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One issue regarding human recreation is the notion that hunting is harmful to maintenance of species. Ethical hunters are aware that there are limits to species if a particular animal is overhunted. Many ethical hunters are engaged in conservation efforts for many animal species and habitat--providing sustainable management of game and land to ensure hunting for generations to come. An ethical hunter is a sportsman who purchases licenses, hunts in season, hunts animals under the management of wildlife programs and biologists, shoots animals selectively and not just for killing. He or she condemns poaching and preserves mating stock to ensure the continuation of the animals. This may occur on public land during prescribed hunts or on private land, which is either owned or leased. Most contribute to local rural economies and large-scale conservation organizations. First we will examine the contribution of ethical hunters to conservation coffers and then read about one hunter, his philosophy of hunting, and his activities.
What do hunters contribute?
The Pittman-Robertson Act levied a 10 percent tax on firearms and ammunition used for hunting to be distributed to the states for wildlife restoration. In 1987, $1.5 million of the revenues from the Federal excise tax was matched by $500 million in funds from the states' hunting license fees. Active hunters and friends contribute a yearly fee to purchase lands and lease wetlands for migratory feeding and reproduction through the 1934 Migratory Bird Conservation Act, (Duck Stamp legislation).
The African Wildlife Foundation was begun by a group of hunters to conserve Africa's Wildlife in 1961. Since that time it has worked "at the grass roots with park managers and communities to safeguard wildlife and wilderness areas."
The National Wild Turkey Foundation is another organization run by hunters, which is a "nonprofit conservation and education organization dedicated to conserving wild turkeys and preserving hunting traditions." Their efforts began in 1973 when only 1.3 million turkeys were left in the US. Now that number has been increased to 4.8 million birds through their conservation efforts with wildlife agencies. In 1998, the Wild Turkey Federation raised over 11.3 million, spending more than 3 million on Super Fund projects. Super Fund projects are administered with the states' wildlife programs. Funds are spent for habitat management, education, hunter safety, and preservation of species.
Ducks Unlimited, supported by hunters and non-hunters alike, work to preserve breeding habitat for ducks and other waterfowl and their wetlands. They currently have 700,000 members, the highest of all previous years in existence. Ducks Unlimited has set a goal of raising $600 million in through their Habitat 2000 campaign. Their latest funding effort saw $28 million go towards conservation.
The Foundation for North American Wild Sheep alone funded $245,000 in projects in 1998 which included a wolf radio collaring study, a bighorn sheep transplant, population dynamics study, land preservation projects, health and habitat surveys, prescribed burns, wildlife management, migration studies and more. Revenues generated for wildlife management in the form of permit sales for hunting animals was $1.8 billion for 1998. Combined with other income sources protecting wild games, the grand total funding to "put sheep back on the mountain was $24 billion.
Multiple other hunting organizations are also raising money for the preservation of species and the sustainability of hunting. Game Conservation International, Safari Club International, Mzuri Safari Foundation, North American Deer Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, the World Hunting and Conservation Congress, and many local and state hunting associations are also involved in conservation efforts. Now let's look at Bob, a hunter from Central Florida, to understand hunting better.
Bob: A Case Study in Hunting Activities
Now that we have looked at hunters' organized effort towards preserving game for future generations, let's look at how one hunter views hunting. Bob, not his real name, owns a successful real estate business. He is actively involved in raising funds for multiple wildlife conservation projects, donating generously of his time and money. He like many other hunters participates in a local hunt club which leases large amounts of undisturbed land, pasture, and grove property mostly to hunt deer and turkey during the prescribed state hunting season. Leasing land helps keep land from development.
September 16, 1989: INTERVIEW with Bob, a member of a hunt club located on the Deseret Ranch owned by the Mormon Church. 400,000 acres are owned and managed by the Mormons. Leases form the main portion of revenue for the temple, ranchers lease land for cattle and hunters lease the same land for hunting. The Mormons also grow citrus on the land. The club leases 11,000 acres, considered to be one of the largest leases and located in a prime hunting area.
Dr. Stans: What kind of game are hunted?
Bob: Deer, turkey, feral hogs, bobcat, quail, and dove. Occasionally a raccoon. Fishing is allowed also. Armadillo, fox, and possum are on the ranch but are not hunted by the club. A raccoon may be hunted occasionally if a hunter has received a request from someone for one. We have eagles on the ranch. I have observed that they eat mostly dead animals. I think about 80% of their feed is carcass. The hunters throw out carcasses for the eagles, also.
Dr. Stans: Are any nuisance animals taken?
Bob: Not by the hunters. Hogs are trapped by the ranchers on the property when they overpopulate. Pigs are destructive to cattle pastures. These pigs are then sold live to farmers in Virginia, Arkansas and other states where pig shooting is a bigger sport. They sell for about $35.40 each.
