A few thoughts about lions.

Right off the bat, I want to say that I have no interest in hunting big cats. I’ve never done it, and I assume I never will. What I am interested in is the conservation of habitat and animals, and the management techniques that protect both of them.

We had that whole Cecil debacle in July of 2015. Vocal and psychotic anti-hunters caused such a stir they actually accomplished their goal; a bunch of hunters decided not to hunt cats in Zimbabwe.  I’m sure many folks were very pleased with their results. And with their “victory” they created a new problem.

What happpens if a habitat can carry 300 lions and all the animals they need to kill, but you have 500 lions living there? If you don’t let trophy hunters pay to hunt them, you have to pay professional hunters to kill them. That’s right, for Zimbabwe they lost somewhere near ten million dollars of revenue and then they have to start paying people to go kill the same lions that were “saved” by the anti-hunters.

Just in case you think I’m too much of a pro-hunter to be objective, why not read up on the subject over on Nat Geo? There is plenty more information if you would like to conduct your own searches. I particularity enjoyed a piece from PETA suggesting that if we just stop hunting it will sort itself out. Look at all the countries in Africa that stopped hunting and they are the poorest of the lot with rampant poaching. Those are the countries leading the way towards extinction of species and destruction of habitat.

I very much look forward to seeing the management practices of South African land owners next summer and learning about how they establish their quotas when mixed herds live in a habitat with a certain potential to grow food.

The Dogma of “Quality” Deer Management

I must start by saying, I’m a huge fan of QDMA as an organization.

I believe QDMA is the backlash of failed State run game management. Even now, 30 years after the founding of QDMA the state of South Carolina allows hunting for archery and firearms from August 15th until January 1st. Bag limit is one buck per day, except on Sundays unless you are on private land. So if you hunt public land 6 days a week, and can get access to private land on Sundays, you could kill 107 bucks per year per hunter. That is over the counter. You can additionally apply for anterless tags or use generous landowner tags if you know someone.

There was a well earned reason for the backlash! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pick on South Carolina. It is a state that I truly love to hunt. I was shocked to buy a Georgia hunting license and find that it allowed me to kill up to 10 deer, 1 bear, unlimited hogs, and turkeys. While I appreciate their marketing departments zeal in recruiting me as an out of state hunter, what is the herd effect of issuing licenses this way?

What do you do if you can’t change the state regulations, but you see a sick herd? Grassroots says you collect up your neighbors, compare notes, educate one another, and agree to fix your local herd. It’s a situation where “what is right” is more important than “what is legal.”

Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend a bunch of time with a biologist and a landowner going over a property and discussing habitat and management strategies. I found out later the biologist was the founder of QDMA, and the landowner was the first president of QDMA. Small world huh?

Here is the first thing I realized about these two, they are very dynamic people. They both look in the micro at any immediate area, and can instantly relate it to a macro level of herd management. They seemed very comfortable looking at 10 or 20 acres, then go straight into the macro issues facing a 3 county area.

The big thing I realized in the next few hours as a fly on the wall, these guys were not set on any “4 points on one side” sort of hard rule. In reality, 4 points on one side probably wouldn’t be a hard push on the property we were on. Instead they were really focused on the overall health of the land and the animals living there. It was a very dynamic discussion.

Dogma. Where I hunted today in Michigan was a non-QDMA tract ajoined to a few QDMA tracts. Several men are very stringent about their 8 point (Eastern count) minimum on any buck killed. I decided to target a button buck or a spike.

“Sacrillege!!!!” you say. I thought about it long and hard, I tried to think of it like a biologist. Here is what I realized:

  1. QDMA is working! There are many bucks 2.5 and 3.5 years old, and maybe even a few older. A few very good looking 8s, 10s, and even a 12 point or two. The mature bucks are in great shape but I don’t see any on camera nearing the end of their natural life. These are breeders that are spreading great genes! We need these bucks alive and rutting as many does as they can!
  2. This county was hit HARD with EHD for two years in a row. Herd die off was estimated at 50% each year. When herds are at 25% of their counts from just a couple years ago, it would be an injustice to kill a doe. They are EHD resistent and proven breeders. I saw one doe with two fawns, and one with triplets. Clearly I couldn’t shoot a fertile doe like that with the herd down the way it is.
  3. Yearling does will be critically important in recovering the herd over the next several years. These are completely off limits to my conscious.
  4. Dry does, you know, the big old horse heads. I would have gladly taken one of these, but it’s hard to know if they are past their mating years, or if they just lost this years young to a car or coyotes. Better to pass on these if not certain (and I’m rarely certain.)
  5. What does that leave? Immature bucks, or not hunting. Sure if a cow horn came by that would be a great cull, but I’ve never seen one in this county. Removing a spike would ensure it didn’t breed a doe, and it would yield a good amount of meat. I’d rather hunt and pass than to not hunt at all. I did have a button buck at 1 yard today, and had a slam dunk shot lined itself up I would have taken it. I’d say the chances of him making it through firearms season is very slim, and I would have liked that tender meat for my freezer. Alas, the shot was never right. I’ll just hold out for a spike or a cow horn in that county.

