The Wildlife Conservation Pathway
Connect, Respect & Protect
Despite the cold temperature, I could still feel the sweat trickle down the sides of my face as I weaved my way through thick willows and knee-deep snow.
Step. Pull. Step. Pull. The rhythm was steady, though I did have to stop every few minutes to catch my breath. Thankfully, it is much easier to slide a deer on snow than it is to drag one over dry ground. Easier on the harvested game animal, and easier on the hunter. Being a young college student didn’t hurt either.
The work was hard, but the challenge was worth it. Our grocery budget was small and harvesting that deer meant there would be meat in the freezer for my wife and two young kids. Many years have since passed, but that moment in time still has a unique place among my memories.
So too does the memory of the first time I heard a bird fly. At the time, I was sitting on a ridge scanning the opposite hillside with binoculars. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of rushing wind. As seconds passed, the sound grew steadily louder, but I couldn’t identify its origins until a bird flew low overhead. As she flew into the distance that sound faded, but it was not to be forgotten.
Though we are not as dependent on hunting for survival as we once were, the hunting tradition continues to provide the average person with an avenue for connecting with wildlife and the natural world in a way that cannot be imitated or duplicated. That connection first occurs when a hunter begins to invest time in learning about habitat needs and animal behavior. And It grows stronger over time and through experience.
As a hunter spends time in the field, he can’t help but learn about and develop respect for all wildlife species, not only those he pursues as a predator. Each one has its own unique needs, behavioral traits and role in the natural community.
Consider the golden eagle, for example. It can be seen throughout the Silver State, and with a wingspan capable of spanning six to seven feet, the golden eagle is one of the largest birds in North America. Though it primarily hunts small animals such as rabbits or squirrels, I have witnessed one of these deceptively agile raptors take down a mule deer.
When our thoughts turn to mule deer, one cannot help but be amazed by their ability to detect the slightest movement or sound. Their large ears, from which they get their name, can be moved independently and are almost like a personal radar system that enables a deer to gather intelligence from all directions. They might be looking in your direction but listening to what is going on behind them.
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about mule deer is their seasonal migrations that take them from lush summer range in the high country to their winter range at lower elevations and back again when the seasons change. This seasonal movement allows them to take advantage of the best forage available at certain times of the year.
A migrating mule deer can move up to 150 miles or more through multiple obstacles both natural and manmade, but there is one well known doe whose annual migration is nearly 250 miles in each direction. Much further than other deer that share the same migration corridor. She is known as Deer 255, and biologists have followed her seasonal movements since 2016 when she was outfitted with a GPS collar.
One cannot help but have respect for that annual accomplishment.
When we gain a respect for something, we tend to protect it. Nowhere is that more evident than in the hunting community. Sportsmen are the original conservationists with a history that stretches back to the turn of the last century, a time when America’s wildlife populations were struggling.
“There were few laws protecting fish and wildlife, and our wildlife resources took a heavy blow. Some species, like the passenger pigeon, were taken to the point of no return; others such as bison, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, were pushed to the edge of extinction,” wrote Brent Lawrence of the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service.
Leaders in the hunting and angling community responded by pushing for the creation of laws to protect wildlife and their habitat and promoted the idea that the wildlife resource to everyone and not only the privileged few. They knew then that the only way to ensure that future generations could enjoy wildlife was to protect it through conservation.
President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter-conservationist, said, “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”