. (next)
I suppose that is why I get worked up when state wildlife agencies, decide to get into trophy management and in doing so, penalize the average hunter. That is exactly what reducing the buck limit from three to two and abolishing the antlerless deer category did, here in TN. There was and is no biological reason for either measure. The people most affected were the hunters who are forced to hunt public land. The private land owners and hunters have always been able to manage what deer they kill or pass up. But now, they also want to dictate what you and I can kill or must pass up. In my opinion, that is wrong. (next)
It is the duty of the state wildlife agency to provide and protect a healthy deer herd. It is not their duty to be in the trophy business. That is up to the hunter. But a TWRA official, Capt. Dale Grandstaff, in speaking of the potential, world record deer, Stephen Tucker killed in 2017, recently said, “Producing quality deer like this has been one of our goals. It shows that Tennessee hunters don’t have to go to Iowa or Kansas or places like that to have a chance at killing a remarkable deer.” He continued. “If someone had killed that deer, (the Tucker deer,), when it was a spike, we wouldn’t be talking today.”(next)
Producing quality deer. Yes, that is and should be a goal of the agency. When did antlers have anything to do with quality? They don’t according to the Quality Deer Management Association-QDMA. A healthy herd, well within the carrying capacity and of suitable age and sex ratios, is a quality herd. We can have an acceptable number of bucks that reach maturity and their antler potential. We will never have bucks with the antler potential of Midwest bucks. When it comes to antler size-score, if a TN hunter wants to kill a buck comparable to IA or KS, a “remarkable” deer, he is going to have to go to those states-always. We cannot produce them in logical numbers, here. (next) What if that deer, (the Tucker deer), had been killed two or three years earlier? So what? It happens hundreds of times each year. Every time a young buck is killed, that buck will not live to reach his full potential. Bucks such as the one Mr. Tucker killed, cannot be managed for. They are an anomaly unless fed steroids or genetically engineered in a pen. In the wild, they are nothing more than an accident, a freak of nature. Compare them to an 8th grader who is 6-8 and 260-pounds and runs a 4.2-second, 40. And they, these anomalies and bucks with the size antlers of Midwest bucks, are never going to be the average in TN. Hunters from out of state are not going to flock to TN to kill a “trophy” and TN hunters are still going to have to go out of state to up their chances. Biologists, unless they are brain damaged or reciting a script, know this. (next)
Where does it end? Are we headed for a statewide limit of one buck every other year? Lot of good that will do, unless we start also shooting them full of drugs and doing some genetic engineering. Mr. Tucker over in Sumner County killed a monster, non-typical anomaly last year. No question. Possible new world record. Great buck, congratulations to him. Could have come from any county in any state and in no way is an indication, TN can routinely raise deer like that. Great deer, make no mistake. But it was also a freak of nature. Unless of course, it was an escapee from a pen. I have no reason to think it was. Neither is it an indication of the type of deer that can be routinely produced in TN. Or anywhere else…ever. I have been hunting in TN for many years. On Thanksgiving morning, 2017, I saw the second largest, antler-wise, buck I have ever seen here. I never saw him before and have seen him only once since. He was of the size I saw every year when I traveled the Midwest and Canada. (next)
But if TN and the TWRA want to get really serious about this trophy management business, here is a suggestion and it is one I will support. Steal a page from Iowa. No more centerfire rifles allowed and no firearm hunting from Nov. 1-Dec. 1. Yes, of course that is stupid and would probably cause a revolt. Rightly so. (next)
Let landowners and private land managers set their own rules and manage however they want. Statewide, manage for a healthy herd and let hunters decide what a trophy is. Since when did antlers become the standard for quality? (next)
If I wanted, this fall, I could kill a whitetail buck over 200-inches. If I could afford the price tag. I know where to go and I have not one doubt, within 12-hours of arriving, I could kill a monster buck. It would cost just about what a small boat and motor would, say about $35,000. It would not be hunting. I would go sit in one of their stands and when he came by, I would shoot him. Prior to that, they would show me pictures of him and tell me about what time he would be by. Then, they would release him from a small pen and herd him by. Happens many times, every year. In fact, you may not know it but you see it several times a year if you watch much outdoor programming on television. (next)
Want to kill a monster elk? Say, one that measures over 430-inches? I know a place you can go do it. Cost you some money, quite a bit. But you will stay in a luxury lodge, eat like a king and have a shot at under 75-yards. Except for the pictures, you won’t even have to touch him. I might be a tad leery of eating the meat, seeing as how it is shot full of steroids. Same with the deer. But you can do it. I know the people that run the place. Nice folks, even if they are Canadians. (That is a joke.) (next)
But where does it stop? When do we get back to hunting for the joy of hunting and forget the record books, the competition and the antler envy. And yes, the poaching and law breaking that goes with it.
