Are Game Agencies Listening to Hunters?

With all the fuss over declining deer harvests, predator explosions, "pockets of poverty" and predictions of the end of deer hunting as we know it, it's easy to accuse state agencies of not listening to hunters and mismanaging deer herds.

Before you start piling on, consider these facts:

1. Most agree the nation's whitetail herds have never been in better shape

2. Whitetails are steadily expanding their territory

3. Whitetail populations have been deliberately brought down in many states

4. Whitetails are definitely scarce in some areas

5. Predators are making a real dent on some whitetail populations

6. Traditionally, hunters have wanted more deer than fewer deer

8. Most states actively solicit input from hunters

Most deer management pros believe that agencies need to listen to hunters and build consensus among hunters to manage effectively. You can't manage deer without hunter buy in and you can't get buy in without listening to hunters. Seems simple right? Not so fast buddy.

The classic example of how the system can get thrown out of whack is the infamous "deer wars" of Pennsylvania that broke out in 2002. Biologist Gary Alt was put in charge of the state's whitetails and decided the deer herd was being mismanaged. He held more than 200 public meetings trying to convince hunters that they needed to harvest more does (due to habitat destruction) and protect more young bucks (hunters hardly ever saw branch antlered bucks). He received death threats and needed police protection.

Some feel he spent too much time selling and too little time listening to the sportsmen and women of his state, but new regulations were still put into effect. All hell broke out and Alt quit his job because of the harassment he endured.

Fast-forward a few years. The dust still hasn't quite settled but most Pennsylvania hunters now believe Alt was correct in protecting young bucks and taking the doe numbers down. Hunters love seeing "racked" bucks and there seems to be plenty of deer to hunt. But now there are also pockets in the state where deer seem non-existent. Ten years later there are still some bitter feelings about the state not listening to hunters, not to mention all of those tag sandwiches hunters had to eat.

But some experts are not all that sure state agencies can make all hunters happy or should even try. Patrick Durkin, an outdoor writer and keen student of deer management, is one of those experts.

"I've been attending deer meetings and talking to deer hunters for over two decades and the more I see and hear, the more sympathy I have for the agencies. Some of the issues raised by some of the deer hunters are just nuts. No one could make some of these guys happy; nor should they try. Maybe it's different in some other states, but here in Wisconsin some of these guys are hard-wired to disagree.

I've had similar experiences. Years ago I went to a public meeting about protecting young bucks and opening bow season earlier, and some clown started in about the cost of a hunting license being too high. Soon, three other woodchucks piled on and the meeting was half over. I went to the meeting to help shape deer management and these guys stole the show by screaming about a license that costs the equivalent of a movie ticket and dinner.

The upside? Ask around and you'll hear some pretty good things from a handful of states about some agencies listening to hunters. The state does its part in managing deer and the hunters do theirs. Mississippi, New Hampshire and Missouri are among the most frequently mentioned as attentive agencies. Among the most frequently mentioned as negatives well, we'll leave that up to you.

Is your state listening or just paying lip service to hunters? Let us know in the comments section.