The Idles of March

I know for a fact that Pope Gregory XIII was not an outdoorsman. No way. If so, when he developed the Gregorian Calendar we use in the western world today he would have taken out the month of March. Because from a sportsmen’s perspective there is not much of value to the month.

In most states the regular hunting season ends with the last day of February. I guess there is some conservation snow goose hunting to be had, but that usually entails travel and money. Not only that, it doesn’t consume the entire month. That leaves a lot of down time.

There are some fishing opportunities out there. Depending on your location some trout streams are open. In our state of North Carolina the Hatchery Supported streams are closed in March for restocking prior to the big opening weekend in April. Delayed Harvest and Wild Trout waters will have to suffice. But March weather is so fickle it’s hard to make plans for a day on the stream. Crappie won’t hit the beds until early April either.

So from our perspective, I call it the Idles of March. We are just marking time until other opportunities open up in April. It’s a time to tinker. Every year I tell myself to clean up the hunting gear and get it stored. It doesn’t work. How do I know? Because next season I’ll find a pack of cheese crackers in the dove vest left over from last September’s opener.

Oh, I sort through the hunting gear. Not so much to clean and store it but to relive the memories of the past season.I’ll idle some time away putting away the goose decoys thinking about the last goose of the season. It was an odd setup in a cow pasture along a flight path in hopes of getting some geese close enough for a passing shot. I was in a hide at a nearby fence line. My back was turned to the decoys after hearing some geese toward the east. When I turned back a flight of about ten were feet down, wings cupped, landing by the decoy spread. Not a honk or peep out of them.

After that I’ll run my hands through the pockets of my upland vest just to get the leaves and stick out of it. The random grouse or woodcock feather will remind me of a Gordon Setter pointing a woodcock in a stream bed in the central part of the state and Bob’s first limit on the little doodles. Or Ben locked down on a mountain trail as a grouse erupts and my shot miraculously connects.

But that is the past. It’s time to think about the future. I’ll get out the fly-fishing gear and check for the correct assortment of flies. Not that it matters given my casting skills. The correct size and number of leaders will be checked. Maybe this is the year to drag out Uncle Bob’s old Wright & McGill fly rod and give it a try.

All those dove and grouse I missed last year? Well the answer to that is more time at the sporting clays range. March is a good month to idle some time away at the range before my time is consumed with turkey hunting and trout fishing.

So March may not be so idle. It is a month to both reflect on the past season and prepare for the fast approaching new ones. There are things to do. I can’t be idle.

Why We Are Able to Hunt – Part 2

Last week we looked at the basis for the North American Model and its first two principles – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust and Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife. Let’s look at the remaining five principles to get an overall picture of how the model works. Each of the remaining principles is just as critical to model success as the first two. Especially number seven.

Principle 3 says wildlife management is governed by the Democratic Rule of Law. Have you ever attended a state DNR or Wildlife Commission public meetings on new game regulations? That is what this is all about. Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has input into the systems of wildlife conservation and use. Season and bag limits for migratory game are set at the federal level through public input. State legislatures typically have a Wildlife Committee that establishes game laws. And you as hunters and anglers have the opportunity to speak your peace about how those game laws are enacted.

Principle 4 tells us there are Hunting Opportunities for All. Every citizen should have an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish. This is there to insure we do not adopt the European model of hunting mostly for the privileged wealthy. Notice two things. First, “under the law” means not only do you have to obey game laws but others as well. If you are a convicted felon you cannot be in possession of a firearm. That pretty much limits you to muzzleloaders and archery equipment. Also if you violate game laws you may have your license revoked. The second part is “opportunity”. We must always remember that hunting and fishing are privileges, not rights. They can be restricted or removed.

Principle 5 says there will be no Non-Frivolous Use of wildlife. Basically this means you use what you take. This is there to prohibit strictly trophy hunting; killing an animal for its trophy status and leaving the carcass in the field is the best example of this. Yes, there are hunters that go on trophy hunts. But they also pack out the meat and personally consume it or in many cases the meat is donated to food pantries for those in need. Doing otherwise can result in fines or license suspension/revocation. An older example of this mentioned in last week’s column is the market hunters in the late 1800’s that killed buffalo just for their hides and left the carcasses in the field.

Principle 6, Wildlife are International Resources. Let me state the obvious: animals cannot read signs saying “Entering the United States”. Elk in the northern Rocky Mountains freely cross over the border between Canada and the United States. The best example though is migratory waterfowl. Many of the ducks and geese hunters harvest in Arkansas rice fields or Mississippi flooded timber started their journey in the open plains of Canada. For the model to work we had to have cooperation between both countries. Due to market hunting, waterfowl populations were at a near extinction point in 1900. That is why this provision is in the model.

