Management for Trophies


The title of the blog will surely ruffle a few feathers. Wildlife management for the production of trophy animals gets a lot of negative reaction because of what is believed by many to be the intent and intention of such actions. The nub of the issue is: managing for trophies conjures up the vision of growing animals with big antlers or horns, or maybe something that’s big and relatively rare, specifically so hunters looking for such trophies can shoot them. Lots of people find that abhorrent, but most shouldn’t.

The issue, I think, revolves around the word ‘specifically’. And that may not always be the exact word used to describe the intent, but the ‘specifically’ gets across the idea that many people aren’t comfortable with hunters killing trophy animals (plus many people are outright opposed to hunting). But what bothers some people even more, are the people who would take it upon themselves; or, be directed by some agency, often the government, to manage trophy animals so that hunters can shoot them.

However, managing for trophies for hunters is very seldom, if ever, the primary objective in any wildlife management program. It may, in fact be an objective, but wildlife management professionals today use holistic, ecological principles to manage wildlife, even on land or in jurisdictions where the main focus of the wildlife management program is to foster and look after how hunters are managed.

Plus, it should be acknowledged that the consensus amongst the wildlife profession is that it’s generally a good thing for a population of herbivores such as moose, white-tails, sheep, kudus and impalas to have some males who live long lives and sport large headgear.  They also believe it’s a good thing to maintain as full a complement of animals as was or is natural for the area, which might mean managing for animals like bears, wolves, lions and rhinos.

If this is what’s happening (in terms of management), then it may well be sold to hunters (whom, as a group, are a major player, or in government speak, stakeholder, in the world of wildlife management) as ‘trophy management’. Selling ‘trophy management’ might be particularly likely to happen in areas where people view hunting, for the most part, positively.

So for me, I find it unfortunate that here in Ontario, any discussion about trying to manage for big, old animals in the population, doesn’t get much traction because at some point the spectre of ‘trophy management’ is raised and if done by government managers (who are responsible for moose management in Ontario), it’s almost assuredly brought forward in a very negative light.

In my opinion, this isn’t good, particularly with respect to moose or moose management, but for other species as well.

The most respected moose biologists in the world, people like Dr. Vince Crichton and the late Dr. Anthony (Tony) Bubenik (chapter authors in the book some call ‘the moose bible’, or “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose”), believe(d) moose populations that have a wide range of age classes, including so-called ‘prime bulls’, are healthiest. Ignoring their advice is one of the problems facing moose in Ontario today.

It’s no secret moose numbers in many parts of Ontario, particularly in the northwest, have plummeted in recent years. The annual licensed harvest by hunters is only about ½ what it was 15 years ago.

Part of the problem is too much hunting of prime bulls before and during the rut. Young bull moose are not particularly adept suitors and cows in heat may rebuff their amorous advances. With few prime bulls in the population, breeding gets drawn out over the fall (instead of a short, intense rut which is what happens when there are good numbers of prime bulls around). As a result, the calving season is also drawn out, giving lots of opportunity for wolves and bears to find and even hone their calf hunting skills which results in them killing and eating a lot more calves then they could if calving was more synchronized.

That’s why biologists like Bubenik recommended hunting not occur until the tail end of the rut, which was more or less what was going on in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And moose did well.

But since then, archery hunting has gained in popularity (some WMU’s issue more archery tags than regular gun tags) and the archery hunt takes place immediately prior to, and during, the peak of the rut. Plus, Aboriginal and Metis harvest has been growing and this hunt, which is unregulated (seasons, limits, licences or tags are not a legal requirement for those who can hunt because of their Constitutional Rights) tend to occur during the rut as well (the rut is a good time to hunt – moose can be called into range rather easily when the rut on – plus there isn’t a conflict with licensed rifle hunters because their moose season has yet to open).

Of course, shooting too many prime bull moose during the rut isn’t the only issue besetting Ontario’s moose population. But it is an issue and one that isn’t being properly addressed because, at least in part, it means talking about the managing for ‘trophy’ moose.

It’s OK in Ontario government circles to talk about managing for trophy fishing opportunities, but it’s not OK to talk about managing for a trophy hunt.  Strange, but true.

  1. Sam Menard said:

    Bruce, you raise some good points. Sadly Ontario manages for recreational opportunities and caters to the lowest common denominator i.e. that hunters should be satisfied to shoot the any moose they see – usually yearlings. I see some parallels with states like Pennsylvania or Michigan where most of the legal bucks harvested are yearlings. Agencies believe that as long as hunters see any moose/deer or fill their tag then they are satisfied.

    Having trophy animals to hunt is a by-product of a well managed game population. Unfortunately, you can’t use the words “trophy” and “hunting together without drawing criticism and questions about your motivation. Although I don’t profess to be an expert on QDM, I think the true intent is to manage the population responsibly so you get a balanced herd with proper representation through the various ages classes. But again, some hunters say they practice QDM but in reality do something different. Stuff like that muddies the waters and makes it hard for the truth to get out. it also makes it hard for hunters to agree on how to manage game. It’s funny, you go to the coffee shop and listen to some of the local hunters talk and they all agree that the system is broke, but all have different ideas on how to fix it. Part of the problem is that the fish and wildlife agency have lost the trust of the hunters and hunters either don’t understand the science or don’t believe it.

    • Good comments. Your last sentence should be in bold!!! And it’s much more than just ‘part of the problem’.

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