Hunter’s Inventory

Early summer is a great time for taking stalk of the annual wildlife production, especially if you’re a hunter.

A hunter can’t help but notice the young of the year that begin to expose themselves during late spring and early summer.

While flocks of larks, blackbirds and magpies are noteworthy, it’s the game species that catch the hunter’s eye and so it was this weekend as we focused on hunting at the ranch.

Our primary thoughts were centered on preparing for our August archery mule deer hunt – A4. Knowing that we need to prepare, we decided to spend the weekend hunting for our ranches limited population of pigs while also setting up targets and honing our shooting skill.

This morning we set out early in search of the dozen or so pigs that live on our 2,000 acre ranch, knowing that we might catch them out in the open grassland when they are easy to spot.

IMG_3255 ducklings

Signs of a good mallard hatch have been abundant.

The pigs were elusive, but at the second pond we checked, my brother, Rob, couldn’t help but notice that a mallard hen and its brood of four ducklings were huddled up on the pond’s dam, a good sign that four young of the year had survived long enough to create a sense of optimism about their chances of reaching maturity.

We recalled that last year a hen mallard (maybe the same one) on that same pond had lost its entire brood.

We moved on searching for the pigs, but they were not cooperating. We couldn’t help but notice that deer numbers were dismal. The drought of 2014/15 had a drastic impact upon the number of deer on our ranch and we covered three-quarters of the ranch without seeing a single deer. Finally a lone yearling doe stuck it’s head up out of the annual grasses.

On the other hand, flocks of quail were diving into the brush everywhere we went, especially when we drove through a 200 acres brush patch that provides the most security for quail. I’m sure we saw several hundred quail, in every size and shape. Prospects for quail season hit the roof.

Valley quail

Prospects for quail in 2017 are excellent.

In general, game birds seemed to be doing well. Quail and dove especially, but we also came upon a group of five gobblers that were following a hen around. Seems a little late, but they didn’t want to give up. One of the five toms had a beard that looked to be eleven inches long and was quite thick.

Although we didn’t find the pigs, we think they are around the area somewhere. In the meantime we filled our archery targets full of holes,  set back the local ground squirrel population and I managed to get started on sighting in the rifle that I intend to use on a late-season mule deer hunt next fall.

We also avoided an impending disaster when Rob opened up the Kawasaki Mule and discovered that rats had built a nest inside and nearly destroyed the wiring that controls virtually everything. It was also a fire hazard in the making.

We also confirmed our date for scouting the X2 zone, enjoyed a few cocktails and barbecued some of last season’s venison.

The big disappointment was seeing no bucks, but that was somewhat offset by the fact that the does appear to have multiple fawns. Maybe the predator population is down as well and if so we will have deer again in a few years.

DSC_0077[1] doe and fawns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Fawns?

There are obviously fewer deer on our ranch now, than five years ago. The drought had a big impact on the health of the deer herd. At the peak of the drought, we found deer carcasses on the ground, something that is seldom seen as usually deer die and are eaten by predators and/or scavengers immediately.

As a result of the drought, predators also took a big hit. We have fewer coyotes on our ranch than we had five years ago. Probably mountain lions are fewer as well, but we have no data to support any of these suppositions.

As I snapped a photo of a young fawn, I wondered about fawn survival this year. I hope and believe that it will be greater due to improved habitat and reduced predation. That is the way nature is supposed to work.

DSC_0037[1] fawn ranch road

Hunting and Wildlife Populations

When a game bird population is high, the compensatory effect of hunting is greatest.

When a game bird population is high, the compensatory effect of hunting can be most beneficial.

I’ve most often seen the term “compensatory” used when describing the effect of hunting on game bird populations. At first glance, one might assume that the population of game birds at the end of a year which included hunting, might be the total number of birds at the start of the year minus the sum of birds killed by hunters and the birds which died from natural causes. In this case, the number of bird deaths would be additive.

A key to understanding the compensatory concept is the realization that changes in population density impact habitat and bird health. Therefore, when birds are removed from the population early on in a season, the remaining birds benefit from the population decrease. They have fewer birds competing with them for food and therefore are more likely to remain healthy and survive.

Not only that, but with fewer game birds in the population other sources of population depletion may be impacted. For example predator populations may decline. Or, a decrease in population density may prevent the spread of disease that might otherwise occur.

In a perfect world, precisely the right number of game birds are killed by hunters, thereby reducing the population to where a high percentage of the remaining birds survive. When this is the case, the effect of hunting is negligible.

DSC_0518 rooster

Another case that clearly demonstrates the benefits of using compensatory mortality is when a severe weather event causes a dramatic decrease mule deer habitat and food supplies. By removing deer from a specific herd, the remaining animals in that herd will have a better chance of surviving. If there’s only enough food for a predictable number of deer to live through a tough winter, game managers may call for a special hunt to reduce the population and prevent mass starvation.

Unfortunately other limitations make it difficult to manage precisely.