We have begun a good discussion. So let’s continue. Many commenters, jjas being the first, pointed out that access is the biggest issue affecting recruitment and retention. No doubt that is true. But as this is a deer blog, I’ll point out (as I did briefly in the last comment section) that the biggest trend in deer hunting — managing for trophy bucks — has a significant effect on access. Not everywhere perhaps (as Dougfir rightly notes), but in many places to be sure.
At our Heroes of Conservation Roundtable discussion, I submitted two questions related to this point:
1. Access is the number one impediment to hunter participation; meanwhile, restricted access is a common if not core tenant in managing for big bucks. Is it possible, then, to have both big bucks and more access?
2. Should there be more programs that invite new hunters to take does on private properties whose owners are focused on trophy bucks?
To the first question, the panel said, in a word, “No.” I see where they’re coming from, but I would respectfully argue that as a community we can’t accept that answer. Of course we should continue to preach the pitfalls of over-the-top antler-obsession. We must also, however, accept that managing for big bucks probably ain’t going away anytime soon and therefore devise creative ways to increase access within that reality.
Which brings us to the second question. Here, the panel was split, some saying “Amen” and others arguing that large, wealthy, trophy-minded landowners offering does to the have-nots is a bit of a slap, a condescension. To which, again with the utmost respect, I say, Pishaw! Should we not give perfectly good unwanted items to Good Will for fear of insulting the needy? This would be far better than the situation we have now in which some large landowners/managers view shooting does as a chore, as pest-control, while countless hunters, new and otherwise, would be thrilled with the opportunity.
I have been thrilled with the opportunity. I have had landowners/managers–people who don’t owe me a thing–say, “Hey, Dave, do you want to come shoot some does for us?” I don’t see it as slap but as a kindness, and I’m grateful for opportunity to hunt a new place and add to the freezer. Anyone who views it as a slap can say, “No thanks.” In my opinion, new programs that work with landowners to offer similar opportunities to folks struggling with access would be most welcome. It’s not a cure-all by any means. But it would be a step in the right direction.