It has recently come to my attention that a number of people and groups are pushing for Western Wyoming mule deer hunting to change from a general area to limited quota for residents. This change would not benefit hunters state-wide, nor would it benefit the mule deer populations we need to protect.
Below is the letter I wrote the G&F Commission regarding the issue.
I am writing regarding the limited quota tag system that has been proposed for Western Wyoming. I do not support this proposal without substantial biological evidence needed to support such a drastic change.
Some hunters believe that after a hard winter, mule deer “need time to recover”. While the population in this area has dropped after an exceptionally brutal winter, limiting tags is not the answer. Mule deer are the answer. The species has survived Wyoming winters before, and they will do it again. If we really want to give the population a rest and “time to recover”, we must continue to hunt the bucks. This will provide additional space and more quality forage for fawns and does to multiply. Populations do not grow if only the elderly males are protected, as the limited quota advocates would have you believe. If the human race were dying out, we would not put our efforts into protecting all 95 year old men. We would pool our resources and ensure the females have adequate nutrition and are able to proliferate. The same applies to mule deer.
Biological evidence shows that buck to doe ratios as low as 9 bucks per 100 doe still result in very high fawn conception rates (around 97%). I had a conversation with a fellow hunter this week, and he was surprised by this data. He thought that buck numbers would need to be much higher to result in those high conception rates and actually quoted 25 bucks to 100 doe as his idea of “a good ratio”. I firmly believe that a large number of mule deer hunters are similarly unfamiliar with the true data, and like my friend, have made up a number in their head that seems logical, but in fact, is not supported by any biological evidence.
My friend did have a valid point, however. Last winter was brutal. History shows that the number one factor affecting population numbers is weather. Extreme winters and droughts can have a huge effect on mule deer numbers. Ideally, we could predict the upcoming weather and adjust hunt tags accordingly, but that luxury does not exist. Instead, some people would ask that we sacrifice buck tags. Unfortunately, this only leaves more bucks to weather the storm. There are more mouths to feed, and quality forage becomes harder to find for the bucks, but more importantly, for the does and fawns. Then, instead of a population increase, the only increase we see is in the number of winter kills. The good news is this: when the weather is right, mule deer populations can grow rapidly- regardless of buck tag numbers.
Additionally, I believe that the difficult terrain found in the Western Wyoming hunt areas is limiting enough all on its own. Anyone that has hunted these areas can attest to the demanding nature of the hunt, and those that have not hunted the western ranges will likely say that the difficulty level has been a key factor in preventing their hunts from venturing further west. Yes, there are difficult areas in other parts of the state as well, but Western Wyoming is in a league of its own.
Those claiming that a limited quota system will improve hunt quality have seemingly never hunted a limited quota area before. Two years ago, I had the luxury of drawing Area 128 (late season Dubois). With only 50 resident tags allotted, it is often a once in a lifetime hunt. The year I drew, I had a 2% chance of drawing that tag. Now, one might think that with less tags, there would be less people, but that was certainly not the case. I, for one, took three people with me to hunt, and a number of my friends that live in the area went out scouting for me. My one tag alone resulted in six people in the area. I personally know a number of other recipients of this tag, and every one of them has taken a number of friends and family along for the ride. Even if the 50 tag holders only bring three friends each, we now have 200 people out in the field, and that does not even include the non-residents!
In contrast, I have never hunted a general mule deer tag with more than my dad at my side. I have done the scouting with him or on my own. I have hunted on my own, and I have killed a deer all on my own. I would never have dreamed for my dad to miss my 128 adventure, and he wouldn’t have been absent for the world. When a person has to wait extended periods of time- or even a lifetime, to draw a tag, I can guarantee they will take that tag more seriously than they otherwise would have. They will hunt it harder. They will hunt it longer, and they will take an army along with them to do it.
Personally, I am much more satisfied with a general area hunt where I can be alone with my dad and spend the day scouting for the perfect buck. I do not want to see 200 other people in my hunt area every time I go out. I do support public land, and I know how to share, but when tag numbers plummet, and people numbers skyrocket, I do get a bit of a rash. There are a number of serious hunters that live for the challenge of a Western Wyoming mule deer hunt. I do not want to push them out of that area because those same hunters will not relent. You will not save a mule deer’s life by limiting those tags. Those same hunters will join the rest of the state and further crowd the remaining general hunt areas. Just because hunt licenses disappear, it does not mean that hunters do. Limiting tag numbers results in crowded limited tag areas and crowded general hunt areas. This is hardly a cause to celebrate.
In closing, please do not convert the resident mule deer hunt areas to a limited quota system. If, at any point, the biological evidence shows that there is a benefit to limited quota areas, I will be right there supporting it. However, at this time, all evidence points in the opposite direction. Limiting tag numbers does not help mule deer populations. Hunting a Western Wyoming mule deer is a privilege and should not be thrown away without strong science to support that decision. For those concerned with mule deer populations, please take the time to research mule deer habitat, and what we can do to support it. Evidence shows that mule deer will boom in the right habitat- not in a world with imaginary “perfect tag numbers”.
Thank you for your consideration,