If we want to keep enjoying incredible hunting seasons like the one we just had, it’s on us to keep doing the work that allows deer populations and their local landscapes to flourish. Our predecessors have done this work for decades and it’s gotten us to where we are now—what many consider the golden age of whitetail hunting. Now it’s our turn.
More work? Yes, I know that’s not what you want to hear after several long months of hard hunting. But you and I both know it’s worth the long hours in the tree and our efforts in the off-season to preserve that opportunity. So here are three ways you can help keep the good times rolling and ensure the future of deer and deer hunting for decades to come.
Be an Advocate First and foremost, we whitetail hunters can do some real good by using our voices in service of deer and deer habitat. There are a myriad issues up for debate each off-season that can impact these resources, from state regulations to national bills. If hunters don’t speak out in defense of what’s best for wildlife and hunting, it’s likely no one else will.
“Spend time keeping up with the issues and take advantage of opportunities to voice your opinion,” National Deer Association CEO Nick Pinizzotto said. “Groups like the NDA provide regular updates on important policy matters and provide a tool that allows people to send letters to their representatives with a few clicks of a mouse.”
Two issues of particular importance right now, according to Pinizzotto, are the National Grasslands Conservation Act and the CWD Research and Management Act.
The NGCA would help kickstart and fund voluntary grassland restoration efforts across the country, an ecosystem in serious decline over recent years. The CWDRMA would secure badly needed funding for further research on Chronic Wasting Disease monitoring and management. You can learn more about each and access an easy-to-submit form to send your comments to legislators at the links below:
Create Food, Don’t Dump It If you own or lease land, you’re in a unique position to make a positive difference for deer conservation right in your own neck of the woods. Make sure to take advantage of that.
When arctic conditions roll in during the winter, it’s tempting to think that putting out feed in the form of corn or hay would be beneficial. But this is not as good an idea as it sounds. “What most don’t understand is that deer are well-equipped to handle even the harshest winters as they function quite well on a limited diet,” Pinizzotto said. “Artificially feeding deer typically does more harm than good in wild populations.”
Rather than pouring out a bucket of corn, Pinizzotto recommends conducting a timber stand improvement project in which mature timber is either selectively thinned or strategically cut. In the short term this puts treetops on the ground, providing new browse and cover at deer level during the winter months. And in the long term allows more sunlight to reach the understory which results in new plant growth, more diverse food sources, and better cover for whitetails and all manner of other species.
Volunteer Your Time and Sweat If you don’t own private land, there are still ways you can make an on-the-ground difference, as many conservation organizations and state wildlife agencies need volunteers to improve and maintain public lands. “It’s likely you live near a local chapter of a national conservation organization that’s doing work for deer, and they’re always looking for help,” Pinizzotto said.
You can connect locally, for example, by seeking out the nearest branch of the National Deer Association and volunteering at their next event.
Alternatively, here in my home state of Michigan, and across many other parts of the country, the Department of Natural Resources posts numerous volunteer habitat improvement opportunities. In January 2021 alone, there were 13 projects posted by the Michigan DNR in need of volunteers to work on everything from grassland restoration to invasive species removal.
Whether you send an email to a senator, cut some trees in the backyard, or pull invasive weeds at a state park, I can guarantee you one thing: You’ll have made a difference and the next generation of deer hunters will have you to thank for the good times I hope they will have.
Feature image via Captured Creative.