On Saturday, September 28, the National Rifle Association of America and its members will celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day to honor the commitment of our country’s sportsmen to wildlife conservation and to promote the continued enjoyment of our outdoor heritage for generations to come.
On May 2, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the first National Hunting and Fishing Day proclamation, declaring, “I urge all our citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and ensuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations.” Since then, Americans have celebrated National Hunting and Fishing Day on the fourth Saturday of every September.
“In addition to being a genuinely thrilling adventure, hunting brings us closer to nature and teaches us core values that enrich our lives,” said Joe DeBergalis, executive director, NRA General Operations. “Families struggling to unplug from cell phones and video games should consider spending a weekend outdoors. Time spent hunting or fishing, which doesn’t have to cost much, is an opportunity for mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandparents to pass down the core values of patience, honor, determination, and accomplishment.”
Hunters, anglers and target shooters in the United States contribute nearly $1.75 billion annually to conservation through the purchase of licenses, excise taxes paid on hunting and fishing equipment and ammunition, and contributions to various conservation organizations.
“If you’re able to do so, be sure to get out and participate in our great American traditions of hunting and fishing,” said DeBergalis. “Take this opportunity to introduce someone to the great outdoors.”
You Can Read More About Hunting And Fishing Day Here
Below Is The Original Proclamation:
1630 PROCLAMATION 4128-MAY 2, 1972 [86 STAT.
of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred ninety-sixth.
National Hunting and Fishing Day
By the President of the United States of America
For many years, responsible hunters and fishermen have been in the
vanguard of efforts to halt the destruction of our land and waters and
protect the natural habitat so vital to our wildlife.
Through a deep personal interest in our wildlife resources, the
American hunter and fisherman have paved the way for the growth of
modern wildlife management programs. In addition, his purchase of
licenses and permits, his payment of excise taxes on hunting and fishing
equipment, and his voluntary contributions to a great variety of conservation
projects are examples of his concern for wildlife populations
and habitat preservation.
His devotion has promoted recreational outlets of tremendous value
for our citizens, sportsmen and nonsportsmen alike. Indeed, he has
always been in the forefront of today’s environmental movement with
his insistence on sound conservation programs.
In recognition of the many and worthwhile contributions of the
American hunter and angler, the Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution
Ante, p. 133. 117, has requested the President to declare the fourth Saturday of
September 1972 as National Hunting and Fishing Day.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICHARD NIXON, President of the
United States of America, do hereby designate Saturday, September 23,
1972, as National Hunting and Fishing Day.
I urge all our citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use
of our natural resources and in insuring their proper management for
the benefit of future generations.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second
day of May, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred seventy-two, and
of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred
“And the fox said to the little prince: Men have forgotten this truth. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, From The Little Prince
A very large black bear, not far from the back door, strips a fruit tree in the early fall in Aspen, Colorado.
A young elk tests out a hummingbird feeder in a backyard garden, somewhere near Carbondale, Colorado.
Not to be undone, a mule deer buck gets his licks in too!
Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News Published 10:22 a.m. ET Sept. 17, 2019 | Updated 2:14 p.m. ET Sept. 17, 2019
Conservative rocker Ted Nugent targeted Michigan conservation authorities Tuesday, calling state officials either “liars” or “stupid” for supporting a ban on baiting deer and elk.
“If they think they can stop deer from swapping spit, they’re idiots,” Nugent said during a House Government Operations Committee meeting.
Nugent, whom GOP lawmakers referred to as “Uncle Ted,” testified in support of a bill that would legalize deer and elk baiting during hunting seasons. The bill introduced by Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, would reverse a 2018 ban that was put in place to address concerns that chronic wasting disease was spread through bait piles. It’s not clear the science used to push that ban is reliable, Hoitenga said.
“For the wild animal there is no such thing as a gentle decline in peaceful old age. Its life is spent at the front, in line of battle, and as soon as its powers begin to wane, in the least, its enemies become too strong for it; it falls.”– Ernest Thompson Seton, Lives Of The Hunted, 1901
“Death will come, always out of season.” Big Elk, Omaha Chief
There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.
I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.
He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.
I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.
Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.
I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters light-headed. They made me light-headed. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.
As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self-pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.
Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.
I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.
Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit passed it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.
Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.
It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.
The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of energy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.
They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.
They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.
When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.
I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.
I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.
His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.
For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.
The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.
