John Harrigan: The delicate task of managing what's best for hunters and game

JOHN HARRIGAN November 09. 2013 7:11PM

Muzzle loading deer season is over as of sundown on Tuesday the 12th. The regular season begins at dawn the next day.

For years, muzzle-loaders could take either sex, and the number of hunters who took up the smoke-poles increased dramatically. So did the kill, and Fish and Game responded by tailoring the numbers every season to the point where now most of the wildlife management units are bucks-only.

It's a good example of how the department's game division is able, with the commissioners' support, to respond swiftly to changes in hunting habits for the overall long-term health of the deer population.

Meanwhile, the department has been tweaking the regular season rules in various management units as well. Deer managers acknowledged public desire to hunt for larger bucks, which in some zones are scarce. Hunters come from all over New England and the rest of the nation to try to outsmart bucks approaching trophy status, for which Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are famous.

On the flip side, however, are anti-hunters and organizations that bemoan shooting the best of the best, theoretically depriving the gene pool of characteristics that should be passed down for the betterment of ensuing generations.

Not so, say deer managers. By the time a hunter outsmarts him, that old buck without doubt will have bestowed abundant characteristics to the gene pool, having mated with every doe-eyed doe he could find.


New Hampshire's deer kill reached its all-time peak in the early '60s at around 12,000 as I recall, and in years since has been hovering between roughly 7,000 to 9,000. The deer population is mostly regulated by winter weather and wildlife managers do their best to respond by increasing or decreasing hunting.

It is the only deer management tool they have, weather being impossible to control, and habitat manipulation largely beyond their ability without a slush fund to pay landowners to preserve deer yards, which often are sheltered by the biggest and best timber. Neither are they able to control road kills or predation, except by increasing public education and fostering better laws and regulations concerning free-running dogs.

And no busting my chops, please, about coyotes making huge dents in the population and about the "need" for mass-persecution of coyotes, which are steadily evolving into brush wolves, which we once had.

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Why not? Because coyotes are responsive breeders, meaning that when food is scarce, they have fewer litters of fewer pups and in times of plenty they get back to what's perceived as normal. If their numbers are lowered by eradication campaigns, they respond by having more litters and more pups.

No matter how supposedly humane humanity persecutes them with traps, poison, snares and bullets, they respond by having more young.

Here in northern New England, coyotes have filled the vacant niche caused by our persecution of the less adaptable wolf and are here to stay - unless our ancestral wolf returns and then who knows what. The bottom line is that persecution simply does not work and the coyotes/brush-wolves bounce back every time.

Do coyotes kill deer? Of course, and in my 45 years of newspapering have never heard any knowledgeable person deny it. This supposed "in denial" on the part of officialdom is a non-urban myth.

The coyote takes its share of the pie as do hunters and free-running dogs and other factors such as road kills, disease and old age. So we live with this mystical and canny creature and simply view it as part of New Hampshire's wildlife mix.

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Note worth noting: The above comes from a guy who lives on a farm that has featured various kinds of chickens, some of them looking pretty foolish with feathers on their feet and fountains of feathers erupting from their heads, and flocks of sheep and spring lambs approaching 200 (we're out of it now - enough, already).

We kept tight and clean electric fences and big pasture guard dogs - Maremmas - and as far as we knew in over a decade of being in the sheep business smack in the middle of prime bear and coyote country, fared pretty well, losing two, maybe four lambs and one prize ewe.

In that last incident, a bear simply walked right through fours strands of highly charged fence, killed the ewe with one powerful blow to the neck, and was dragging it off toward the woods when, interrupted by a neighbor coming down his driveway, made for the woods at no particular speed - and to the chagrin of the fence guy (me) - chose a different way out.

John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook, N.H. 03576, or

John Harrigan

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