Aldo Leopold, who was a pioneer in land conservation, said that the same tools we used to subdue the wilderness are the ones we can use to bring back and manage habitat for wildlife. Those tools are the ax, the cow, the plow, fire, and the gun.
November is the perfect time of the year to talk about the last of those tools, the gun. White tail deer are one of the most popular species that land is managed for in Texas. Many landowners supplement the income that their farm or ranch brings by leasing out their rights to hunt. That income can help them in lean years, and provides the hunter with recreation, food, and a chance to partake in an important American tradition.
The economic incentive has led land managers to make decisions that create or preserve habitat and often yields environmental benefits as well. Beyond planting food plots or putting out corn feeders, a prudent land manager will find a balance between their primary production, be it livestock, hay, or crops, and habitat for game species. The brush along the creek bed becomes less of a nuisance when it is attractive cover for a buck someone wants to pay for the chance to harvest. The fact that a riparian buffer strip helps control erosion is icing on the cake. In a native grass pasture, broad leaved forbs (herbaceous non-grass flowering plant) that a cow won’t touch may be like ice-cream for a deer and provide cover for quail. Double Whammy!
As much as the bucks we chase might disagree, hunting is also good for the ecosystem. Deer are what biologists call a k-selected species, meaning they live with generally stable populations at or near the carrying capacity. Fluctuations in carrying capacity lead to a response in the number of deer. Predation creates a buffer below the point where an ecosystem could be over-populated leading to large die offs as food sources are depleted. As predator habitat is removed because of development, the natural checks are also removed. Scientifically regulated hunting keeps the population at levels that allow for replenishing the species but avoid collapse when drought or over-grazing use up the food supply.
Want to know more? Go to the source and read Game Management, Leopold’s book published in 1933. You can also learn more from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or get involved with a local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.
Marshall Tolleson is a county extension agent for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. The AgriLife office is located at 100 W. Houston St., Sherman. For more information, visit http://www.Grayson.AgriLife.org.