Dr. Stans: What is the hunting season?
Bob: Briefly, bow season is the 1st month--September, then there is a week break. Then black powder (old guns) season and a week break. Gun season (rifle and shotgun) occurs the second weekend in November. After that small game season for birds, dove and quail. Licensing is required. Taxes collected from ammunition and firearms are used to support conservation of habitat, wildlife restoration, including restocking and research. Taxes are generated through the Pittman-Robertson Act, enacted in 1937. Besides revenue, hunting provides benefits to the economy. National surveys determine that about $10 billion a year are spent on equipment and trips by hunters.
Dr. Stans: How many of each species are you allowed to take each season by state law?
Bob: Deer, 2 per day. Turkey, 2 per person per fall and per spring. Pigs, no limit since state considers them domestic [The hogs in the state were introduced by the Spanish and have since become wild. They are not native to Florida.]
Dr. Stans: What are the legal restrictions?
Bob: None for the state, but yes for the ranch and the hunt club. [He provided me with a brochure on the hunt clubs rules.] The number and sex of species to be collected is assigned each year according to abundance and sex ratio. The ranch biologist set this years limit at 4 bucks, 8-10 doe (only those whose fawn have lost their spots and can feed themselves). Members have to kill the doe even though many don't like to kill females. 4 hogs can be taken. 6 gobblers total (State limit also). The club does not allow bucks to be taken during bow season, since some members are bad shots. Trailing a wounded deer is the responsibility of all club members. Bucks know when gun season starts because they do disappear on opening day. Members must sign in at a board to reserve a space and to show where they will be hunting during the day to prevent accidents and someone bird dogging another member.
Dr. Stans: Do you keep records of the game taken? Yes.
Dr. Stans: How is this done?
Bob: A sheet on data on individual kills by species of deer, hog or turkey is provided in the cleaning area. Kidney fat of each animal is measured to see how healthy they are. Weight and size are analyzed. Age is determined by the teeth. [Bob provided me with a schedule form and instructions for record keeping.]
Dr. Stans: How is the information used and by whom?
Bob: A full time biologist employed by the Deseret Ranch analyzes the population and harvest figures to determine the number and sex of game to be taken for the next year. A computer is also used to calculate information.
Dr. Stans: Why hunt?
Bob: I hunt for sport but some hunters hunt to kill. Those that hunt for sport see the hunt as a challenge, a contest with the animal where intimate knowledge of nature and animal habits are necessary. The "killers" will indiscriminately kill any game, except that they seem to have a taboo against killing any female. These hunters hunt more out of a deep rooted anger stemming from hardships and parental background; for example, parents who instilled the same value system. A club will either be hunters for sport or hunters to kill. The two do not mix. Those that hunt to kill seem to have less patience, no joy in the hunt, many are rednecks and poachers. If there were no rules, the killers would kill everything.
Dr. Stans: What do hunters do with game hunted?
Bob: Most of us eat the meat, make the animal into full or cape mounts, horns used for trophies. The surplus meat is given to a charitable organization (The Edgewood Boys Ranch). An average 90 pound deer will yield 30 to 40 pounds of dressed meat. Of the 200 minimum deer taken in a season, about 6000 pounds or 3 tons of meat will be available. I estimate that 1/3 will be given away to friends, 1/3 will be kept for their own use, and 1/3 will go to charity.
Dr. Stans: If sold, to whom are the animals sold?
Bob: It is illegal to sell any of the wild game except for stringent Florida Game Commission controls on alligator meat. I think there would be a market for venison because of the lean quality of the meat. To legalize the sale of the venison would result in the increased poaching of game, though.
Dr. Stans: What is the cost of the lease per person per year?
Bob: $5000.00 per person. [Averages for whole ranch at about $7 per acre. The ranch is one of the more expensive leases because of its proximity to the urban area and hunter's residences.]
Dr. Stans: How many men are involved in the lease?
Bob: 17 on this lease. There are probably 30 other leases for other parts of the land, also.
Dr. Stans: How many acres are involved in your lease?
Bob: 11,000. The Mormon ranch (Deseret Farms) has 400,000 acres. Making income from hunting leases about 2.8 million per year.
Dr. Stans: What is the mean average number of units per species hunted in one season?
Bob: 200 deer, sex proportion differs with the year and the biologist's allotment.
Dr. Stans: Has there been any perceptible variation in the game population densities in the last years?
