How Much Is Enough?

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(Caption: The size of the pond and the catch vary with “the beholder.”)

The small sycamore tree stood atop a 20 foot high mound where it had been spared by quarry equipment. It remained an island in an otherwise barren gravel pit. From our vantage point, my brother, Rob, and I could see a valley quail sitting atop the branches of the scraggly sycamore – probably a lookout. 

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(Caption: Above is a photo of myself an PH Kobus Grobler with a wildebeast that I shot from a ground blind at a water hole. In South Africa, game ranches manage habitat for maximum sustained harvest of game by keeping the game animals in and the poachers out. Such control over the game is critical to their financial success. In North America, hunting game in high-fence enclosures is generally frowned upon. But, there are many other factors, besides fences, that can improve your hunting such as managing hunting pressure and making your land more attractive to wildlife.)

 We had learned that the best ammo for long range shooting with our slingshots was cat’s eye marbles. They didn’t travel fast, but they carried a lot of “retained energy” as modern ballistic experts would say. The other advantage was that they made good lobbing – and you could follow the track of the projectile and adjust your aim with each shot. Rob didn’t need to adjust on that day. His aim was true and at a range that I recalled to be about 150 yards, he dropped that quail from the tree. 

I was somewhat surprised and disappointed when I visited the sight a couple years ago. A house has been built where we stood, but the gravel pit remains nearly unchanged and the scraggly sycamore is still in place. The shot of a lifetime was really only about 30 yards. Things sure change over time.  The hunting ground of our youth seemed endless, but in fact it encompassed only 100 acres or so. Conclusion: When your equipment is propelled by rubber bands, you don’t need as much hunting country. 

Our first local deer hunting spot was a 5,000 acre ranch that held a good blacktail buck population. We were quite fortunate to be able to hunt the ranch and could still hunt during the morning and then spot bucks under the shade of oaks and buckeye trees during the afternoon.    Of the 5,000 acres, we probably hunted on more than half of it during the three or four days we’d hunt each summer.

There was plenty of territory for us and the deer. Action was fast, but results were predictably low. Over the approximately five years we hunted there Rob killed three deer with bow and arrow. I didn’t kill any, but I did have my chances. 

Today that ranch is leased out to a small group of hunters who pay for the right to hunt. My guess is that there are five of them and they hunt primarily with rifles, taking a buck apiece each season. I’m sure their success rate is 100% or very close to that. Which brings me to the question – How many archers could that ranch support? We know it can support five rifle hunters with 100% success. If the archery success rate were close to the 30% that Rob and I experienced (relatively high), the ranch could support three times as many bow hunters with fewer deer taken.

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(Caption: In sharp contrast to the game ranch hunting in South Africa is stone sheep hunting in British Columbia. Stone sheep live and thrive on remote high-mountain slopes where they require huge expanses of habitat to survive. The difficulty of finding and shooting a stone sheep ram make them a rare and expensive trophy. However, the hunting experience is very similar to hunting other less expensive big game such as mule deer, which also require large habitats and remote territory.)

One can make a very good case that archery equipment expands habitat. Rick Copeland, manager of Wilderness Unlimited, a California hunting operation, understands that archery equipment extends habitat. That’s why two of their deer hunting ranches are open only to archery equipment. Members can hunt the ranches during the A- Zone archery season and again during the A- Zone rifle season. By hunting only with bow and arrow, they are expanding opportunity and maximizing the use of the non-migratory deer population. 

Weapon choice is not the only vaiable that effects the amount of hunting that a property can support. Of course the quality of the habitat is a huge factor. When we purchased an interest in our first 140 acre duck club we were amazed at how much hunting pressure it could handle. The habitat on the parcel was dense with berry bushes and thick patches of stinging nettles. Tall stands of Johnson grass and many other weeds added to the ability of game to utilize the property – especially pheasants. 

The heavy growth and several large sand hills effectively parceled the property so that hunters could hunt ducks or geese with little interference from the others. After title to the property changed hands when we sold, the new landowners removed all the dense habitat and disked up the open space between corn fields. The property character changed and the amount of hunting pressure it could support dropped accordingly.  Although we still have reasonable hunting, it’s not like it was. 

The same principle applies on upland ranches. Ranchers that graze heavily leave little escape cover for deer, turkeys or pigs, but ranchers who leave habitat in place have more game that supports more hunting pressure.  

Of course other factors, like topography are a major consideration. So is water, climate and soil structure. Some property is just plan more productive. On hill ground in California, creeks, springs and waterholes play a major role in wildlife density and game management and weather patterns can vary greatly within only a mile or two.  Exposure to the sun plays a huge role in habitat quality. 

Location plays a role in many ways. Who are the neighbors? Do they hunt?  If  the neighbors do hunt, how hard?  Do they stay within their boundaries? Is poaching a constant problem? Are there roads through your property to cause disturbance and increased trespassing.  

The aggressiveness of the partners is a major consideration. If you’re in a partnership, how much will each partner be allowed to hunt? It should be spelled out. Will there be hunt days and rest days? How many guests will each partner be allow to bring? You have the ability to craft out an agreement that improves the quality and equality of hunting opportunity for the partners.  

In the end, the partner that hunts is the one who will enjoy the property the most. There are always those who seem to reap the most rewards, but that’s life.  

The days of picking up your shotgun and heading to the hills to hunt without paying a fee are long gone. The next question is, are you going to put yourself in control of your destiny or roll the dice to see if you can find a place to hunt?  In fact, not only your destiny as a hunter, but also the destiny of all hunters is tied to the answer to this question. 

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