<span style="font-weight: bold">Beyond Old Deer Riflesand Hillbilly Hats</span>
By Christopher Rosenberry,
Supervisory Deer and Elk Biologist
I HAVE never been accused of being on the cutting edge when it comes to the latest and greatest new things.
That is probably why I don’t have a Facebook account and why I have
used the same rifle — with its nicks and dented scope — to harvest every deer
I have taken in Pennsylvania during the firearms seasons of the last four decades.
In these ways, I am the average Pennsylvania hunter: Facebook is just
a new fangled gimmick the kids are using these days and deer hunting equals
tradition; whether that tradition means going to camp, using the gun Pap gave
you, or hunting the same seasons you did when you were a kid.
However, there is one big difference between me and the average Pennsylvania
deer hunter — my job. As a deer biologist, I have to look at the big picture when it comes to deer management. When managing an animal that can impact its habitat, other wildlife
species, and people, a “big picture” perspective is a job requirement.
Several years ago, we conducted a citizens advisory committee for a
WMU in central Pennsylvania. The advisory committee’s task was to provide
a deer population recommendation (increase, decrease, or stabilize).
That recommendation along with the other information the Game Commission
collected on the deer population and habitat in that WMU would be
used by us (the deer biologists) to assemble the Deer and Elk Section’s
recommendation for our supervisors. Eventually, that recommendation
would pass up the ladder as an “agency staff recommendation” to the Board of
Game Commissioners, which makes the final decision on all deer management matters.
On this advisory committee, individuals representing hunters, conservationists, property owners, foresters, and farmers were embroiled in a discussion of what to recommend. As part of this discussion, the hunter representative offered his view of the process. He said that sitting at the table with these various groups had really opened his eyes to the complexity of deer management. He said it made him take off his — and I quote — “hillbilly hat” to see the big picture of deer management in this WMU. In the end, this group, like most, worked through its differences, reached a consensus, and made a recommendation.
The hunter who decided on his own to take off his hillbilly hat and consider other viewpoints, was beginning to see the big picture that upon which I and the other deer biologists always focus. Deer populations must be healthy and sustainable. Forests — that support deer and many other wildlife species — must be healthy and sustainable. Conflicts between deer and humans must be tolerable for those who live with them. Recreational opportunities including hunting must be provided. And, if this is not enough, efforts must be made to improve public communications and educational materials about deer and deer management.
It would be easier to manage deer — are too far-reaching to manage this important resource that way. Every management action will have a reaction. Increasing deer populations to satisfy hunters can lead to conflicts with people and greater impacts on forests. Reducing deer populations to reduce conflicts or impacts on forests, can lead to hunters becoming unhappy with the number of deer they see afield. The challenge when working on the big picture of deer management is to balance the impacts and still achieve those five fundamental goals of our deer management program.
As a deer hunter, I like using my old rifle with a dented scope and being out on the opening day of firearms season. Yes, I am tempted to buy a new scope with better optics. But, no, I probably won’t. Would I like to see more deer afield while I am hunting with my sons? Who wouldn’t! I want everything other reasonable hunters want.
But as a deer biologist, I must do the job I have been given to do for all Pennsylvanians, not just for what the hunter in me wants. The deer program must rely on scientifically collected and statistically sound data to prepare our recommendations. This information faces public scrutiny every year in public meetings and when posted on the Game Commission’s white-tailed deer webpage.
My choice of a deer rifle affects only me, so I can be single-minded. But because deer management decisions affect millions of people, a big-picture perspective is the only way to go.