I am, and will always be, forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.
“Elk hunting runs deep. Not that it’s always fun, because it isn’t. It’s a contrast in superlatives, ranging from agony to euphoria, and it will stretch your senses to the limit. It raises you higher, drops you lower, deep into your body, mind, emotions, and soul. You may like elk hunting, you may not, but definitely you won’t forget it”. – Dwight Schuh, Game Country, October, 1989
“A Bowhunter is a Hunter Reborn – Forever…” – Michael Patrick McCarty
Death Is A Most Serious Business
Unknown Artist Signature
Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.
I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.
I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.
I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.
They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.
Watching For What Comes
My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.
We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.
To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.
Without Winter, No Spring
We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.
At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.
Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.
Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.
Wildlife funding, public access increased in new Farm Bill
(Dec. 20, 2018) — The $876 billion Farm Bill passed last week by Congress and signed by President Trump today included victories for hunters, anglers and wildlife. As the primary source of private land wildlife conservation funding in the country, the Farm Bill included incentives for wildlife habitat and hunter access. Congress also left out proposed riders to the bill that would have negative impacts on fish wildlife.
“Private working lands provide important habitat for both game and nongame wildlife,” said Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “With shrinking habitat across the country and species in crisis, one of the exciting wins in this Farm Bill was the increase in wildlife funding. Over a five year period, there will be an additional $600 million-plus over and above current wildlife funding levels that will go towards helping farmers, ranchers, and foresters create wildlife habitat on working lands.”
Here’s how hunters, anglers, fish and wildlife win in the new Farm Bill:
Increased Access: The bill includes $50 million over 5 years for the Voluntary Public Access- Habitat Incentives Program – an increase of $10 million from the last Farm Bill. This program will help farmers and ranchers restore habitat and open up private lands for walk-in hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.
Funding for Wildlife: The move within this farm bill to increase the amount of EQIP funds for wildlife means that there will be a dramatic increase in funding (from the current $60 million per year up to $175-200 million per year) that will go towards helping farmers, ranchers, and forest owners adopt wildlife practices to help species like bobwhite quail, cutthroat trout, and sage grouse.
Cover Crop Fix: Fixes a deterrent to adoption of cover crops in the crop insurance program; along with other provisions this should promote increased adoption of cover crops, which will reduce phosphorus runoff contributing to the kind of toxic algae which creates dead zones and fish kills in water bodies.
Public Lands: A proposed rider harmful to public land wildlife habitat was removed, which would have opened up roadless areas in national forests – backcountry hunting habitat – to forest development.
Salmon Protected: A proposed rider was removed which would have allowed the EPA to approve pesticides despite reviews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service showing they would harm marine life including multiple species of salmon.
The Farm Bill passed the Senate 87-13 on Tuesday and the House of Representatives 386-47 last week. President Trump signed it into law today.
No one truly knows how many elk are killed each year on Colorado highways, but one thing that is known for sure – the trend is rising steadily upward.
It’s a sad statistic, resulting in immeasurable losses to an invaluable resource. And of course, elk versus vehicle collisions are no laughing matter. The encounter can be, and often is, deadly for drivers and passengers.
The fall and winter months are the most dangerous times, when large groups of elk travel great distances though traditional migration corridors, often congregating near food sources in the lower elevations. Unfortunately, most of the major roadways are located here too.
So, you might ask, what’s a driver to do?
Well, to quote an oft-turned phrase – speed kills. Simple as that.
We would all be wise to slow down and enjoy the ride. Be aware, and on the lookout for this otherwise unmissable creature in the shadows of the night.
“The roar of a wounded grizzly bear is nicely designed to try the courage of a man. It’s half snarl and half bellow, and it’s full of blood and fangs and murderous rage.” – Ben East, Brown Fury of the Mountains, 1940
October 28, 1864
“Located in Croxton Memorial Park (in Grants Pass, Oregon) is a large, concrete circle with a number of headstones imbedded in concrete. There are also two plaques that note the names of 90 individuals interred here. This park was once a cemetery for many years but neglect and vandalism forced the city to convert this lot into a city park in 1975. The headstones of the surviving graves were imbedded in concrete to prevent further vandalism and damage.
One of the graves imbedded in concrete is of Benjamin Harrison Baird who was unfortunately killed by a grizzly bear.”
