Hunting is often portrayed as a cruel sport that decimates deer populations across the US. In reality, the opposite is true. Hunters are one of the biggest contributors to wildlife preservation in the US, and hunting helps deer herds survive. With fewer hunters, deer populations are left unculled. Outbreaks of chronic wasting disease (CWD) or zombie deer disease are becoming more common. This threatens the survival of entire herds.
The number of hunters has been declining since the 1990s. Wildlife protection agencies across the US used to rely on local hunters for 90 percent of their funding. Today, contributions from local hunters account for only 60 to 75 percent of the wildlife protection funding. Even so, hunters contribute more than $1 billion to conservation efforts every year through hunting license fees and firearm and hunting equipment sales. But the money is not enough.
The National Wildlife Federation laments the amount of funding, saying it provides a paltry 5 percent of what’s necessary to do their work properly. Wildlife conservation agencies have been forced to cut personnel and limit the scope of their services. There are fewer field surveyors and game wardens. Large tracts of forest, wetlands, and waterways are left unmanaged, often to the detriment of their inhabitants.
The disastrous effects of the decreasing number of hunters can be seen clearest among deer populations. As deer get older, they are more prone to infection. Without hunters, the weaker deer are left in the herd, leading to CWD or zombie deer disease. CWD is a devastating disease, both for the infected deer and its herd. It is highly contagious, and the infected deer can waste away for months before succumbing to the disease.
Trying Your Hand
New hunters are always welcome in most states. In Utah, you can take your first steps in hunting through a hunter’s education course or the trial program. The hunter’s course will cover firearm safety, hunting ethics, and responsible hunting. The entire course can take three to six hours to finish, and fees are around $30. The trial program is less stringent, but it requires supervision from an experienced hunter.
You’ll still need to complete an orientation course in person or online. You’ll need the usual hunting license for deer and elk. Hunting bears and cougars are usually reserved for more experienced hunters, but you can opt to purchase a license if you are hunting with an experienced group. If big game isn’t your thing, you can also hunt cranes, grouse, and turkeys.
Gearing Up for the Hunt
Hunting is all about the equipment. Go for a firearm if you want efficiency and quick kills. You’ll need a modicum of knowledge to keep yourself and the hunters around you safe. So make sure to drill the various gun safety protocols firmly in your head. If you prefer a more subtle and skilled approach, opt for a crossbow or compound bow.
Hunting season starts early for bowhunters, but you’ll be missing a lot of your shots if you don’t allot a few days of training before your hunt. You’ll also need the proper gear to blend in the woods and keep yourself comfortable. Layer up and make sure your jacket and pants are somewhat waterproof. There will be a lot of walking, so make sure to get proper socks and boots.
Bugs are everywhere in the woods, and some mosquitoes can bite through denim. Bring bug spray or insect repellents; make sure they are not overly scented. Bring your phone or a compass if you want to rough it. If you want to take your kill home, make sure your truck has the appropriate bed liners because things can get messy.
Starting Kids Early
Children as young as 12 can go hunting in Utah. Kids usually start with grouse and turkey, but there’s no reason they can’t go for deer or elk if they have the skills to do so. Note that children are children. You’ll need to be responsible for their safety and keep an eye out at all times.
The usual hunting gear might be too big or heavy for your kids, but you can always opt for junior versions that you can find in the larger hunting shops. Make the trip fun for your kids, and bring snacks if you have to. Be free with your praises and encouragement, and let the trip be a memorable bonding moment.
Deer populations are in peril, and hunters are the only ones that can save them. Do your part by taking up the sport and starting your kids early.