Horn porn, and all it's associated issues, was created by hunters for hunters. Who are you hoping to convince Bowriter?
Most of the Northeastern states, by the way, have a one buck limit. I imagine even a two-buck limit would be devastating to the public land I hunt locally, so your argument there is completely lost on me. Probably a regional thing. Borderline absurd, but then again I’ve never been to Tennessee. I understand advocating for management as it relates to private property rights, but advocating that this 33% reduction in harvest quota, absent any data about the deer population, biological habitat data, or hunter participation, is indicative of some overall hunting crisis, is to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Not to mention tangential to the supposed link to trophy hunting. If your thesis is that trophy hunting is our ruin, the beginning of our end, I largely agree, but quite frankly I don’t see how your state’s buck limit is even remotely relevant to that argument.
I find the whole reconciliation of “trophy hunting” ethics quite intriguing. I think of all the people I’ve heard speak to the matter, Steven Rinella probably says it best. To paraphrase, he conveys that it is human nature to want to pursue large animals, to use rack size as a measuring stick. To admire the racks on our wall as a memory of the hunt, and yes, as a personal accomplishment. In that sense there is nothing wrong with wanting to shoot large, mature animals, to selectively pursue them, or to manage populations with a component of that end-goal in mind. Where trophy hunting corrupts is when that becomes the absolute measure of a hunt, and it clouds situational ethics and the collective good of hunting in general.
He speaks of hunters all being in the same boat, but there are hunters out there shooting holes in the hull of our boat. I think that is a tremendous analogy and I love to use it.
I think we can all agree a guy breeding whitetails to have 400” racks and selling them to be killed (not hunted) in fenced enclosures, is shooting a whole in the hull of our boat. To be blunt, screw those guys, toss them overboard.
You did here in the article, and that's nice. But you essentially take the extreme, breeding whitetails and canned hunts, which 99% of bowsite can agree with, and assert that state management with any consideration of growing nicer bucks, is close to that on a continuum of right/wrong...now come on, man, you're the one shooting holes in our boat. That's just ridiculous!
So where does it go from there? The wealthy non-resident that comes in and buys or leases land in Iowa, displacing 20 locals so he can have his personal hunting sanctuary, is that guy shooting holes in the hull of our boat? He worked hard for his wealth and is exercising private property rights, no? Huge gray area. Totally legal, good for him, but is this good for hunting? I don't know the answer to that.
On a state management level, you assert that state agencies must only manage to some sort of biological minimum. What? How is that defined? Is there not some component of wildlife management that does indeed consider the concerns of all its stakeholders, including their customers wishing for opportunities at mature deer on public land? If not, why not just put Utah and Arizona on blast? My perception is that those two states cater to trophy hunting to a shocking degree? I think on the other end of the spectrum I’ve looked at South Carolina and find their policies shocking, deer are basically open season there. I don’t know how any remain.
When you try to correlate the biology too closely to hunter’s desires and equate it to trophy hunting, what you are really trying to convey and should be trying to convey is obscured. To assert that there are some perfect, real-time biological measures out there that form the quantitative basis for statewide management is a ridiculous, unsupportable premise.
I already think we are past the peak of the deer craziness. Like golf, or any other pursuit, hunting will trend in a different direction. I generally like the private land managers and what they are accomplishing, yet at the same time believe there needs to be a sense of fairness with regards to access. Thanks.
FYI, TWRA didn't recommend the reduction in the buck limits or the current definition of an antlerless deer. They actually said that it was not necessary for biologic reasons. The changes were proposed by the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission (the representatives of the sportsmen).
And I can't wait to start and argument with my wife tonight like this… I'm not looking for feedback, but I think you should take care of the woodstove tonight because it's cold outside and I don't feel like it.
that'll tell you what you are hunting for - antlers or the hunt
The fact remains, there are literally tons of people who hunt and want large antlered animals, but either regularly shoot smaller animals, and/or shoot large animals and have zero intention of ever entering them in the record books.
Trophy hunting for large antlered animals in the lower 48 wasn't around prior to the 1960s like it is now because we just didn't have the animals to sustain it, not because of the record books. If you build it, they will come. There was no baseball field to play on before, which was why a doe was a trophy back then.
