A couple of years back I was giving a talk on recruiting kids into hunting when an elderly gentleman in the audience politely raised his hand and offered: “These programs are all fine and good, but none of them will work if we don’t have any deer to hunt. I took my grandsons deer hunting two weekends in a row this year and we saw a total of two live deer and about six sets of fresh tracks. My family has hunted these mountains all our lives but I’m not sure the boys will be back. We need deer to hunt if we are going to make kids into hunters.” I will never forget that grandfather and the point he made; it all boils down to having something to hunt–nothing more, nothing less.
The recent reports of declining deer numbers have hunters up in arms and the alarm is being sounded from Maine thru the Midwest and all points south. In spite what the game departments are saying, hunters are reporting a downturn in deer sightings.
So what triggers the alarm? How few are too few? When does hunter satisfaction reach the point from to where a hunter would just as soon be raking leaves or a grandkid would rather go to the mall? Where does that tipping point lie when it comes to hunter satisfaction?
I asked around last week and got a good dose of the reality of relativity. The answer is indeed relative and has everything to do with where you hunt and what you are used to seeing in the woods. Case in point, Alabama hunters expect to see multiple deer every sit, especially when they are sitting on a food plot or high-attraction location. Two zeroes in a row and they are ready to march on the capital. On the other hand, New York’s Adirondack mountain wilderness hunters would like to see a few deer a weekend but if they see nothing but tracks they at least know there are some deer in the area.
For the past 20 years or so I have been asking hunters in my area of southwestern New York to rank a weekend of deer hunting. Here is how folks generally see things in my area. Basically a great weekend is deer seen on every sit. Deer seen three out of four sits is a good weekend. A 50-50 split is okay but not great and anything under that is in the danger zone. A 0 for 4, deer-per-sit rate is definitely a bust and cause for a serious stop at the waterhole on the way home to discuss giving up deer hunting or finding another place to hunt.
So what does it take in your area, when does the red flag go up when it comes to deer sightings? If you sit 4 times in a weekend, how many sits have to yield deer sightings in order for you to feel happy, happy, happy, or, in light of the recent decline in deer numbers, when do you begin to think you might be better off raking leaves?