For many years, Arizona has long been regarded as a state that produces trophy animals – mule deer, Coues Deer, elk and antelope in particular. I think that, generally, Arizona hunters have liked that reputation. Granted we don’t like the odds of drawing tags, but we like being “different” from many other western states. The Department, over the last few years, seems to be shifting their management objectives. Generally speaking, my perception is that they are shifting focus from quality to quantity – at least on the surface. I suspect, as well – that the generation of revenue is playing an important part in this process.

Hunters, for the most part – seem to be getting frustrated with the Department’s new direction, as reading over the message boards might indicate:

Coues Whitetail.com

AHT Forums

Bowhuntingmaniac Blog

AZOD

Bowsite

The Arizona Deer Association has even come out with a letter to the Department. It is shown below, as posted over on CWT

June 25th, 2007

Mr. Duane Shroufe, Director
Arizona Game & Fish Department
2221 W. Greenway Road
Phoenix, AZ, 85023

Re: 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Hunt Guidlines

Dear, Director Shroufe

A number of Arizona Deer Association (ADA) members participated in the recently held 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Hunt Guideline meetings. Quite a few of our members have emailed and phoned with their comments. Additionally, during our last board of directors meeting on June 19th, another discussion about the proposed hunt guidelines took place with Game Branch Chief Leonard Ordway. He was able to provide some answers for the ADA board and more importantly department justification for some of the proposed changes. This letter is a reflection of all of those discussions and opinions.

As ADA President I was asked to write a letter addressing our thoughts and concerns. I have found it difficult to do so for a number of reasons, important among them is because
I believe many of the proposed hunt changes are based on department perceptions gathered from your late 2006 statewide hunter’s survey. This is a survey some active sportsmen have questions about; and while I am not speaking for anyone other than the ADA, I believe other sportsmen conservation organizations may feel much the same as the ADA.

Some of us are asking ourselves if we are really out of touch with the majority of sportsmen in Arizona. When active sportsmen discuss these issues, we are very much in agreement and yet we seem out of step with some department recommendations. Are we out of touch; or rather is it the hunter’s survey and the questions which were asked, the way they were asked, and the conclusions which were perhaps made by the agency to justify its direction? This issue needs to be reconciled if individual sportsmen and organized sportsmen conservation organizations are going to understand it and accept it.

We realize you are using this survey to not only justify some of the hunt season recommendations; but also to help guide the direction of the agency into the future. More important than the individual hunt guideline recommendations is what is working within the agency to move this new direction?

Some of us were in attendance at the Wildlife Conservation Council meeting when Wildlife Division Chief Bruce Taubert discussed a program he was asked to develop for the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. To me, his program presented a clear message, and it advised wildlife agencies whenever possible to move away from controversial management issues which may not be accepted by the public.
Instead of agencies taking on the tough job of educating the public, just reduce the controversial activity or do away with it all together.

An example of this direction is the abandonment of what some call “Trophy Hunting”. I personally prefer to call it “Quality Hunting”. None-the-less it is far easier to justify hunting for the table or “the experience” than it is for obtaining an animal to hang on the wall as a remembrance of a great hunt. Again, the easy direction for the agency is to take the “Quality Hunts”, faze them out and eliminate them.

If the agency chose this plan they could offer additional permits, which would take place earlier or later (depending on deer or elk) in the fall season, and at a time when mature older age class animals are not as active. This allows for more hunter opportunity, less bucks or bulls taken and more revenue for the agency. This is clearly where the department has chosen to go!

This change of direction also play’s well when discussing the new buzz phrase “hunter recruitment and retention”. While everyone in the hunting circle understands the necessity of recruiting new hunters and keeping the current ones involved, we probably will not be in complete agreement on how to do it. Some of us are puzzled, for we believe opportunities are present for all hunters to hunt deer in Arizona. Some hunts are never fully subscribed during the first drawing and do not fill until the secondary draw.

Reality is, we have too many people in Arizona wanting to hunt and not enough resources for all of them. Add to that the non-residents wanting to hunt in many of our best units and you have a situation where it will take you quite a few years to draw that special permit. Yes, it is frustrating, but most of us grind it out and can accept not drawing that special tag. If not, we leave Arizona and go where we can hunt. To those who do not hunt outside of Arizona, there is still the opportunity to hunt deer even if it is not in their preferred unit.

For recruitment sake, we understand the need for more hunting opportunity. Clearly the agency is moving that direction by providing more opportunity for youth and for all big game species. For years the department has managed conservatively for desert bighorn, turkey, antelope and some alternative deer hunts. As the push for more opportunity progresses, we now hear the agency justifying the changes by speaking of how low we can go in buck to doe ratios or bull to cow ratios without compromising reproductive capability. This discussion in the guidelines has us concerned to the point we believe the department must insure these wildlife species will not only survive, but they may also continue to grow in numbers when conditions allow it. Since Arizona is comprised largely of marginal habitat for many species we must insure more than adequate monitoring and surveys are done to support management recommendations. At no time can we jeopardize any species because of a lack of good solid data or for the sake of hunter opportunity.

