By JIM ABRAMS

I’ve heard it mumbled at coffee shops, local diners and sportsmen’s clubs. I’ve listened to the complaints and grousing my entire career. “Deer hunting on (fill in any state hunting ground) is too crowded, too dangerous and has too few deer and absolutely no big bucks!”

Sometimes the comments were in passing, while other times I felt cornered when hostile accusations were tossed at me by frustrated hunters.

For many, these aggravations were born of the difficulty of obtaining permission to access private property. It’s certainly a dilemma and one that isn’t uncommon.

Everyone wants to find that special place where they can freely roam the woodlots and only see the wildlife that inhabits those spaces. It’s what all the magazines portray and the ideal for which the hunter strives: matching their scouting skills with their quarry in the solitary and ancient hunter-prey relationship.

That first irritation hits when they arrive at their scouted public hunting spot and find another hunter’s truck parked at the access … or two … or three. They begin to feel robbed and often move to a new area where they had done little or no previous exploring. Success suffers.

It’s undeniable: There are many folks who rely on being able to hunt on publicly owned property, especially wildlife management areas. While more people can raise the possibility of a hunter-related incident, the reality is that these situations are exceptionally rare. Yet, the perception remains.

This, coupled with the failure to see the occasional trophy buck, or even the rumor of one in the area, increases the levels of exasperation exponentially.

Every wildlife officer has heard the complaints for decades. Now, University of Delaware research is providing unique insight into at least some of the reasons why hunters complain.

Researchers studied public areas in southern Delaware and found that the rate at which yearling bucks (those in the 1½-year-old age class) are harvested on public versus private ground appears to be quite different.

Postdoctoral researcher Jacob Haus and his co-authors discovered the survival rate for yearling bucks was nearly 75 percent on private parcels, while it was only 37 percent for yearlings on public hunting land. It’s obvious that taking young bucks out of the equation reduces the number of mature bucks in the future.

Unlike the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality, not all public land is created equal. One example can be illustrated by Delaware’s neighbor, Pennsylvania. One of that state’s wildlife management units in Susquehannock State Forest sees yearling buck survival rates of 80 percent or more. Those kind of survival rates on public ground rival the best private property in the country.

Sounds like this Pennsylvania hot spot might be perfect for your next hunt, yet local hunters still make the same strong statements that “the deer hunting there stinks.”

The Susquehannock area is vast and covered with steep hills and ravines. It’s broken by few roads, so access by foot is required and the statewide antler restrictions require bucks to be more mature. Many bucks in the area live to their oldest maturity levels and are unseen by hunters. Therefore, they don’t seem to exist.

Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) is dedicated to researching and managing deer herds across North America. When QDMA views this collected information, they look through the complaints to recognize opportunity.

QDMA recently announced new five-year mission goals, including efforts to improve public deer hunting land across the country. Their plan is to use their grassroots network led by thousands of local conservation-minded volunteers to double the number of habitat-improvement projects on public land.

By organizing their 230 QDMA Branches, the association is working to double the number of branch-initiated habitat-improvement projects on public land. Their applied equation is simple: better habitat + education + young buck survival = greater hunter satisfaction and healthier deer herds.

The group plans to strengthen and leverage the partnerships that QDMA has with state and federal agencies, with the objective to directly enhance deer herds and habitats on public hunting lands to provide quality hunting and wildlife viewing experiences for everyone to enjoy.

One potential outcome of these partnerships could be to erect educational displays on as many public lands as possible, informing users of the benefits of quality deer management (QDM), how to identify young bucks, methods to more consistently see and kill mature bucks, and more.

Another goal is to increase the area in QDM Cooperatives by at least 6 million acres by 2022. The current estimate indicates that there are roughly 30 million acres involved in some form of deer management, where folks work with their neighbors in an effort to improve the local deer hunting experience.

While it shouldn’t be surprising that most of this acreage is privately owned (at least 90 percent of deer are found on private land), QDMA has a good track record of developing cooperatives that include both public and private land.

Haus’ research shows that in areas where the majority of hunters support the QDM style of hunting, survival of young bucks can be quite high. Improving public land habitat in these areas, combined with increased hunter awareness, can lead to more expected success.

What public lands need better habitat? Which ones need educational displays? Where are the areas that the majority of yearling bucks are being killed? QDMA can’t know without help.

QDMA is dedicated to ensuring the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. It’s very possible that with your involvement, you can help change the face of deer hunting where you live and hunt. Contact one of the QDMA regional directors and find out what it takes to start a branch.

In northwest Ohio: Wakatomika Creek Branch, 96 Carmarthen Way, Granville, OH 43023

Contact Daniel Long by calling 419-308-8368 or emailing djlong_1@live.com

You can also check out their websites at www.qdma.com

“For a first deer, there is no habitat as lush and fine as a hunter’s memory.” — Patrick McManus

Along the way:

The youth-only deer gun weekend is over, resulting in a respectable harvest of 6,563 white-tailed deer taken during the Nov. 17 to 18 special season. Last year, 4,958 whitetails were checked.

Local harvests and the comparative numbers from last year are: Allen: 145 (106); Hancock: 35 (34); Hardin: 42 (28); Putnam: 42 (27); Seneca: 83 (68); Wood: 34 (25); Wyandot: 83 (51).

Youth hunters can commemorate their hunt with a First Harvest certificate, available at wildohio.gov and then clicking on “My First Harvest” under the Hunting, Trapping and Shooting Sports tab on the left.

The state offers a lot of opportunity for hunters to put venison in the freezer. The statewide season began on Monday and continues through Sunday. A weekend deer gun season will then reopen on Dec. 15 and 16. Muzzleloading season follows from Jan. 5 to 8 while deer archery season remains open through Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019.

Find details in the 2018-2019 Ohio Hunting and Trapping Regulations or at www.wildohio.gov

Step outside:

• Today and tomorrow: Tri-State Gun Collectors show, Allen County Fairgrounds.

• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• Dec. 15 and 16: Statewide deer gun season.

• Dec. 16: Ham shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.

• Jan. 5 to 8: Statewide deer muzzleloader season.

• Feb. 3: Last day of deer archery season.

• Hunter and trapper education class information and registration is found online at www.wildohio.gov

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com

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