Last of the seven principles is Scientific Management of wildlife. In my humble opinion, this should have been in the top three. Why? Because of the seven principles, this is the one we have most violated; particularly in the last couple of decades. Governments and non-profit conservation groups, mostly made up of hunters, have spent millions of dollars studying wildlife habitat and their needs. The scientific evidence is established. However, in the last twenty or so years emotion has ruled over science. Examples are replete. Let me share one.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service started the re-introduction of gray wolves into the Upper Midwest about 20 years ago. As with any species, the herd grew and reached a maximum carrying capacity about eight years ago. They tried to establish limited hunting and trapping opportunities through a permit system to maintain balance. Animal rights groups have taken legal action to stop it. Now moose and deer populations are declining in the region because the wolf population exceeds capacity. Bear hunters are losing dogs to wolf attacks. Science should determine game seasons and limits; not emotion.

Let me close with a quote from the man who brought the Model to conclusion, President Teddy Roosevelt. It sums it up in one sentence: “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will”. Hunters and anglers, we must take that responsibility seriously.

Why We Are Able to Hunt

This quote from President Roosevelt expresses the purpose of the North American Model

 

Talking with fellow hunters I’m continually amazed by the lack of knowledge about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. Huh? Yea, you’re not alone. You don’t know it, but everything you do in the outdoors as a hunter or angler is guided by the 7 principles of the model. Or at least should be (more on that later). Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the Model, what it means to sportsmen, and why our understanding of it is important.

Seeing the depletion of wildlife resources due to market demand in the late 1800’s, a group of sportsmen led by President Teddy Roosevelt decided something had to be done before many species became extinct. Because many of these species like waterfowl were migratory and crossed international borders, it had to be done in a joint effort with Canada. This effort became the Model in 1910. The Seven Principles are:

  1. Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust
  2. Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife
  3. Democratic Rule of Law
  4. Hunting Opportunity for All
  5. Non-Frivolous Use
  6. International Resources
  7. Scientific Management

Let’s start with Principle #1 – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust. This means that natural resources and wildlife are managed by government agencies and owned by no individual to the benefit of present and future generations. The Model has been in existence so long this, the foundational principle, just seems to be second nature to most hunters. It wasn’t so in our predominantly European heritage.

In Europe at the time, and some traditions continue today, wild game belonged to the property owner. We’ve all heard the stories of European landed gentry having trouble with the laboring class (serfs) stealing game off their land. Isn’t that where Robin Hood’s Merry Band got its start? The ghilly suit used by modern snipers? It was developed by game keepers in Great Britain to hide and catch poachers!

Due to our expansive lands and diversity of wildlife populations, public trust of wildlife was the only way to protect all species and manage them for the future of hunting. You must also remember this was the time National Forests and Parks were established by President Roosevelt. With a mixture of both government and private lands, wildlife management responsibility had to be put in public versus private hands to ensure continuity across the continent. Again, based on our European heritage and the standard throughout the world, public trust of wildlife was an unheard of concept at the time. This is why wildlife enforcement activity applies to private as well as public land in the country today.

The second principle, Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife, is tied to the first. I learned the difference when hunting in Europe while in the Army. Even to this day in Germany wild game belongs to the landowner. If you kill an animal, for me chamois and reh deer, the landowner keeps the meat and sells it to local restaurants. That is unheard of (and is illegal) here in the United States. This was developed to stop market hunting. We’ve all heard the stories of market hunters decimating buffalo herds in the west just for their hides. Another problem at the turn of the century was waterfowl market hunters. They would shoot hundreds of ducks, barrel them up, and ship them to market to be sold in restaurants. This had to be done to stop the depletion of wildlife resources.

These two principles, and the reason they are the first two, are primarily responsible for the bountiful game populations we have today. Here are some numbers to support it. At the turn of the 20th century when the Model was developed there were only 500 thousand whitetail deer in the United States. Today that number exceeds 32 million. At that same time there were an estimated 100 thousand wild turkeys. Now their population exceeds 7 million. Ducks and geese were nearly non-existent and their numbers now exceed 44 million.

Yes there are other factors that affect those numbers. The Pittman-Roberson Act comes to mind. But if our forefathers did not have the vision to establish the North American Model over 100 years ago all of that would be for naught. Next week we will look at the remaining principles to show how they work in concert.