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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Citizen Dave: Turkeys, deer and the meaning of hunting
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Credit:Wisconsin DNR

I got up before dawn on Sunday. Ate a donut. Drank some coffee. Put on camouflage pants, coat, gloves, and a hat. Found a fold-up stool and a turkey decoy. Grabbed my shotgun and knapsack with its thermos of hot coffee and Dianne's chocolate chips, a turkey call, and a few other odds and ends. And I headed up a hill in the dark to a spot on the other side of that ridge to sit and wait for a turkey.

When I arrived at the chosen spot, I could hear a tom calling. I set up my decoy and thought about trying to call him in. But I'm bad at this, and I decided just to listen and see what happened. For almost twenty minutes I could hear the tom get closer and closer to the point where I knew I should have been able to see him in the growing morning light.

But where was he? Finally, I heard a hen cackle, and then nothing. I used my call, but there was no response.

And that was it for the actual hunting part of my day. The rest of it was spent walking and sitting in the woods. Seeing lots of deer but no turkeys. I ended the afternoon with my friend and landowner Jordy Jordahl on the deck of his farmhouse with some sharp Wisconsin cheddar, venison sausage from a deer shot on that very property, and a nice glass of Scotch. Rain showers drove us inside after awhile, but there was a fire and steaks on the grill and another cocktail.

My point is that I had a great hunting experience and never got close to pulling the trigger. I thought about that this morning as I was pawing through the report on deer management (PDF) written by Wisconsin's newly created "Deer Trustee," a fellow from Texas named James Kroll.

The report pretty much just reviews the recent history of deer management and states the obvious -- a lot of hunters don't like the way the DNR manages the herd. There's little in the way of concrete constructive criticism or a clear blueprint for how to do things better.

But it does contain one line that, it seems to me, all of our deer management into the future should be built around: "People, deer, predators and habitats should be considered as components of an ecosystem approach to management, not independent elements."

That's absolutely right. If you think the goal of deer hunting is to create a real life video game, than you're missing the point. It seems to me that so much of the debate is around the number of deer we see or can shoot, and not the overall quality of the hunting experience.

And that's what we need to get clear on as hunters. If hunting is about having a role in the whole ecosystem, if it's about quiet time in the woods with our own thoughts, if it's about reconnecting with family and old friends, if it's about those steaks and maybe a cocktail and a few hands of Sheepshead, then those values will lead us to certain choices.

But if our idea of hunting is nothing more than a shooting gallery, it will lead us, in my view, to different and wrong choices for both the resource and ourselves.

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