As far as your discussion on TN's limit on bucks, I'm sure you're right.
Sorry, but I have to call BS on using harvest number as a measure of success when reducing antlered deer bag limits. Indiana adopted a one buck rule some fifteen years ago. Best thing that ever happened for deer hunting in our state IMO. Prior to the change, Indiana's yearling buck harvest exceeded 60% of the total buck harvest on a regular basis. By year three, that number dropped to 50% and by year six dropped below 40%....and basically leveled off there. The chart reflects data through 2013....as the introduction of telecheck and online deer checking eliminated the long standing deer check station measure.
I don't know how many bucks are saved annually due to the one buck limit? I can tell you the one buck limit absolutely changed deer hunter mindsets in Indiana. Alot of guys that shot the first yearling buck they saw...because they had another buck tag to fall back on....stopped doing that. The result is the availability of an older age class of animal for people to hunt. If a guy still wants to shoot the first yearling buck he sees...more power to him...but he's done shooting antlered deer for the year.
Personally, I measure "deer herd quality" based on the age classes of animals I see while hunting. The one buck limit has absolutely had a positive affect on deer herd quality in that regard. I hope it never changes.....
If a hunter has taken a few small deer, it's ok to pass on one, extend the hunt, and spend more time outdoors doing what they love. If they need meat, shoot a doe and let some yearling bucks mature.
Conversely, if only 2,000 bucks are being taken on that tag, what's the big deal with doing away with it? And you can't say any limit on opportunity is bad because we have people who want unlimited opportunity and it is not bad to have bag limits that prevent that.
If we are going to maintain a healthy level of respect among nonhunters we're going to have to completely abandon the word trophy entirely!
...and while we are on the subject of specifically Whitetail management. I see nothing wrong with antler point restrictions although they can and do cause a natural selection for poor antler traits. Nor do I have a problem with the reduction in antlered harvest limits which cars hunters to actually think before they shoot. However, I do think it is dangerous to assume that shooting several does and only one back isn't going to negatively impact the overall population! ...I mean we are shooting all of the reproductive herd each year!
...so reading all of the comments above, I kind of cringe when I hear guys say things like "well shoot one good buck and a few does if you need to meat" ...in my opinion in most states the anterless harvest is a little bit high
I also have no problem with a one-buck limit where it is biologically needed or meets with the desires of the MAJORITY of hunters. In the case of TN. it does neither. It will have no impact whatsoever on age classes or buck population and is opposed to the wishes of the majority of hunters.
In terms of a doe quota, it is only high if the herd population needs bolstering. In many cases and areas, the exact opposite is true. The area where I live, the limit is three-does a day for over 100 days and still we have too many deer.
So, you see, all things are relative. Regulations must fit the environment, be biologically sound, must be financially feasible and last of all, meet with the MAJORITY of hunter approval. You should not change a regulation just because a small, vocal, misinformed and well to do segment has the ear of the wildlife commission. I cannot and do not speak for other states. Each state must be managed according to their factors. In this state, it should be managed in three segments east-Middle-West and to some extent, it is. Very few regulations are suitable for blanket rules. Just as it is for comparing one state to another.
I've seen Ohio go from 1 deer to 7 (in areas) back down 2 or 3 compared to others that had/have 1-3/day limit ... its all relative.
Ohio, i think you are spot on. Different areas are different situations.
And I have to confess...... I hate the current sports trend of NOT keeping score and handing out participation trophies for showing up. "We're all winners!" yay.
I'm not sure what some folks are getting at here. Seems in the same breath they don't really CARE about "trophies" and size, that it is ruining hunting..... but are also wicked off that being able to hunt bigger animals is getting expensive??
TN for years had an antlerless deer category for bucks with antlers under 3.5". They were counted as bucks but did not cost the hunter a buck tag. That category annually ran between 8,500 and 10,000 animals. The YEAR BEFORE, that category was abolished, the kill suddenly dropped from 10,000 to 3,000 with no explanation. And the doe kill mysteriously increased by 7,000 animals.
The concern by many hunters and biologists was that if that category was abolished, hunters would quit shooting at does once they had filled a buck tag because they would not want to risk either being over the limit or wasting their last tag. I publicly and loudly accused the TWRA of data manipulation. We lost the best big game biologist we ever had because he refused to provide the commission with "doctored" data. Go back and look at the figures, again. I was and am being given access to information the state would like to keep quiet. As a result, I am able to ask for proof of various figures which the state cannot provide. It is a simple matter of math. Their numbers simply do not add up.