KILLED BY A GRIZZLY — Mr. B. H. Baird, of Jackson county, Oregon, was killed by a grizzly bear while out deer hunting on Grave creek. The following particulars are from the Sentinel: —On the morning of the 28th, about sunrise, Mr. Baird started in pursuit of game, taking his faithful dog, Rover, with him. He proceeded about one mile and a half, when his dog bayed three grizzly bears in their bed. Mr. Baird got within fifteen yards of them, and shot the largest one, only wounding it. The bear pitched at Mr. Baird, who ran about two hundred yards, when the bear caught him and knocked his gun about sixteen feet from him. Getting loose from the bear, he sprang to the limb of a tree, the bear passing under and hitting his feet, went a short distance down the hill, when he stopped to fight the dog. Mr. B. got his gun, re-loaded it, and shot the bear the second time. The bear now came at him more furiously than before, and knocked the gun out of his hand the second time. Mr. B. swung around a bush to keep out of the bear’s reach, drew one of his butcher knives and stabbed the bear in the belly. The bear struck him several severe blows, knocking his knife out of his hand. Mr. B. then drew his second knife, when the bear seized his hand in which he held the knife, causing him to drop it. The bear now got the better of Mr. B., getting him down, biting him in the face, cutting several severe gashes on the left side, tearing out his right eye, and also tearing off all the right side of his face. It bit several large holes in his right side; in fact, bit him nearly all over his body, down to his boots. The bear now turned to fight the dog, that had saved Mr. B. from having been killed on the spot. The bear and the dog then rolled down the hill some distance, still fighting, when Mr. B. gathered up his gun, two knives, the rope with which he had been leading his dog, and started for Mr. Michael’s cabin, distance about one mile and a half, where he arrived, much exhausted, about 10 A.M., and was assisted into the house, when he related the melancholy event to Mr. McDonough. Being conscious that he could not long survive, he spoke of his family, and his desire to see them before he died. He was reconciled to meet his death, and spoke of a future happiness. He died about 8 P.M. of the same day. Mrs. Baird was sent for, and hastened with all possible speed the distance of eighteen miles, over a very rough, hilly road, but arrived about five minutes too late to see her husband alive. He was brought home and buried near the farm, some four miles north of Rogue river, near the stage road. He leaves a wife and sixteen children, eight of whom are but young, and live at home.
“…the last officially documented grizzly bear in Oregon was killed along Chesnimnus Creek by a federal trapper on September 14, 1931. According to Jerry Gildemeister’s Bull Trout, Walking Grouse and Buffalo Bones: Oral Histories of Northeast Oregon Fish and Wildlife, however, sheepherders knew of a pair of grizzlies in the Minam drainage on the far western side of the Wallowa Mountains in 1937 and 1938; one of these bears was shot.
Of course, the very last grizzly of Oregon probably escaped the notice of humankind altogether. Whether he or she died in the remote plateau forests flanking the Northeast Oregon canyonlands or the brushy breaks of the Siskiyous—or someplace else entirely—we can only offer a vague, if heartfelt, toast.
Meanwhile, Hells Canyon country has continued to cough up the occasional grizzly rumor over the decades, although it should be noted that many of the black bears here are cinnamon-phase and thus easily confused with their heftier cousins. In Oregon Desert Guide, Andy Kerr reports an alleged sighting from 1979 along Steep Creek a few miles from Homestead, and Gildemeister’s oral histories mention possible grizzly sign noted by a wildlife biologist in 1989 near Smooth Hollow, right along the Snake River below Hat Point.”
“Biology plus politics equals biopolitics and this is what conservation departments are forced to play, often to the detriment of good game management.” – William Towell, Director Missouri Conservation Commission, 1957-1967
I harvested a sleek, young mule deer doe today, dropped cleanly with a fast-moving .270 caliber bullet well before the crack of the rifle had begun to die away in the thin mountain air. It was a fitting end to a hunt that had barely begun, yet at the same time a fine beginning to something so much more. Why then, did it cause a small pang of concern, like I had done something somehow wrong and irreversible?
It had not been a difficult hunt in the rugged landscape around me, where so often in the past it had been exactly the opposite. She had been standing with another doe just above a dirt access track stretching through a small parcel of public ground, and when the bullet hit her she had made one jump and came to rest in the middle of the road. A quick field dressing and a short flip to the waiting tailgate and she was off to the garage to hang and cool, and it won’t be long before some savory steaks and roasts hit the plate. It’s what dreams of wild game dinners are made of.
