"I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." — Plato
We have talked about this sort of thing before. Outdoorsmen — hunters and fishermen and others who live on the edge of the wild — are some of the best people in the world. In my humble (and sometimes not-so-humble) opinion, they are for the most part honest, earnest, sincere and trustworthy.
Something about spending a lot of time in the boonies hunting, fishing or just traipsing about seems to instill many of the above qualities in a person. Now that may not make much sense to many of you, and you may have to just take my word for it.
But for all the many positive attributes of the sportsmen of the world, they do have just a couple of drawbacks. Without a doubt, we (I readily include myself here) can be one of the most stubborn, obstinate and — dare I say it — pig-headed group of humans who ever pulled on a pair of boots. Once we are told something about wildlife or the outdoors, especially by an older hunter whom we consider a sage (Dad, Granddad, Uncle Ed), that is it. We believe it until the day when six of our buddies carries us off for the last time.
What day the rut starts, when the bucks lose their antlers, how you can tell if it is going to be a bad winter or if black snakes really do cross with copperheads, it doesn't matter — if our mentor tells us something, it is gospel.
Another factor at work here is something I have told you about before: Case's Outdoor Theorem No. 7. We consider ourselves experts in such things because 1. We love anything related to hunting; 2. We have been doing it for a long time.
As I have told you many times, these two things do not necessarily make us experts on anything.
There may be a light at the end of the tunnel. More and more (hopefully), today's sportsmen may be listening to what science says about wildlife and its management. Valid, factual research in wildlife-related issues has to be allowed to come to the forefront, no matter what we were told in deer camp 40 years ago.
If you are a deer hunter and you haven't been living under that proverbial rock, you probably know about the Quality Deer Management Association.
The QDMA is a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization dedicated to ensuring the future of white-tailed deer, wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage. QDMA provides a vast amount of guidance on land and deer management issues, but they also promote safe and ethical hunting, adherence to wildlife and trespassing laws, cooperation with wildlife biologists and enforcement officers, and the education of hunters and non-hunters in understanding better wildlife management practices.
If you are a deer hunter — and especially if you are a member of a hunting club that manages any amount of land for deer and other wildlife — you need to consider a membership to QDMA.
I spoke with Lindsay Thomas Jr., who is the communications manager for QDMA and the editor of Quality Whitetails Magazine, the journal of the QDMA. He has written several books on deer and deer management, including "One Year to Better Deer: 12 Months of Do-it-Yourself Ideas for Killer Deer Hunting." This guy knows about deer.
I asked Thomas about some of the interesting articles on the QDMA website (qdma.com).
"Each year, QDMA attends the meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group, a subcommittee of The Wildlife Society (an association of professional wildlife biologists) that has been gathering for 35 years to share and discuss the latest results of their ongoing deer research," he said. "Even though it's named 'Southeast,' speakers and researchers from all over North America contribute. We compiled some of the most interesting findings overheard at the four most recent meetings, 2011 to 2014, and they included the following statistical snapshots."
' 907 Acres: Average fall home range size of mature bucks in a University of Georgia GPS collar study in unfragmented hardwood forest in northern Pennsylvania. But the average core area size, or the area where a buck spends at least half of its time, was only 142 acres.
' $115,000: The estimated cost to produce a 1-inch increase in average Boone & Crockett score among a localized population of free-ranging bucks by releasing pen-raised deer to improve genetics. Steve Demarais of Mississippi State University conducted the computer model study (using existing data on natural dispersal and immigration, breeding success, recruitment and survival, plus the costs of buying pen-raised deer) in response to recent suggestions by deer breeders that this practice would be beneficial. Most biologists laughed at the idea, but they had little data to stand on. Now they do.
' Cotton rats and persimmons: The two most common food items found in 353 coyote scat samples collected on two public hunting areas in Georgia as part of a study conducted by the University of Georgia and the state's department of natural resources. Despite the diversity of food items found, the scat indicated coyotes on one of the wildlife management areas switched almost exclusively to eating fawns during the fawning season.
' 4 1/2: Average age a white-tailed deer's skeletal dimensions reach their lifetime maximum. Tim Neuman at Auburn University was taking the measurements to see if breeding success among deer is related to age or body size. He didn't find evidence that either factor is related to successful fawn production.
This is only a taste of many interesting tidbits in Lindsay's article "33 Fascinating Findings From Deer Research." Check out the QDMA website and be ready to spend some time reading. If you are a deer hunter, you will be captivated.
Many of us are deer hunting right now, and that is good, but there is a long offseason ahead. Many of you will be pondering food plots, supplemental feeding, land management, predator management and the like.
Give QDMA a close look — even your Uncle Ed may approve. Just don't believe everything he told you about snakes when you were a kid.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for The Times Free Press. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.