Tom Kelly, the undisputed bard and poet laureate of turkey hunting, famously offers the idea that these, our current days, are the good old days of turkey hunting, a description that can be suitably applied to almost any game species hunters are allowed to help consumptively manage today. More than ever, in fact, game species are cropping up in impressive numbers and in places most of us probably never expected to see during our lifetimes.
The return of whitetail deer may be the leading endorsement of scientifically-derived game laws. I remember days in the late 70s when any deer taken by anyone was a remarkable achievement. Quite a few older folks, in fact, had grown up without ever seeing a deer in their corner of our state and would sometimes come to the skinning rack just to marvel at the sight in person. Now it’s an accomplishment to drive home at night without hitting three in the road along the way, and deer harvest regulations are being relaxed more every year in response.
Alligators, which arose in the late cretaceous period to walk with dinosaurs, faced extinction as recently as 1967, at which point they were declared endangered in a move that was a precursor for the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Habitat monitoring and protection resulted in a full recovery 20 years later and, today, through assistance provided by hunters’ dollars, a sustainable harvest is being encouraged in many states, including our own.
Daniel Boone would have seen and likely hunted native elk in Kentucky as he blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in 1775 but, only a few decades later, the hills were empty of their bugles and stayed that way until 1997. Then, a project launched by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and state game officials restored them to their native home. The plan originally called for releasing 1,800 elk at a rate of 200 per year for nine years across a 15-county restoration zone, but the transplants were halted six years after they were begun because the herd was thriving beyond all expectations. Today, well over 10,000 elk roam hills as rugged as any Boone ever saw, forming the largest free-ranging elk herd east of Montana.
On a smaller scale, native blue stem grasses planted and deep fencerows left to grow are steadily bringing the wild bobwhite back where he belongs. That’s something we can all whistle about.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.