Is our deer herd in trouble? Absolutely not. In East TN, we had a serious EHD outbreak. Other than that, no, our deer herd is in good shape. That is not the point. My point and that of many hunters and managers is simply one of transparency. Here is the crux of it.
(1)-There was and is no basis for reducing the buck limit from three to two. It was not biologically needed. It had and will have NO impact on our buck herd, simply because we are talking such a small number of animals, state wide. But it can have two negative impacts on the doe kill. Hunters, many of them, once they fill two buck tags, quit hunting. And, with the abolishment of the antlerless deer tag, deer killed go unreported. That results in faulty data. (2) Due to #1 and the abolition of the antlerless category, it became obvious some data was being manipulated. When that happens, sound management is lost.
I and a couple other outdoor writers who have no fear of political repercussions, have taken the Commission to task. I was invited to lunch with the head of the Commission. She is totally clueless, simply a career politician used to making backroom deals and raising Labs. One commissioner even admitted to dealing going on. I am hopeful the antlerless category will be reinstated this coming year. As for the buck limit, I don't care, personally. The only people it handicaps are the hunters who are forced to hunt public ground. So few of TN hunters kill three bucks, it meaningless as a tool to increase age classes. The main focus of my "ire" is that the agency, (fearing for their jobs,), is providing the commission with manipulated data to support a change that was wanted by a small, MINORITY of vocal mostly wealthy influential hunters that had no sound biological or environmental basis.
Simply...politics as usual.
That is amazing hunter behavior. In MN, we are a 1 buck state and our hunters will shoot the crap out of every doe they have a tag for even if their buck tag is filled. Maybe MN hunters have better vision than TN hunters. But seriously, if TN hunters actually show that behavior I'd be surprised. I'm sure they will eventually adapt. And on the subject of support for buck management, are you sure it is a wealthy few that want it? Have surveys been done of hunters regarding their support, or lack thereof, of buck management?
An antler-restriction (minimum 13” spread law) was passed in about half the counties in TX about a decade ago. Heard all the “sky is falling” arguments against it at the time (much like these).
Now, the age class average of the harvest has jumped up almost 2 years, everyone is taking nicer bucks, and one can hardly find anyone not in favor of it.
How would those restrictions work if TX had less than 200,000 deer hunters? What if single land holdings of over 1,000 acres were rare? What if large managed properties did not exist? What if less than 25% of TX deer hunters hunted on leases? What if the majority of TX deer hunters, hunted public land? What if TX had no viable check-in process? TX is TX and should be managed according to TX factors. And...TN should as well. You cannot compare apples to pumpkins and always expect to get tangerines. Just as Ohio should not be managed like IA or PA the same as SC. Each state is unique. The management program for each state should be as well.
In TN, we don't sit in shooting houses over senderos and wait for the feeder to go off. We often hunt quite thick, hardwood forests and have split seconds to make decisions on antlers. It is much more like hunting portions of East TX. How is that area managed?
You see what I am getting at? Deer management must be structured. It must fit all of the factors for that particular area and the hunter profile for that area. The two regulation changes I mentioned, are prime examples. Reducing the buck limit from three to two did nothing...not one thing in terms of improving age class or antler size. Why? Simply because it did not protect or "pass on" enough deer state wide to even be worthy of a sample. The last figure I saw was less than 1900, state wide. That is nothing. That is an average of 20-per County.The second change, was and is potentially harmful and evidence of that is showing up. I think I explained that. Yes, we have counties that need a one buck limit or even close buck hunting for a year or so. But we cannot macro manage. That is why macro management or tweaking, should be done on private land where it can be monitored and enforced. I don't think I can explain it any more clear than that. Now, like Ohio Hunter, I think I'll go look at the bra ads in the Penney catalog. LOL
I was born and raised in east TX. I live here. My hunting place is here (400 acres). Thanks to the ARs and one branch-antlered buck rule, it’s doing great - thanks for asking. It sure sucked though when everyone shot the first 1 1/2 year old buck they saw - before TP&W instilled a little “macromanagement”.
Oh, and not a feeder or sendero on my place.
YOU should get an AWARD for that post!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ARs combined with reduction to 1 racked buck tag basically saved hunting in the east TX woods. In other words, your hated state “macromanagement”.
But, as always, when facts contradict your opinions (which are so often stated as facts), you just take a new tack and declare victory.
I generally agree with your “pay to play” opinions - but your attempts to link those somehow with free-range management attempts to improve age classes falls completely flat.