Clearly there is a difference between meat-harvesting and trophy-hunting, but for the meat hunter it’s important to consider all aspects of the current herd when deciding what animals to pursue. Likewise, I don’t think “4 points on one side” is the end-all answer for trophy hunters. If your land and habitat can lend itself to a much higher quality animal, why not go to a 4.5 year or 5.5 year minimum for trophies? There are a lot of 2.5 year old bucks killed in the name of quality deer management and it has little to do with their potential, their place in the reproductive lifecycle, or their true trophy quality.

If you hunt deer, I ask you to consider the big picture before considering what you will pursue when you go afield. If you are a non-hunter, consider every animal raised in a pen will be killed regardless. I’m very honored to be connected to these herds and to be very selective about what I harvest in each area I hunt.

Philosophy part 1: Why I Hunt

Growing up, I hunted to help feed my family. If we didn’t catch fish or kill game there wasn’t enough money in the budget to buy much meat. There were many more deer and other species of big game animals within the borders of Montana than humans at that time, probably still true in spite of the population explosion of the 1990s and 2000s.

A deer tag was $8 and gas was around a dollar a gallon.  With a lucky trip a family might punch multiple tags on a single tank of gas. Here I am at twelve with a buck that dressed out over 200 pounds with a mature doe behind him.


For $16 in tags plus $12 in gas we collected over 100 pounds of lean healthy all organic meat before noon that day. We also cast most of the bullets we’d shoot and all our fishing sinkers out of lead from the junk yard to cut down on expenses.

I was just thinking back as I’m writting this and I realized that this picture was taken just 3 weeks after the “Black Monday” stock market crash of 1987. Now I remember the big push to fill the freezer with deer and catch as many salmon as allowed to smoke for the winter.  A working class family in a hard economy is the reason I learned how to hunt, but I gave it up.

Some years later I had a career started, and with a little excess money in the paycheck, but no vacation time, it became far easier to buy meat at the store than to forage for it on the hoof. I only hunted one season between 1992 and 2010 because I simply didn’t NEED to. Even as I first became aware of the problems in our food system around 2008, it was easier to buy free ranging organic meat directly from a farmer than to endeavor to harvest wild game. I actually have no problem with this at all. Any consumer of meat who doesn’t hunt should go directly to the farm with the animals and talk to the farmers and look at the animals. If you want to eat meat and are opposed to hunting, this is what you should be doing. For many, many years I ate most vegetables from a CSA share, probably the best way to get organic GMO free vegetables.

Around this time, three things happened. These three things are the reason I chose to hunt.

First, I read Omnivore’s Dilemma. That really got my wheels turning. Next I read All Flesh Is Grass and I started studying integrative medicine and the benefits of wild meat over anything raised in a pen. I was well versed when Food Inc hit the stands in 2009. Getting really educated on the CFO feeding operations and slaughterhouse practices nearly drove me to being a vegan, but that isn’t my path.

Second event,this one a little more whimsical. A chef friend called me to his restaurant to eat some wild boar loin. It was some sort of special deal and they weren’t allowed to sell it or put it on the menu, but they could give it away (intended for management and staff.) I savored every morsel of the finest meat I’d ever eaten. To this day, it’s one of the greatest meals of my life. Many months later I got to enjoy wild boar shanks. I started searching for a way to buy wild hog meat and was crushed to find out that selling that meat was illegal. Realistically, the only way to get the meat was to kill the feral hogs for yourself.

Finally, I got cancer. Given all of my studies in the previous few years, I was quick to understand the link between our industrial food systems and the alarming rate of cancer occurrence in our country. Since I was already a Type 1 Diabetic, I felt that I was already living on borrowed time.

So nearly twenty years after I’d quit hunting out of financial necessity, I chose to start hunting out of moral necessity. In short

  • Concentrated Feedlot Operations are horrible, no animal should endure such a life as commercial meat business has standardized on.
  • I do believe I can kill an animal FAR more humanely than a industrial slaughterhouse.
  • Since I hunt only invasive/feral animals or “Least Concern” animals it means that I’m actually doing an important job in maintaining the balances in the herds of wild animals.
  • I have either personally eaten every pound of meat of every animal I’ve killed, or I have on occasion gifted it to people who wanted to eat it. More on this in an upcoming blog post.

Since I chose to eat meat, this is the most conscious and moral way of doing so that I can imagine. If I can think of a better way I will pursue that. Until that time, I will continue to harvest my own meat and process it myself.

As a final note, I’ve told vegan friends in the past that I admire their consciousness about our food systems and their extraordinary efforts in maintaining a healthy diet without animal protein. I still stand by that 100%. I think I have more in common with them than with anyone who unknowingly walks into a super market and buys ground beef wrapped in plastic.

This post might not be popular among hunting peers, but most of what the hunting media publishes isn’t popular with me.