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Early Season Success

Adam's MD 4pt 2014

Adam’s MD 4pt 2014

The DEER30 Outdoors team just completed our annual trip to Maryland and returned with meat in the coolers and some bone for the wall.  Congratulations to Kevin for sticking a big mature doe and Adam for taking the widest 4pt we have ever seen.  A big “Thank You” to the land owners who open their gates to us each season and to my folks for their amazing hospitality.  Great food, good music from Daniel and Kevin, lots of deer, big bucks, and cool weather made this year’s trip the best we have had yet!

 

Kevin's 2014 MD Doe

Kevin’s 2014 MD Doe

 

Colorado Bull Comes East

Congratulations to Mike Bennett of Maryland on bagging this nice Colorado bull!  This bull was taken mid September of 2014 with his iron-sighted muzzleloader!

Mike Bennett 5x5 Bull Elk

Mike Bennett 5×5 Bull Elk

Selling Venison is Illegal?

P240-316-256-470-12h-004-09-0360-1080-0359-1079Its true!  Thanks to laws created over a century ago, it is illegal for you and I to sell meat from any game animal which we legally harvested.  The reasoning behind this was to end the slaughter of game species by market and unregulated “subsistence hunting” which nearly eliminated North America’s wild game populations.  It sounds like a perfectly sound and reasonable act and in fact it has lead to the rebound of most of the country’s game species including our beloved white-tailed deer.  But here we are, 100 years later, and we need to be asking ourselves if this law is still as necessary today as it was then.  I recently read an article in Whitetail Journal’s August 2014 issue that spoke directly to this point.  Patrick Durkin’s article “Should you be allowed to sell your venison?” is well worth the read and provides views from both sides of the fence.

After having read the article, I could not resist throwing my opinion out there, and yes I have heard the old saying about how “opinions are like_____.  Everyone has one and they all_____.”  You can fill in the blanks.  But this topic hits close to home as I love to cook and have often wondered why you don’t see “wild game,” not the farm raised versions, on the menus of more restaurants especially with the whole “organic” movement gaining momentum.  Until I read Mr. Durkin’s article, I just assumed it was due to the excessive red tape that was probably involved with health inspections and regulatory agency paperwork.  I also have entertained the idea of one day operating a game processing shop for local hunters and selling excess cuts to non-hunters.  I guess its a good thing I never pursued this as it would not have gone over well with local DNR’s.

For me, the prospect of selling venison must first be broken up into two categories.  The first would be the commercial operations that would no doubt spring up to take advantage of this newly available cash cow.  This group is the one that scares the hell out of me.  My glass is half empty side says it will be abused by profiteering capitolists who care nothing for environment, the deer, or the thousands of hunters who take to the woods each season for sport and their own needs of putting meat on the table.   The existence of such enterprises would create an unimaginable burden on the local regulatory agencies for determining an entirely new system for control.  I would guess that commercial operations would be required to purchase tags for harvest the same as the recreational hunter.  Do you take tags away from the recreational hunter to provide for the number of tags commercial hunters will desire? As the market increases, are more tags taken and given?  Are only certain areas designated for commercial harvesting and if so, how long before those areas are expanded?

I have no illusion that the white-tailed deer is incredibly adaptive and its populations need to be controlled.  I have seen first hand bucks and does standing in peoples yards, flower beds and even on their front porches.  Virginia’s urban archery season is something that the DEER30 Outdoors team looks forward to each fall.  It opens up properties we otherwise would not be able to hunt, opportunities for some huge bucks, and it extends the time we can spend in the tree stand.  Hired guns (snipers) are occasionally brought in to some suburbs in the country to selectively reduce animal numbers.  Some localities have tried capture and relocation and other groups push for a Bob Barker approach, have your deer spayed or neutered.  In reality, these programs are logistical nightmares, cost prohibitive, and ultimately have proven ineffective.  Meanwhile, the bowhunter sits back and waits for a knock at the door from localities opening urban archery seasons where numbers may be reduced by harvesting and the added pressure on the deer from the newly perceived threat causing them to relocate.  A knock on the door that too often never comes as anti-hunting sentiments are usually higher in more urban/suburban locations.

This brings me to my second category, the individual sportsman.  I believe any legalized sale of venison has a chance to be productive in reducing over populated herds without undoing the legacy of this sport when its implemented by individuals.  However, according to Mr. Durkin’s article, “few incentives [programs encouraging hunters to harvest additional animals] reduce herds.”  He gives some statistics from Wisconsin in 2007 where 63% of the hunters who harvest a deer, harvested only one deer despite all the incentives implemented by regulatory agencies.  I was shocked!  Maryland has many of these same incentives in place.  For example, in Region B (where I hunt) any given hunter may harvest 10 does with a muzzleloader, 10 does with a firearm, and unlimited does with a bow.  A single buck may also be taken during each of those seasons and a bonus buck tag may be purchased once two antlerless deer have been harvested.  These liberal bag limits have helped keep the venison on my table year round, saving my family thousands of dollars at the grocery store.

