There’s a big difference between trophy hunting and hunting for sport or subsistence. The latter is salutary and noble, the former is a disgrace.
Hello guys. I ran across an uninformed article in The Federalist about trophy hunting so I contacted the Editor. Below is what I wrote:
Dear Mr. Domenech,
Since I am not on Twitter and John Davidson does not offer his email address on The Federalist website, I am sending you this email instead. Lucky you.
I just read the article about trophy hunting that Mr. Davisdon wrote in December of 2018. Unfortunately, it would seem that he did little research into "trophy" hunting or really, big game hunting at all. He says he lived in Alaska and hunted game birds as a youth but he does not mention ever having hunted big game. I am a hunting guide in both Colorado and Alaska.
As a lifelong hunter, professional hunting outfitter-guide and Biologist, I disagree with most of Mr. Davidson's conclusions and it would seem his knowledge of modern day big game hunting and the conservation that it provides is negligible. The term "trophy hunting" is vastly misunderstood and it seems that Mr. Davidson has read too many anti-hunting articles and hyperbole on the subject.
In my job of managing wildlife and the big game hunting on hundreds of thousands of private acres in Colorado, I have seen firsthand the many benefits of big game hunting that includes an element of hunting older age-class "trophy" male big game animals. This is actually the best way to hunt because the older males have lived long enough to have successfully passed on their genes before being taken out of the population. The word "trophy" is misunderstood and has been politicized by anti-hunting groups and the press while looking for every angle to stop hunting. If the word "trophy" was banished and we used the word "mature", this disingenuous attack on the hunting of mature animals wouldn't seem quite so emotional and controversial! Would Mr. Davidson rather we hunt immature animals or young animals only? I hope not.
As an example, let's look at mule deer hunting for larger, mature, "trophy" bucks. While there are rare examples of wild mule deer bucks living beyond eight years of age, most do not. Although mule deer bucks at 1.5 years of age are physically capable of breeding several doe deer, most of the doe (female) deer are bred by more dominant bucks in the 3.5 to 5.5 age-class. On properties that I manage, hunters are allowed to take bucks at 5.5 years of age with the help of a professional guide. Once in a while we take a 4.5 year old buck that appeared to be older. The age is estimated by body size, antler size and our past history of seeing the animal as it matures. About 2/3 of the bucks we harvest are bucks we have seen before while about 1/3 have not been seen before. Keep in mind that these are free-ranging wild deer that are not captives behind a high fence. Some of the largest "trophy" bucks are 6.5-8.5 years old. These bucks have done their biological job of passing down their genes to their offspring so by the time they are harvested, they are no longer biologically essential to the population. One buck deer can breed dozens of different female doe deer per year (I once observed a prime age buck breed six different females in one afternoon) so a healthy herd population structure is about 35 bucks per 100 doe deer. In Colorado, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife develops herd management plans for setting these buck/doe ratios and issuing licenses. The CPW offers an adjusted yearly hunting harvest quota of licenses that are offered to the public for each game management unit. Landowners can further restrict harvest on their properties if they so choose. Of these 35 bucks, about 50% will be younger bucks that do not do the majority of the breeding, 35% will be prime breeding age bucks that do most of the breeding and the remaining 15% are older bucks that have already been breeding for several years and are now slowing down. This last category of bucks are the "trophy" bucks that people like to find and hunt because they often have larger antlers. Harvesting these desirable bucks is one of the best things a hunter can do. After most bucks are 7.5 years old, their antlers may start to regress in size. Since taking these bucks doesn't have a biological impact on the overall herd, the harvest of female deer is used to control populations.
Most ant-hunters don't seem to realize that hunting and wildlife management are not a zero-sum game. The females are impregnated every year with successful birth rates in the 90%+ range. Some of the fawns die of natural causes or predation by predators but even after those losses, most mule deer populations carry a 60-70 fawn per 100 doe ratio. The quota of female hunting licenses are used to control the population, not buck licenses.