It was a planned meat hunt first and foremost, and in that respect it was a mission accomplished for which I do not apologize. I am a fan of mule deer for the table, though I do acknowledge that many people would disagree. To be honest, I would also admit that although I do like it, for the most part this western venison is not my favorite big game offering.
Given a choice, I would rather walk a substantial distance for some expertly grilled chops from a properly fed mid-west Whitetail. I would, and have, walked heroic distances for the well-earned privilege of packing back a heavy load of elk meat. I’ve also worn out a considerable swath of boot leather in pursuit of mule deer in all kinds of terrain, mostly in search of the all too few with some heavy horn on top of their head. I have not always been willing to walk so far just for a meal of mule deer.
This past Spring it occurred to me to try something different this year, and I don’t begrudge myself an easy hunt for a change. Lord knows that I and many of my friends deserve something short of an expedition occasionally, and one’s goals do tend to develop over time. I also wanted to give a mule deer a fresh chance in the culinary department, thinking that perhaps it might be best not to judge things on the taste of tough old buckskin taken well past their prime. A freezer full of protein also does wonders to combat the ever rising grocery bill.
The state of Colorado does issue a limited number of antlerless deer permits for the regular rifle seasons, with an emphasis on “not too many”. To my surprise I was lucky enough to draw a license for an area close to my home, which made it all the more enjoyable. The rest, shall we say, is in the books.
What I failed to mention is that they were the only two deer that we saw that morning, in spite of a three-mile hike through some once great deer country and then, later, a short drive to another area. Nor did I say that I could easily see two houses from where my doe had come to lay, and I knew that there were several more not far over the hill.
Such is the reality of things in the ever more settled west. The deer are not always located in some far often mountain valley, and sometimes you must hunt them where they are. And sometimes you hunt them in places that you used to hunt, years before, in a place where not long ago there were no houses to see.
Things are changing rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and the once vast Mule Deer herds have been dramatically impacted by that change. Populations have been in serious decline in Colorado and other states, for reasons that are not so clear and steeped in worried speculation. To be blunt, Mule Deer are in serious trouble, and their ultimate fate as a viable species is in real jeopardy.
I, for one, did not have to read a detailed report to come to that sad conclusion. The evidence is everywhere; the end result devastating. Herd sizes have dropped by 50% since I moved to Colorado in the mid 1970’s, and the absence of deer is remarkably obvious. As a result, the number of hunting permits have been severely reduced and tightly controlled, with less than encouraging results.
For some time it is has not been easy for a resident of Colorado to obtain a deer tag of any kind, and when you do it can be difficult to locate a legal buck. Finding a trophy animal can prove nearly impossible for even the best of hunter’s. It’s just not easy being a deer hunter these days.
Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. It is debatable whether the herds have stopped their terrifying free fall and reached a period of relative stability. Why then, one might ask, are there any doe tags at all?
What is difficult to pin down are the exact reasons for the decline, and public opinion is wide-ranging and increasingly heated. There is great debate over the effectiveness of the overall state big game management plan, and one wonders if there is really any plan at all. One hand does not always appear to be aware of what the other is doing across state agencies, and I can only hope that in this case the harvesting of a doe somehow contributes to the overall health of the deer herd in this particular game management unit.
I have heard most of the standard theories of cause and reaction. Of course I have a few of my own, or simply evaluate all of the factors in my own way.
Some people are quick to put the blame on an overabundance of coyotes and other predators, and no doubt there is some truth to that. Others blame highway mortality, road building and natural gas drilling, and all forms of habitat loss. More than a few people say that what deer habitat that is left is of poor nutritional quality, and there is an increasing effort underway to remove sections of old growth forest and range and replace them with rejuvenated browse and plant communities. The long-term drought certainly has not helped, and maybe, just maybe, there are now just too many elk.
More than likely it is caused by a combination of all of the above, or perhaps something else entirely. I don’t know how it will turn out for the deer in the final outcome. Nor does anyone else out there really know for sure. It may be that Mule Deer are simply incapable of tolerating or forgiving the daily trespasses of man, and that their loss to history is essentially assured. That would be unspeakably sad.
I do know that the mule deer is a western icon of immeasurable proportions, and the Rocky Mountains would simply be a hollow and soulless shell of itself without them.
