February 16, 2006

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

What, two weeks in a row? Yes, after a month or more away from regular sports columns, Iím trying to dive back into the weekly presence in this spot. Unfortunately, February isnít the best time to try to come up with material.

Of course, after several days of cold weather I was beginning to wonder if I had not given up on ice fishing too soon. Maybe I had put my tent away too early and stored the auger prematurely. Turned out Mother Nature was just teasing me, as she snowed on my parade (not rained), insulating the frozen pond tops before hitting us with above freezing temperatures to dash my final hopes of one more outing.

Iím not a coyote hunter and the reports I had on rabbits were as bleak as the bird numbers, so Iíve remained indoors as the weeks of winter mount up. While Iím not physically out hunting, I have been pondering some related issues.

One of the things Iíve been wondering about since November, was the impact the Missouri Department of Conservationís change to the telecheck system had on the deer harvest totals. We all heard that hunting totals were down in 2005. The experts blamed it on the abnormally large acorn crop, which kept the deer hidden in the forests where their favorite food was easily accessible.

Iím no biologist, so I can speak as an expert on this subject. It just struck me as strange when I read that statewide in 2005, deer harvest numbers were down roughly 15,000 from the record take of 222,329 deer in 2004ís firearms season.

Strange may not be the right word. I guess suspicious better describes the way I felt as I perused the list of harvest totals for the stateís counties. I donít think Schuyler County has that many more acorns than Scotland County, yet hunters in this county saw totals go up 227 deer this year, while Schuyler County huntersí harvest total was down by more than 500, as was Adair countyís.

Now the biologist will give way to the mathematician who will argue that counties that saw such large declines likely had fewer hunters take to the woods. Again, Iím no expert, nor have I sought subpoenas for the records for the number of hunting licenses sold in these neighboring counties.

But as I sit there trying to decide if the glass is half full or half empty, I canít help but wonder if the stateís new checking system didnít play some roll in the decline of harvest numbers. Please all of you Schuyler and Adair County hunters donít call, or write hate mail just yet. Iím not trying to single you out, those were just two numbers that would hit close to home and would easily argue my point Ė my point being, that maybe the deer harvest wasnít down 15,000, but maybe the number of deer checked in was down 15,000.

Iím not going to use this forum to argue the pros and cons of the telecheck system. Personally I like the ease Ė wait what am I saying? I didnít get a deer this year. I would have liked the ease, no loved the ease of informing MDC of my monster buck via phone line or over the Internet. I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadnít missed twice with the bow and once with the rifle.

Hey, thereís an argument for declining harvest numbers Ė maybe everyone is as bad a shot as I am?

I suspect that neither acorns, or poor marksmanship accounted for all 15,000 deer we were off in 2005. Call me distrustful, but I would guess that there were a few hunters out there who simply ďforgotĒ to call their deer in, or maybe they couldnít get connected to the Internet that day?

Is that a fault of the telecheck system? Would they have been more likely to drive the deer to the local check station? Probably not. I mean, a person who deliberately fails to check the deer in one manner, likely would take similar steps the following, regardless of the medium for checking the harvested animal.

Well, if the new system doesnít encourage folks to cheat, could it be that itís just too simple? Too easy, isnít an excuse not to do it, but maybe it was the reason why some people accidentally forgot to check in their deer? Lets face it, we got into the routine of driving to town with the deer hanging off our tailgate, making several laps around the square for public viewing before heading off to the taxidermist or the locker. Now all we do is haul the deer out of the field back to the house. Or if you have your cell phone, you check it in right there in the field (thatís my plan, so I can say they put me on hold with some elevator music while my partners field dress my deer for me.) But say the number is busy, or the wife is on the Internet when you get back. Then you fall asleep or whatever, and boom you forget to telecheck the deer. I may be wrong, but I wonder if all the deer hunters in the state read this, if there wouldnít be about 15,000 scratching their heads and asking themselves if they had forgotten to check their deer in?

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