Hunters should stand together

December 08, 2012 09:35 am
With the hunting seasons winding down, perhaps now would be good time to reflect on why you didn’t put venison in the freezer this year. It’s likely a combination of things, but has a lot to do with numbers. First off, a predator might have taken your intended dinner. Predators are doing well in Northeast Oregon — a good thing for some folks — not so good for hunters or deer watchers. 

Cougars prefer fresh meat, but they seldom get to finish a meal as other predators often steal their victim before they get to enjoy more than a feed or two. So, regardless of whether they take a large bull elk or a young deer, they kill about one animal a week — 52 weeks of the year.

Nearly completed, a very in-depth study on cougars in the nearby Mount Emily unit revealed some interesting figures. Using radio-telemetry, computer modeling and even specially-trained scat-hunting dogs for DNA sampling, researchers estimate there’s roughly 80 big cats in the unit. 

When you crunch those numbers you’ll come up with more than 4,000 ungulates taken by cougars every year in this not-so-huge area. That’s a very sizable amount of venison. And, then you add bears, coyotes, road kills and other maladies and it’s very surprising there’s any deer at all. 

Let’s do some more number-crunching. A multi-year study in Central Oregon, by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife used radio-collared mule deer and other sophisticated research to determine the demise of a random group of animals. As you might expect, predators took their fair share, but it turns out that poachers (a hunter’s black eye) took even more animals than the legitimate hunters. 

But, even considering the figures above, the most disturbing statistic for me is the number of hand-sitters we have in our ranks — people who gripe and complain about the above issues, but do nothing about it. 

This year, a check box was presented to hunters when they bought their hunting licenses. They were asked to support a more concerted effort to manage predators. Very, very few chose to chip in. 

In the Heppner unit, for a good example, a few cougars were removed by government agents to better control the cat’s sharply increasing population. In just a couple of years, the elk population doubled and the hunting element enjoyed the fruits of that effort. Like all wildlife since man took over the continent, predators need to be managed so they don’t wreak too much havoc on both the wild and our domestic herds and flocks. Many cry about the soaring predator numbers, but given the chance, do nothing about it.

Stolen opportunity 

And if you’re still wondering why you didn’t get a deer tag on the lottery draw and your freezer is void of venison, your neighbor may have stolen that opportunity from you. Considering the Central Oregon deer study and relating it to the entire state, the guy down the road either poached the animal outright or stole your hunting opportunity in a more subtle way. He may have purchased a tag for a non-hunting family member and took two animals instead of his allotted one. He not only cheated you and the system, but he chose to risk that other person’s reputation by asking them to break the law. That additional animal could have been yours or your child’s and landed on your dinner plate instead of the game hog’s. Many hunters hear of these infractions, but look the other way. And there’s so many other ways that cheaters are wreaking havoc on your interests.

Today, we have cell phones, camera phones and a well-organized law enforcement system. A huge number of potential deputies (hunters with eyes and ears) lurk the woods every autumn and can be very useful in the war on game crime. Whistle blowers can even receive a sizable reward for turning in these violators.

In closing, there are many organizations in the state that are striving to better manage predator populations, enhance wildlife habitat, crack down on hunting violators and keep hunting alive in the legislature. But, even in a state with so many hunting resources, hunters only make up 8 percent of the population. Out of that 8 percent a small fraction actually support their recreation. The others don’t join forces to improve their standing in the courts; they don’t show up to help with wildlife projects and they look the other way when slobs are stealing their resources. And anti-hunters just get a big gleam in their eyes when they crunch those numbers.


Jim Ward is president of the Union/Wallowa County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.