Call me selfish, but the possibility of their disappearance is not acceptable. I intend to smile over their big ears and bouncing, improbable gait for however many years that I have left, and I hope that you can too. To watch them brings pure and simple joy. To hunt them is an honor and a gift that should never be taken for granted.
I hope that the current trend of decline can be permanently reversed, for their sake and for our’s. I wish that there will always be Mule Deer to hunt, along with a place to hunt them that remains wild and free. Most of all I would like to shake the sinking feeling that I am hunting one of the last female’s of her glorious and irreplaceable kind.
Thankfully, that is still quite far from the truth, at least for now. It is not too late to help ensure that such an unthinkable day never comes.
In the meantime, I will do my best to use all parts of my animal as gratefully as possible. I look forward to many fine meals ahead, provided by an animal I both respect and cherish. It makes each small bite a most precious encounter.
Coyote Predation is without doubt a significant factor in the overall health of mule deer populations. Common sense would lead one to believe that they must certainly be extremely effective at locating newborn and younger fawns. The literature is also replete with the idea that they are quick to make a meal out of the weak and the sick in any group. But are they capable, or willing, to go against a full-grown adult?
That question was answered, to my satisfaction anyway, one spring morning a couple of years later while turkey hunting in a remote mountain meadow of northwestern Colorado.
A friend and I had been hen calling for several minutes, when two coyotes suddenly appeared on a ridge above about a half mile away. It was obvious that they were highly interested, and no doubt, the thought of a turkey dinner was forefront in their mind.
We continued calling as they cautiously made their way down a steep hill, calculating their approach with each silent step. I remember thinking that things were about to get interesting, and that we had somehow purchased some front row seats to a classic showing of predators at work.
All at once three doe and two yearling mule deer slunk out of the Aspens below, and began to cross in front of us about 80 yards away. No doubt they had caught the faint scent of human on a swirling breeze, and thought it best to be somewhere else.
The deer had no idea that the two coyotes were directly above them, a fact not lost on the hungry pair. It was immediately apparent that they had forgotten all about drumsticks and dark meat, for they immediately went into deer stalking mode.
I watched, fascinated, as the canines dropped low to the ground, and I swear I could their wild eyes meet as they turned their heads to look at each other. It was obvious that some form of communication passed between them; a message as old, as time.
As quick as could be, one coyote began to circle down and to the right and behind the unsuspecting deer, while the other belly crawled to the left in an effort to position himself above and ahead of the lead doe.
It was also obvious that these two had done this before, probably more times than they could ever remember. The scene unfolded like a slow motion movie, and I remember thinking that this was really going to happen.
Suddenly, the coyote on the left made a full speed dash towards the small herd of deer, trying to overcome one of the smaller ones before they had realized what had happened.
He almost succeeded too, as he furiously tried to sink a tooth in hide or muscle so close at hand. I could actually see his mouth open and close as he snapped them shut, just inches from blood.
But no matter, for he knew what was waiting just ahead, as that was the plan all along.
The waiting coyote adjusted his position as the herd bounced blindly on, still crouched close to the earth. The first deer was upon him, suddenly changing direction as she picked up a slight movement in her path.
The coyote leapt upwards on legs of spring steel, and from my angle it looked like he was on a perfect trajectory. His teeth flashed past the deer’s neck so closely I thought I could see her fur ripple in response, as his momentum carried him harmlessly by.
The deer seemed to hit another gear as they became fully aware of their peril, as the coyotes continued in high pursuit for a hundred yards or more. Even then, I thought that they just might catch them, though my guess is that the coyotes knew that their chance for a venison supper had already passed.
The deer had escaped, this time.
Such are the ways of the coyote, and the mule deer, and who knows just how many times it goes the other way, when we are no longer there to watch.
So, in the end, is it coyotes, or some other form of predation that is the true cause of our Mule Deer decline?
I truly don’t know. But I can only hope that this marvelous, western icon survives the encounter, more often than not…
You Can Find Out More About Coyote Hunting In Colorado Here
“It is likely, and appropriate, that a coyote will use the bones of the last man as a scent post. Beyond that, its just as likely that the bones of the last coyote will be picked clean by a Crow…And at the end, when Crow follows the long procession of species out of a world grown cold under it’s dying sun, he’ll exit laughing.” – John Madson
Interested in Coyote Hunting? We can highly recommend:
A Journal of Wild Game, Fighting Fish, and Grand Pursuit