Did you or Mr. Davidson know that it is ILLEGAL to waste game meat in the USA and most countries? If a hunter wants a mature animal to mount for the wall and the meat, who cares? The vast majority of our "trophy" mature buck hunters take their meet home and the rest of them donate it to someone in need. In Colorado and the other states. the meat has to be preserved for human consumption. It would be illegal in Colorado to keep it for feeding your family dog! Just because many people hunt for a mature buck or other big game animal does not mean that the meat is wasted. Myself and a majority of hunters go hunting for the meat AND the challenge of finding a mature animal to harvest.
As for some game animals such as brown bears (aka coastal grizzly bears) in Alaska, hunters are not required to keep the meat of a brown bear because it is inedible due to the amount of salmon that these bears eat. The meat is tainted and does not taste good. However, these bears still need to be managed to maintain healthy numbers of bears, moose, caribou, etc... and to provide recreation and licence sales that fund the game and fish agencies that protect and manage wildlife. (Google "The North American Wildlife Conservation Model"). Bears are a major cause of moose and caribou calf mortality and many people in Alaska depend on moose meat and healthy populations of moose, in balance with predator predation, to feed themselves.
Has Mr. Davidson ever hunted in Africa? I am guessing not. A lot of this misunderstood "trophy" hunting hyperbole comes from the press in conjunction with anti-hunting groups of preservationists that attempt to pass themselves off as "conservationists" in Africa. Conservation is defined as conserving (wise use), not preserving, our natural resources. The many groups that hunters belong to are the true conservation organizations but the press likes to call the anti-hunting groups "conservation organizations" instead of calling them "preservation organizations." These groups bear names such as Born Free, The Humane Society of the US, and several others. On my hunting trips to Africa, NONE of the meat was wasted. It was all used in camp or in the local villages. The African people eat parts of the animal that I guarantee you would not! NOTHING is wasted. In addition, if it was legal to bring meat home from Africa, I would bring some of mine home but the US Government does not allow me to bring the meat home, due to concerns over disease possibly being spread to domestic and wild animals here in the USA.
In Africa, the poaching (illegal hunting and snaring), illegal bush meat trade and human encroachment into valuable habitat are the culprits causing wildlife population reductions. It is not regulated hunting or "trophy" hunting that cause declines in wildlife populations. Quite the contrary because the hunting outfitters/operators in Africa are many times the ONLY thing standing between the poachers and the wildlife. The outfitters/operators I have hunted with in the vast government owned open hunting concessions in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia Tanzania and Namibia use some of the money that hunters pay to finance their own anti-poaching patrols of 10-20 men that are in the field daily trying to prevent and apprehend poachers. Although we hunters and the outfitters/operators pay a lot of money to the African governments for hunting licenses, concession rental fees, etc... these poor African governments do not have the resources to protect the wildlife from poaching so the outfitters/operators are willingly financing their own poaching patrols.
Mr. Davidson's despised "trophy" hunters are paying the bills for everyone else to enjoy and keep wildlife going in Africa in the remote concessions that are too far from cities for photographic safari operations. Photographic safaris require lots of infrastructure - good roads, hotels/lodges, restaurants, etc... These amenities are not available in the backcountry of Africa where most of African wildlife lives and where a lot of the poaching pressure takes place.
In addition, the national parks only make up a fraction of the wildlife habitat and populations in Africa. In Kenya, where hunting was banned in 1977, wildlife has been demolished in all but the national parks because the hunting outfitters/operators were pushed out. Can you imagine if the only wildlife found in the USA or Canada was in our national parks? What a tragedy!
Only serious hunters will spend the thousands of dollars it costs to access the remote parts of Africa where the real poaching battles take place. The charter flights alone to the camps I have hunted can run up to $4000 each way! The camera crowd isn't going to pay that much for their entire trip! Hunters don't just hunt for a "trophy" mount on a wall. We mainly hunt because we love wildlife, we enjoy the meat AND mostly because we enjoy being in wild country as an active participant in nature, not just an observer.
So maybe Mr. Davidson should re-evaluate his uninformed feelings about us "trophy" hunters? We are funding conservation and anti-poaching. I would be happy to enlighten him if he would have the gumption to give me a call to discuss the subject. Of course, I would be professional in every way and I appreciate an interesting debate.
I do appreciate some of the other articles in The Federalist that shed a positive light on hunting and hunters but Mr. Davidson really missed the mark on his trophy hunting article.
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