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Frye: Many challenges for deer hunting

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

We are not alone.

That sounds like something someone in a science fiction movie would say when they first spot aliens landing. But it applies to the Pennsylvania deer hunter, too.

The Quality Deer Management Association held the first National Whitetail Summit in Branson, Mo., this past week. The four-day event was meant to allow hunters, landowners, representatives of state and federal land and wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations, academics and members of the hunting industry the opportunity to discuss challenges facing white-tailed deer, deer hunters and deer managers and attempt to come up with solutions. Several hundred people attended from across America and Canada.

There were a lot of common problems.

Land and habitat fragmentation. Too many deer in some places, too few in others. Deer in the suburbs and cities. Shrinking wildlife management agency budgets. Emerging deer diseases. Old diseases cropping up in new places. Issues with recruiting and retaining new hunters. Increasing predation of deer by coyotes and other species. The commercialization of wildlife. Hunter expectations regarding trophy bucks. Deer farming. A lack of university-trained deer biologists, especially those with a background and interest in deer hunting — or hunting of any sort.

One challenge was easily identifiable even at the summit itself.

There was a lot of talk about making sure hunting stayed relevant and acceptable to all Americans. Yet a look around the room at the hundreds of faces at the opening ceremony revealed just a handful of women and, with the exception of one Native American, no minorities.

We've reported on that lack of diversity before ( check out this story from a few years ago ). But the question remains, how do you get minorities — the largest potential audience of new hunters going forward — involved when you've got almost none so far?

The challenges facing hunting, and deer hunting in particular, are many, though.

We've had our success. There were only about 500,000 white-tailed deer left in the entire country in 1900, said Mark Duda of Responsive Management, a polling firm. There were 15 million in 1988 and are 30 million today, he added.

That's because of money and management provided almost exclusively by hunters and the wildlife agencies they alone support, said Kip Adams, outreach and education coordinator for the Deer Management Association.

The pursuit of all those deer is widely accepted, too. Duda said 79 percent of adult Americans said in 2012 that they approved of hunting. That's the highest number ever, he said.

But hunters represent just a fraction of America's population, and that only figures to go down, said Brian Murphy, executive director of the deer association. If hunters and hunting are to remain relevant, they need to find solutions to deer hunting's challenges, he said — before someone else does it for us.

He's right. We'd better get moving.

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