Bob: The game population of deer is less, which they are trying to reduce for good management. The Florida panther was once the predator of the deer. Since the disappearance of panther her the deer population has no natural control except loss of food. After the freeze in 1982, the deer had to compete with cattle for food and the whole yearling population died. The population is healthier and bigger today, but has better sex ratios. At one time there were 2000 deer and not they are down to 1200 about 100 per acre. At one time there were 12 to 1 does to bucks. Now the ratio is 5 to 1. As the ratio of animals decreased the doe began throwing twins, another sign of good health in deer. I would like to see the ratio be 2 to 1. The hunters take 200 deer a year but more are taken by poachers. Poachers leave the carcass and take the meat.
The hunters are restricting the age of buck shot to try to allow the buck to get older. Five to 8 years are the peak age for buck. As in cattle raising, this kind of selective culling makes the herds more fit genetically. The hunters participate in game counts by dividing up the tracts to get a representative number of deer. Counts are taken over 3-4 nights by riding.
Hogs are so prolific that they would take over the property. They have 8 babies 2-3 times a year.
The turkey population is growing. We do not kill the hens, just the gobblers. State wide hens can be killed, but the hunt club doesn't shoot them. Previous lease holders did not kill the females, but there was no biologist them.
Dr. Stans: Do you use dogs in hunting?
Bob: No, but some other leases might. A camp dog is used for trailing or tracking a wounded deer. The members are good shots but occasionally a deer is only wounded and all club members participate in finding it.
Dr. Stans: How many persons in your family are hunting?
Bob: Two sons, aged 13 and 15. My wife enjoys coming to the camp and reading and doing projects. The atmosphere of the camp has changed with the new lessees to a more family orientated emphasis.
Dr. Stans: Who tends to be the best hunters?
Bob: The hunters who know the land, look for signs, know the crossings, habits and most important know the food sources, like acorn season.
Dr. Stans: What are some of your other hobbies?
Bob: Diving, flying, fishing, and skiing.
Dr. Stans: Is controlled burning used to manage game?
Bob: No, but burning is used by the ranchers to improve pasture. The deer like the same pasture with its new growth after a burn.
Dr. Stans: Do you think this management pattern is better or worse than if the land were run by someone else?
Bob: Public land has too much pressure, too many people hunting it, not as many game, not to mention the danger to hunters. The pressure to let everyone hunt is great since the land belongs to the people. Recently the influence of conservationists has caused a more conservative approach to use of public lands. I know of one opening day of hunting in Michigan where more hunters were shot than deer. There have been no accidents on this leased land yet. Hunters here do not have to wear bright orange vest as required on public land.
Dr. Stans: Do you use bait in hunting?
Bob: NO! They used to have deer food plots, but not anymore. The ranchers fertilize the pastures and that benefits the deer. There used to be feeders for turkey on the lease, but no longer. The state allows feeding of deer and hog but illegal to bait turkey.
Dr. Stans: Do you hunt alone or with a companion?
Bob: Alone. Sometimes I take another person, maybe my son. Two people will hunt together when hunting along the creek so when a deer crosses the creek and cuts back another hunter will be able to shoot.
Dr. Stans: Why do you hunt alone?
Bob: To hunt alone is easier. Two hunters make twice as much movement for deer to see.
Dr. Stans: Are there women in your hunting group?
Bob: No, but two wives hunt. Most all clubs are all male. This camp has an unwritten rule, along the same principles adhered to by Mormon belief, "Don't bring girl friends". Some clubs don't allow wives or children. This one is more family oriented.
Dr. Stans: How much do you hunt?
Bob: Once a week during the season. All of opening week.
Dr. Stans: Besides the cost of the lease what other expenses are involved?
Bob: Trailers, trucks, guns, ammo, clothing, food, whiskey, tree stands, binoculars, bows and arrows. About $20,000 to set up. Yearly cost may be as high as $9-10,000 per year.
Dr. Stans: Do you like being a hunter? Why?
Bob: I am good at hunting. I have a good ability to work puzzles, theories and concepts. I like the mental game as well as the physical part and being outdoors being close to God and nature. I feel it is part learned from generation to generation. Part is camaraderie. For some it is a real escape from an unpleasant home situation; no hassles from the wives for about 15% of the members. For some, it is a place to drink and party with their buddies. Usually members are best friends. Also the camp is a place to rest.
While many people criticize hunters and attribute decline of animal populations to their activities, the reality is that many hunters contribute to the preservation of habitat and to game conservation. The case study of Bob showed that there are multiple reasons for hunting: being in the out of doors with nature; the challenge of tracking game and thinking about the habits of animals; rest and family togetherness; friendship; teaching children about nature and hunting; getting lean meat for the family and charities; and finally hunting as a hobby.
Now it is your turn to look closely at other forms of human recreation, which deal with our environment. Read some of the reserve articles to get some ideas. Here you will find that all ecotourism is not environmentally friendly. Here are some other suggestions:
Jet skiing on the Estero Bay
Tours of national forests