Maggie Bonham is a long time hunter and game meat cook. She is also a writer on The LocaCarnivore, a website dedicated to local hunting.
Hunting with a Purpose
Did you know that every year whitetail deer destroy over a billion dollars in crops? When you consider that whitetail deer alone cause 58 percent of all wildlife damage to field crops and 33 percent of all damage to fruits and vegetables, they become less cute and more of a pest. They steal farmers' livelihoods and food that you could eat.
Hunters are important when it comes to managing herds. If you're a hunter like me, you enjoy the deer or elk meat you get every season. But what if I told you that you could get more meat to fill your freezer and hunt some private lands that aren't usually open to hunters? Many states have instituted game damage or deer/elk depredation hunts to curb the wanton destruction to crops brought on by deer and elk. In this article, I discuss the basics of game damage hunts and how to get involved.
What is a Game Damage Hunt?
Game damage or deer/elk depredation hunts are hunts designed to remove a number of animals that are destroying valuable crops. The state's wildlife department often uses these hunts as a last resort, preferring to haze or discourage animals from the crops before choosing to kill them. Over the years, the various wildlife management departments have learned that hunters are willing to pay for a chance at taking down an animal. So rather than having a game warden or wildlife officer kill the animals, they allow hunters, who will put the meat to good use, to hunt the game.
Why Game Damage Hunts are Important for Wildlife
Game damage hunts are important for the survival of deer and elk herds. These depredation hunts are important for wildlife because often deer and elk congregate in large herds on farmland. Bigger herds often put these animals at risk for spreading disease such as Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. Animals that congregate on these fields also become habituated to humans and dependent on humans for their food source. By hunting them, it not only removes the troublemakers, but also discourages other deer and elk from grazing in the area.
Why Game Damage Hunts Are Important for Farmers
Game damage hunts are important for farmers who lose a fair portion of their crops to wildlife. Since many deer are habituated to humans, hazing simply does not work. As soon as the hazing stops, the animals return to damage the crops. If some of the deer or elk are removed and there is enough hunting pressure, that may be enough to discourage animals from returning.
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Game Damage Hunts Are Not Trophy Hunts
Unlike regular season hunting, game damage hunts often focus on does and cow elk. Depending on the state, they may allow you to take bucks and bull elk, but many states focus on antlerless. Hunters who look for bucks or bull elk usually avoid these hunts because they won't be finding the big antlers. People who sign up for these hunts are usually hunting for meat.
These hunts are often scheduled for limited times. They are real hunts that occur on the landowner's property, or just outside of it. On the positive side, while this is still very much a hunt, it is often easier to find animals than when you are looking for them on public land. Deer and elk are used to people, which frequently means closer shots. For example, elk that you might not be able to get closer than 300 yards may be more tolerant of humans within 100 yards.
How to Get Involved in Depredation or Game Damage Hunts
If your state runs game damage or depredation hunts, you will need to contact your state's wildlife office that manages hunting. They can provide information regarding these types of hunts. Sometimes, they can direct you to a webpage that allows you to sign up for these hunts. Other times, they may be hosting special hunts in areas where you must purchase a tag to participate. Again, because these hunts are aimed at does and cow elk in most occasions, you won't have the chance to hunt for bucks or bull elk. Because of this, there are often fewer participants, giving you a good chance of hunting, if it is a draw or if there are limited tags.
Have You Ever Participated in a Game Damage Hunt?
What to Expect at a Game Damage Hunt
I've participated in four game damage hunts in my state. In three, my spouse was chosen to shoot. In one, I was chosen to shoot. Although in my spouse was technically the hunter, I acted as spotter to enable the best chance of us bringing home meat.
In the case of these hunts, we were given a short amount of time (one to four days) to fill our quota. Depending on the year and the area, we were allowed one or two tags for antlerless deer.
In all cases, we had to deal with farmland. That meant a flat area with buildings and houses all around. Because of this, we had to take extra precautions for the shot. Sure, we saw lots of deer, but couldn't shoot them because they were in the direction of a highway or someone's house.
In each case, we ended up taking a shot where there was a backstop of some variety. Usually a small hill or rise that would prevent the bullet from traveling beyond. This is why if you do get a depredation tag, be sure you are not shooting where the bullet could accidentally hit someone or something. Bullets can travel for miles if unimpeded. It's not that rare for people to get hit by stray bullets intended for game. In other words, be safe!
Bowhunting is less of a concern, but you still have to be aware of your surroundings and where you aim your shot.
If you hunt on private property, be sure to find out if it is all right to leave a gut pile, and if the landowner will allow you to use a motorize vehicle to retrieve the game. In many instances, you cannot use a motorize vehicle, but can use a game cart or other non-mechanized mode of conveyance.
If you're looking more to fill your freezer and not your wall, check out depredation or game damage hunts in your state.
© 2020 MH Bonham