Program Notes
May 18, 2011
Dr. Allan Houston

Question 1 – Hunting is changing, isn’t it? What do you see as being the biggest change in the past 25 years?

Answer ( in part ) – It has been moving toward lease arrangements and what might be called Natural Resource Enterprising – Times are largely gone when asking and your Dad’s good name could get you onto just about any property in the county.

But one of the biggest changes is perhaps an increasing focus on big deer.

Question 2 – From the landowner’s perspective, what does this mean? Are there negative factors?

Answer (in part) – Certainly the ability to extract income from hunting access is very important, important to help forests be working forests and earn their keep. And the scientific principles of QDM when applied correctly can manage a deer herd very well. Also, State Wildlife Agencies do an outstanding job of managing the resource, I can speak for TWRA’s efforts as being very well done – but –

Market forces will mean that there will be attempts to improve hunting. Some are quite good and some just fun – QDM is a good thing and manages total herd, and there are all manner of food plot strategies and hunting gizmos.

But there is also an increasing focus on making bucks bigger – and then how to get at them – it is a form of trophyism and at the end of things I think that experience is found with fenced populations.

The true trophy hunter is not about what he shoots; it is much more about what he does not shoot – what he passes up.

Fenced hunting and the focus on big bucks probably will become more prevalent – and there is money to be had in what is called deer farming - but like any increased economic benefit – there is perhaps the risk of losing some basic element that makes hunting so enticing in the first place.

It can be an irresistible ground, essentially a vacuum that will suck us in.

We are moving toward elements of risk and benefit that have not been rigorously explored. Perhaps the end of spectrum is high fencing operations where deer are essentially farmed and genetic manipulations to create bucks with outrageous, essentially unnatural antlers.

The question becomes: does hunting always get better as it gets easier and bigger?

Question 3 – What could be lost – I guess I’m asking what is at risk?

Answer (in part) – Well, if hunting becomes less enticing a question becomes will forests be at risk because and income stream dries up?

Will wildlife populations be at risk because there is a lessening of control.

We’re losing our hunting population – there are fewer hunters all along.

Question 4 – What has happened? Why are there fewer hunters?

Answer (in part) – I am not entirely clear on why there are fewer hunters. Demographics has something to do with it. We are no longer a rural society and kids play indoors. You can hunt anything with a video game.

But, and this is more-so philosophic, it seems to me that any cheapening of the experience, any creeping insistence that hunting’s reasonable expectation of success can be improved by some sort of guarantee becomes a depreciated currency and that is just about as unattractive as shooting a cow always has been. It will, I think, be less esteemed by potential hunters and criticized by non-hunters.

Question 5 – So, how do we keep it alive – how does the average landowner – or hunter – keep these values alive?

Answer (in part) – Well, a deer stand exists really does exist in the global forest market place. For the landowner a buck is sort of a pixel, in the charts and graphs that predict the world’s wealth and the sustainability of the southern forest.

But it will be tough to cash in without making it ugly.

Partly it will be the hunting community that will need to look very closely at their sport and act as guardians. I believe we need to preserve the values of woodsmanship that make hunting so fascinating in the first place. A boxstand is a fine place to be, but it is not the only place to be - tracks and wind and stealth –deer sign- are things that kids really get involved with. Squirrels and rabbits and all of the initiations that go with hunting need to be preserved. It may be a mistake for the child’s first hunting experience to be a deer at 100 yards. Or better said, it is almost certainly a mistake for it to be his only experience.

Deer hunters need to be very alert to how far is far enough in the pursuit of big deer – or the idea of big deer. Because big will be replaced with bigger and bigger still until the mystery is gone and biology say that’s enough.

Question 6 - Anything else that might be lost?

Answer (in part) – Very old values.

When I was kid there were some old men in my life that I respected. This came about because of hunting. The reason was because the youngest and the oldest were on the playing field at the same time. We spoke a very old language and one that as a kid I very much wanted to learn. It was the language of woodsmanship. These old men were vastly missed when they passed away and it became very important for me to share those things with my son. He is chief resident at Johns Hopkins and that is a far piece from Ames Plantation, but I attribute part of that success to the values that he learned from his Grandfather and his dad while in the woods and we learned these things from even older guys.

It seems strange in the world we live in today where young folks do violent things with guns – but those that are taught early and very seriously about hunting and gun safety rarely do these things.

I feel very strongly about those values – I do not want to ever lose them. It is very –very- important and we need to think on keeping them alive.