August 9, 2021
When I go to the state park near where I work, I like to drive through the camping areas before I settle down to fish. I am always amazed by the number of RV campers that frequent the park, and it is usually near capacity. These are mostly in-state campers, but I do see some out-of-state tags. The real reason I cruise the camping areas is that I have found this a good way to get occasional bird photos (I keep hoping for the Road Runner from last year) as well as interesting animals. This day was no different as I came on a fawn just off the tree line that had been cut back for people access. Earlier this year I had seen a small herd of does and fawns, but this one was alone. I had no doubt the others were not far away hidden in the brush. The fawn stared at me as I stopped and took a picture, then darted away when my vehicle started to move. I was glad the herd was still wary despite the proximity of people. The deer hunting season is just over one month away.
Yellowstone National Park is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. This includes a wide diversity of small animals, but the park is known for its predator–prey complex of large mammals. This includes eight ungulate species (bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer) and seven large predators (black bears, Canada lynx, coyotes, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolverines, and wolves). The Park’s goal is to “maintain the ecological processes that sustain these mammals and their habitats while monitoring the changes taking place in their populations.” There is no hunting allowed in the park, but seasonal or migratory movements take many species across the park boundary. That means they are open to hunting or may be killed for depredation of livestock.
As I drove the road into the state park there were signs posted advising “No Hunting” in the park. This is to protect the wildlife in the park, but to also protect the people. When I checked online, I found that a .308 Winchester bullet can travel up to 4600 yards (over 2.6 miles) when fired horizontal. If the barrel is held at a 45-degree angle it climbs to 3.5 to 4.5 miles. While those figures are optimal and do not take trees and ridgelines into account, that is still a long way. If I were a deer, I think I would decide to live in one of our parks so I would not have to worry about hunting. Although, that would not protect me from the black bears. Maybe it is good to be human.
Thoughts: A friend of mine told of going deer hunting in Utah. While he did not hunt, he did like the camaraderie around the fire and hiking through the woods. He hiked his way up a ridge and when he got to the top, he noticed a man watching the slope. Being polite, my friend asked if he had seen any deer. The response was, “No, but I have taken a few sound shots.” He told me that was the last time he went along hunting. The large mammals that make up the predator-prey complex are unaware of boundaries that provide either safety or risk. Humans not only make those boundaries, but we choose to ignore them. Few would venture into a state park when hunting because they understand the risk to others. Over one third of eligible Americans know the risk to others and still refuse to get vaccinated. That is why the US is now averaging more than 100,000 new cases a day. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.