If you want to see healthy populations of wildlife, then you’ll need to recognize and support hunting. It’s not just for sport, hunting helps manage wildlife populations, support our economy, funds conservation, promotes healthy living, provides food and increases land values.
A Management Tool to Benefit Wildlife Populations
In 1995, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park. The ecological impacts were absolutely astounding. Elk numbers were so high prior to the wolf reintroduction that valleys were overgrazed and browse lines were prominent in the forests. With just a few wolves released into the park, biologists starting seeing what they call a trophic cascade. By adding the top predator back to this ecosystem, wildlife populations, vegetation, and even geology were positively impacted.
The elk numbers were stabilized at a healthy level allowing vegetation to grow back. Beavers increased in numbers, which provided more dams and created a new habitat for amphibians and waterfowl. Songbird populations flourished as new vegetation filled in the browse lines providing nesting areas. The wolves killed coyotes allowing rodent populations to grow and increase the numbers of hawks and foxes. Incredibly, the rivers became more channeled as there was more plant life securing their banks, preventing erosion and flooding (Beschta 2012).
All ecosystems have a top predator that helps control the overabundance of prey species. When that top predator is removed, there will be negative impacts. Across, much of the Midwest there are no longer large predators, where bear and wolves once roamed. In order to maintain a healthy ecosystem, we need to control some wildlife populations that if allowed to exceed their carrying capacity destroy an ecosystem. State agencies have established a new predator; hunters. Hunting is a management tool, that is implemented to make sure balance is in place. Without hunting white-tailed deer populations quickly explode to levels that harm the ecosystems they live in.
For many years, no hunting was allowed in Indiana’s state parks. By 1993, the Department of Natural Resources had noted the severe damage to vegetation, including prominent browse lines based on scientific vegetation monitoring. Based on their findings the first management hunt was hosted in Brown County State Park. 392 deer were harvested from just one park (Sipes 2019). The ecosystem was finally given a chance to breathe, after years of tremendous stress from overabundant deer populations. Without these hunts there would be an incredible loss of vegetation, potentially losing some rare, endangered plant species. With the increased vegetation, some parks saw songbird and small mammal populations they hadn’t seen in years.
A well-balanced deer herd not only means a healthier ecosystem but healthier deer. The Quality Deer Management Association commonly uses the Kidney Fat Index (KFI) in which they trim and weight the amount of kidney fat on harvested whitetails. The more kidney fat on an animal the healthier that animal is. In overpopulated whitetail areas it is not uncommon to find individuals with trace amounts or no kidney fat at all. These are individuals that would be perish in harsh winter conditions as they simply do not have enough body fat to survive (Adams 2008). Hunting is a management tool that agencies closely monitor and make very specific recommendations based on scientific methods for promoting the correct quantity and quality of game species.
Economic Impact and Conservation Funding
Each year the 13.7 million hunters in our country spend over $38 billion on hunting related expenses (Arnett and Southwick 2015). These dollars create businesses and jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans to support their families. The economic engine that hunters have created, generates opportunities in manufacturing, sales, food, tourism, and services.
In addition to the money hunters spend, they are also the largest financial supporters of conservation groups that buy and manage land for wildlife. Hunters pay almost $800 million a year through state licenses and fees to support conservation programs while they donate another $400 million to these conservation efforts (RMEF 2017). If there were no hunters, many of the state and federal lands available to the public would not exist.
Hunters are healthy. While not all hunting opportunities require the same amount of exercise, each hunting activity certainly requires some level of physical fitness. Whether you’re climbing the Rocky Mountains in search of Dall sheep, canoeing to a duck blind, or hanging tree stands for deer season, all hunting related activities are good opportunities for folks to get outdoors, breathe fresh air and use their muscles.
For many hunters, their pursuits are not just a one-time event or even just a certain season. Hunting can be a lifestyle. While the hunt itself may only be in a particular part of the year, there is always something to do. A passionate deer hunter might be walking up and down ridges in February and March looking for shed antlers, planting food plots in the spring and fall, going on summertime scouting missions trying to film the animal they have their eyes set on, planting trees, cutting shooting lanes, constantly checking trail cameras, and the list goes on and on. All of these activities allow an individual to keep a fit lifestyle.
In addition to the physical health benefits there are also mental health benefits. Many hunters feel that their time in the outdoors is therapeutic. Spending quality time alone or with friends chasing game can be very enjoyable and sometimes challenging. Hunters are often relaxed by their pursuits.
Although hunting can be very relaxing, it also has its exciting moments, the thrill of the chase! Harvesting an animal, or simply encountering a target buck can send a surge of energy through your blood. Increased levels of adrenaline, signal your liver to break down glycogen, which fuels your muscles with glucose. The hunting lifestyle can certainly drive a person to be a healthier individual both physically and mentally.
There is now a demand for more organic options than ever before. Hunting certainly provides healthy options for those wanting meat without artificial growth hormones or antibiotics. Meat from deer, or venison, is much leaner than beef and contains less saturated fat and cholesterol. Venison is rich in conjugated linoleic acid which improves heart function. It is also loaded with B vitamins and iron which your body uses for converting food into energy. High-iron food sources are particularly important for active lifestyles and can help during pregnancy.
Venison contains all 10 of the essential amino acids, which qualifies this meat as a complete protein. Venison is simply a powerhouse of nutrients that supports healthy living in a way that farm-raised, processed meats at the grocery store cannot (Devenyns 2017).
Increasing Land Values
In the past decade the term “recreational ground” has been used more and more often within real estate. As the number of hunters and outdoorsman has increased, the demand for places to pursue their activities has also increased. There are only so many hunting properties in a given county. Places that bowhunters could readily find properties to hunt 30 years ago, are now swarming with eager hunters. Websites now specifically connecting landowners and outdoorsman with opportunities to lease their ground for hunting permission. Land that once was “junk ground” because it was not farmable or lacked timber value has lots of value to the passionate outdoorsman.
United Country’s, Nathan Lee explained this phenomenon recently to a landowner with a 77-acre abandoned cattle pasture. The landowner felt that his property did not hold a lot of value, but Nathan saw it for the diamond in the rough that it was. Within a couple years of Nathan getting access to this property, he created access roads, established food plots and ran trail cameras to gain history with the bucks utilizing the property. All of these steps provide value and create attraction from buyers looking for a property to chase their whitetail dreams. Suddenly an abandoned cattle pasture that may have brought $2,500/acre is valued at $3,500/acre or more.
When an interested buyer can see the past success of hunters on a particular farm and recognize the caliber of bucks that are available to hunt when they purchase the property it brings real value to a farm. It is not uncommon for a particularly large buck to immediately increase the value of a property. If a 200-inch whitetail, a buck of this size is particularly rare, is shown to be living on a certain farm that is up for sale, the amount of interested buyers and value is sure to increase. Just because your property may not hold value for a farmer or a lumberjack doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold value to the hunter. Hunting has certainly increased land values across the Midwest.