Well the season has started. This column is not about what I or others are seeing or shooting. And it is important that you remember, this is just my personal opinion. This is about deer management in our unit, Unit L. And I am not PC. I do not harvest, I kill. Here is what I think.
There have been some changes for this year and as always, when there is a change, there is some complaining. One change in particular has gotten some folks upset so, I'll start with that.
Button bucks are no longer antlerless deer. Here is a shock for you. They never have been. They were just classified that way. A deer with short antlers, even a couple inches long, was called an antlerless deer and did not require a buck tag. I have long held that was wrong. But that was when we had real check stations, gathering real data. Now, even though I doubt it will make one bit of difference, if the antlers protrude far enough to break the hairline, the deer must be checked in as one of the two bucks we are allowed. I have no problem with that at all if it is adhered to.
But . . . many do have a problem and one hunter told me, "I don't give a damn what they say, I aint wastin a buck tag on button buck. I aint check-in it in at all." I suspect that may be somewhat of a common thread. So why the change?
Well, there are a couple reasons. First, biologically, it is sound deer management when it is adhered to. It gives the managing agency, a much better picture of the sex ratios after hunting season. That is important information.
Secondly, for those who will abide by it, it makes them take more pains in selecting the deer they are going to shoot.
In addition to that, it throws somewhat of a bone to the "trophyism" segment of the hunting population who have watched far too many hunting shows on television. This change will have nothing to do with increasing antler size.
But, yes, there is a downside. In taking more pains in deer selection, I suspect the doe kill is going to decline. But that is not the worst of it. When regulations are not adhered to, as I suspect is going to be the wholesale case with this new law, data becomes garbage. Let me pontificate a bit.
Not many years ago, Tennessee was the pride of deer management in the Southeast if not the nation. Then, and again, this is just my opinion, the rules started being tinkered with due to "trophyism" pressure, until the data became almost meaningless. Here is a prime example. We changed the buck limit from three to two. But the number of antlered bucks, killed was almost unchanged. Strangely, at the same time, the number of antlerless deer-small bucks-decreased by nearly 7,000 animals and the doe kill went up by about 7,000 animals. Why do you suppose that happened? Could it be the data is being manipulated to please hunters? Let me show you just what I mean.
During the 2014-15 season, hunters killed 76,622 antlered bucks. Then, we got the two buck limit and hunters killed 78,564 antlered bucks. Just about the same. A tad more even. But look at this. During 2014-15, 10,620 antlerless bucks were killed. We went to two bucks and in 2015-16 only 3,060 buck fawns were killed.
At the same time, the doe kill went up by 7,199, just about the same as the drop in antlerless males. Think about that. How can that be?
Is Tennessee heading back to the days of guessing and estimating and manipulating data instead of actually gathering and using, hard facts?
This is the second change I'm going to talk about. This year, those who have access to private land have a special season. January 9-13, hunters on private land which they may legally hunt, may kill up to three antlerless deer per day.
Why? Okay, this is why. Hopefully that will bring the doe kill back up and at the same time, serve to reinforce the need to kill does. And, of course, it gives us a few more days to shiver the rivets out of a treestand. In actuality, it is probably not going to do a thing in terms of management.
I have said many times, deer management is not rocket surgery. But there are some rules that have to be followed.
Luckily, for the most part, TN/TFWC had been doing a moderately good job. TWRA, no longer manages the herd, TFWC does and that is a bit of a problem.
TWRA makes recommendations and the commission either enacts them or doesn't. Usually, the biologists know best. Sometimes, the commission agrees, sometimes not. But two things are for sure. Laws regarding deer management only work if they are adhered to and you cannot macro manage using micro management principles?
It is hard for hunters to understand, you simply cannot manage a deer population statewide as you would on private land. So, this guy asked me, "If you were on private land, how would you manage the herd?"
First I would determine how many deer I had total and how many I wanted, (carrying capacity).
Second, I would determine age and sex ratios. Then I would determine my kill to balance those factors.
Then, I would instigate the following: No buck could be shot unless he had eight-points and 16-inches of inside spread. That protects almost all bucks under 2.5 years and I would limit the number of them killed.
Secondly, I would kill as many does as I did bucks. And third, if it is a male deer and under that 8/16 guideline, the hunter would be fined $500.
How would you like that, statewide? And guess what. We would still have Tennessee-size antlers on our bucks but they would be the best we could produce.
And guess what else, it would not be adhered to and again, data would suffer.
Hey, somebody come get this soapbox. I'm going hunting.
But first, just this tidbit of information for you armchair biologists. A deer does not have 3 stomachs. It is a ruminant and has a four compartmented system that includes a rumen, reticlum, omasum and an abomasum.
The rumen, reticulum, and omasum are not stomachs at all. They have no HCl and no pepsin. The R and R use bacteria to digest otherwise unavailable substrates like cellulose, and low biological value proteins, the omasum functions to remove a very large amount of water from the rumino-reticulum digestate before it goes to the ONE true stomach of the deer.
The abomasum is glandular, produces pepsin and HCl and presents the partially digested mass to the small intestine, just like in non-ruminants.
So there you go. Now you can impress your hunting buddies.
Be safe out there.
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