Deer Steaks

I do not know the statistics for numbers of deer harvested per hunter in Maryland, but if it is anything similar to Wisconsin, I am in the minority.  My goal each season is to take as many deer as necessary to achieve a total yield equal to around 300+lbs of meat.  This is the magic number that I have discovered over the years will last my wife, son, and I from one deer season to the next.  I am always willing to share may harvest with friends, family, and of course make an annual payment to the land owners who so graciously grant permission to hunt.  So the opportunity to harvest high numbers pushes me to hunt as often as possible.  Not that I really need a push to do something that I live for anyway.

Obviously my seasons do not always go as planned.  I may only harvest 2 or three deer in a season, maybe less.  In this economy, I would personally rejoice in the opportunity to sell any excess venison that may result from a bumper harvest.  The costs of hunting can be significant and a few extra bucks could go a long way.  However, I see no need to change the current tag system.  State regulatory agencies should continue to set bag limits as needed per region, zone, county, or other determined area and the recreational hunter would be free to spend the tags he/she is given per those regulations.  Organizations where meat may be donated are currently well deserving outlets for excess protein rich venison, but shouldn’t hunters who already spend significant amounts of money on licenses, travel, and equipment also have the opportunity and the freedom to recupe some of those costs by selling the fruits of their labor?

Matt Knox (VGIF) is quoted in the article for saying “It’s not as simple as hunters selling venison from their trucks at farmer’s markets.”  But I believe it could be.  Suppose as part of the required state hunting licensure, any hunter wishing to sell meats from harvested animals must show proof of having satisfied an educational course involving instruction on safe handling, processing, and storing of game meat.  Any meat being sold may be subject to inspection by state agencies, and a disclaimer could be required to be printed on all packaging informing the buyer that it was locally harvested wild game.  This would open so many more doors for vendors like the roadside BBQ joints who could add backstraps to the pit and restaurants where the social acceptance of wild game could grow.  Perhaps a patron orders a entre of venison for the first time, enjoys it, and decides to give hunting a try.

Here is where I reign myself in a bit.  So far, the only consideration has been a strictly payment for goods approach.  I have “X” amount of meat, I only need “Y,” so I want to be able to sell “Z.”  But when deer start walking around with dollar signs on their heads instead of antlers, do we risk losing the decades of quality deer management practices that has helped to build the hunting industry as we know it today?  I think we do.  Greed is a temptation that we all are capable of succumbing to and therefore we can not be trusted.  Why pass on that young buck when it could bring $50, $100, etc.?  Virginia has a much more strict bag limit of 2 bucks for the year (again in the area I hunt).  With such a limitation, it forces the trophy hunter side of me and in many others, to be more patient and willing to pass on younger bucks in hopes of notching a tag on a mature deer.  How many of us will maintain that level of discipline when those deer start to be seen as money walking away rather than the next generation of “shooters?”  Just like any law, greedy hunters will find loopholes and circumvent the system.  Poaching is an issue today let alone once monetary values are added into the mix.  Can we expect an increase in enforcement personnel to curtail this abuse?  Not likely.

The potential for good resulting from the sale of venison is undeniably present.  It is said that “money makes the world go round” and it just may be the incentive missing from list that would prove effective at reducing deer populations where herds have exceeded the carrying capacities of the area.  Maybe it would put a few bucks in the pockets of responsible sportsmen who would continue to carry on the tradition of respecting the animal and the world around it.  Its possible it could even encourage the sport of hunting by making its bounty readily available to those who otherwise would have no means of ever trying a taste thereby generating curiosity and a desire to harvest game for themselves.  But the risk for abuse is around every tree, and every stone.  How can regulatory agencies hope to deal with the logistics of such a task?  And if they don’t, we could lose everything a century worth of hard work and conservation created for us.  Personally, it is tempting for me to say “I should have the right to sell it if I want to.”  In some cases the good of the many out weighs the needs of the few.  I feel the reasons I love hunting so much; spending time with friends and family outdoors, the quiet just before the dawn, closeness to wildlife, matching wits with an elusive animal, heartaches of being so close, the celebrations and delicious meals after it all comes together; are better left without the dollar signs.

Current programs provide hunters with the freedom to harvest enough deer to keep their numbers in check while keeping our freezers full, and giving us outlets for donating surplus meats.  So the solution is already there.  It only fails when its main components (us) fail to fulfill our obligations.  Let’s work together to resolve these issue before throwing money at the problem and hoping that takes care of it.

– Randy