For many ADA members hunter retention is another huge issue. What is important to them is getting to do what they value most. Some are interested mainly in preserving their annual family deer hunt. Others want to be able to hunt in their preferred unit or with a weapon of choice. Some want only to hunt big bucks, both whitetails and mule deer, during the rut. A few don’t care and just simply want to go some place in Arizona each year to hunt, period.

Under the new proposed guidelines the department is continuing to take away from the rut season “Quality Hunts”. You are squeezing those hunters out in favor of the out of rut seasons. This works against retention of those individuals. Not many serious coues deer hunters or diehard archery elk hunters are going to put in for a hunt without the magic of the rut. It is too bad this penalty has to be paid by some of the department’s most ardent supporters. I guarantee you they will go other places to enjoy what they value most.

How far is the department and commission willing to go in removing the opportunity to hunt in the rut? Last year when the archers protested the department’s changes to the September archery elk hunts, the furor from sportsmen got the commission to back down. However the department is back again this year with November archery elk seasons scheduled on a trial basis? What is next, a trial August season? We are steadily cutting the percentage of December whitetail hunts, are you planning to go even lower? We all understand “incrementalism” and if that is where we are going then please just state it.

It is extremely important that the department lay it on the line with sportsmen. We have been your strongest supporters. After the recent public meetings some felt as if the department went through the motions to satisfy your public obligations. At the Phoenix meeting, and I understand at some of the other public meetings as well, the staff wrote down comments, but did not even ask for consensus from those in attendance. Just how does the department plan to utilize this information? What weight can the agency possibly give to an individual comment? At the very least why didn’t the department ask for consensus from the group in attendance at these meetings?

The department and commission are dramatically changing the Arizona hunt and hunt season structure as we have known them. As you continue to lower buck to doe ratios you may well be cutting into the reproductive capability of these game species. We are fast becoming just another state when it comes to managing for older age class animals.

In closing the ADA believes the department needs to actively work with all interested sportsmen and sportsmen conservation organizations to carefully and fully explain where you are taking this agency. Your efforts to educate us and our organizations have fallen short or may not be completely understood. While much needs to be done to recruit new hunters and retain current hunters; we must also insure what we are changing and trying to preserve is worth our efforts.

Working for Wildlife and Sportsmen

Pete Cimellaro, President
Arizona Deer Association

CC: Steve Ferrell, Deputy Director AZGFD
Leonard Ordway, Game Branch Chief

Please note that if you follow the link above, there are a couple of great letters posted in that thread on CWT.com

Here is the e-mail that I sent to the Commission:

Sirs – First off, please let me say that generally, I support AZG&F – especially the folks in the Field that are doing all of the work on “the pointy end”. That being said, I have grown concerned over the past 2-3 years with the direction that the Department is taking when it comes to managing our game. The thoughts I pass along are general in nature, rather than addressing specific, proposed rule changes.

1) The apparent shift of management goals. It appears that instead of managing for quality, we are heading towards managing for quantity. Arizona has long held a reputation for world-class game, whether it is elk, Coues, mulies, or antelope. Sure, hunters get disappointed when they don’t draw a tag. My belief is that, long term – drawing nearly-worthless tags, or harvesting animals of limited quality will not benefit our sportsmen, nor our wildlife herds. Wildlife Managers should be deciding optimal carrying capacities and buck:doe ratios, and managing accordingly. These decisions should be made based on the best data available. Allocation of tags (juniors/archers/rifle) should be as equitable as possible, while recognizing the proportionality of each “group”.

2) Sound management is based on sound data. To me, mandatory check-in of game is a no-brainer. The decision to not implement such practices should not be affected by “hunter convenience”. In my mind, the definition of inconvenience is having poorly managed game herds – not checking in my game. This is done in other parts of the country, and I can’t recall ever hearing someone complain about it. When it comes to hunter input – I understand that the Department has been criticized in the past, for “not listening to hunters”. I feel that the pendulum has now swung in the other direction, and many of these newest plans are based on the latest hunter survey. It is my opinion that, deliberate or not, that survey was written in such a way that the results are skewed.

3) Most of us understand that the Department is trying to manage a finite resource, in the face of skyrocketing demand. Add to that secondary goals of hunter recruitment and retention, desires of the non-hunting public, and finally -some very real financial challenges; management becomes that much more difficult. Hunters may be recruited on easy-drawing tags, but I honestly don’t feel that they will be retained after numerous seasons of sub-par hunts. I believe the Department is best served by getting back to basics – good, sound population and harvest data; the more accurate, the better. Tag allocation based on optimal herd numbers and ratios, not hunter wish-lists or revenue needs. Allocation of x tags based on accurate numbers (including predicted success rates) to archers, juniors, and rifle hunters. I believe in public input, but I believe also in educated input – not mob dynamics. I feel that, generally – the best input will come from the conservation groups such as the Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Bowhunters’ Association, and the plethora of other hardworking organizations that really do have their “finger on the pulse” of what is happening in the field.

I thank you in advance for taking the time to consider my points.

Marshall MacFarlane
30576 N Appalachian Tr
Queen Creek, AZ 85243