More than ever, hunting in North America revolves around whitetails. That fact arose continually when the Quality Deer Management Association held the “2014 North American Whitetail Summit” near Branson, Mo., earlier this spring. Although the Summit was called to address whitetails and deer issues, their fate was repeatedly linked to hunting’s future. Here, leaders representing the hunting industry share their opinions on the future of whitetails and hunting.
Will Primos, founder, Primos Game Calls:
“The whitetail is No. 1 for our business. There’s far more whitetail hunters than any other category of hunter. My personal No. 1 love is waterfowl, but I care deeply about whitetails. It all boils down to this: If you love something, you’ll protect it. You love your children, so you nurture them, you invest in them, you fight for them, you’d die for them. The same thing goes for wildlife habitat. The more you understand it, the more you appreciate the words of Aldo Leopold and other great conservationists, and recognize how valuable it is.
“We have to teach our children basic conservation lessons. Why do we need clean water? Why do we need wetlands? Why do I, a conservative businessman, want to stop bulldozers from filling wetlands to put up a building? Wetlands serve a purpose in our own health. The No. 1 barometer for me and the health of the human race is the health of our wildlife.
“Someone who’s selling land, the first thing they talk about is their deer. They’re a huge component of any property, especially mature deer. Yes, I’m a trophy hunter, but a trophy in my mind is a mature deer. He doesn’t have to be that big, but I like herds with a good age structure of young and old deer.
“More than anything, I just wanted to be part of this meeting. It brought together an incredible group of people from across the country; state agencies, hunters, industry people, universities and landowners. Everyone here has a deep interest in whitetails. I’m part of the hunting industry but I’m also a property owner. We have to get everyone focused on what deer add to the landscape and to our enjoyment of the land.
“This is a tremendous resource and we need to decide what whitetail properties should look like 10, 50, 75, 100 years from now. If we don’t come together and figure out the real issues and how to communicate them, we’ll wake up one day and realize we’ve lost a valuable resource. White-tailed deer are a vital species. That’s why we came to the Summit.”
Fred Pape, president/CEO Pape’s Inc.;
“Recruiting new hunters is critical to our future. I’m also concerned that the captive cervid situation in this country could become a major issue. Those are the two biggest issues I see, because we depend so much on the long-term health of white-tailed deer populations. Whitetails drive about 90 percent of our market.
“The QDMA is focused on whitetails, and I’m glad it’s taking the lead role in being the country’s No. 1 source of information on whitetails. No deer organization has ever taken the leadership position like they’re doing. They’re dedicated to doing what’s right for the resource by providing scientific information on whitetails. Their leadership role puts them atop the hunting industry in ensuring the whitetail’s future through scientific management.”
Terry Rohm, director of marketing, Tink’s Hunting Products:
“I came to the Summit to help protect white-tailed deer. With the changes we’re seeing across the landscape, we want to help protect a sport and an animal we all cherish. We need to get more hunters into the woods, whether they are kids, women or people who just never got a chance to hunt before. That’s a big challenge.
“Hunting is a great family activity, and deer provide better meat than you can get in any store. Hunters today are hunting more for meat than just a few years ago. With today’s economy, hunters can get two or three deer and feed their family a long time. It’s also interesting to see the whitetail’s economic impact. If you draw that line the QDMA shows from western Texas to northwestern North Dakota, everything east of there is all about whitetails. They’re what funds wildlife agencies and the hunting industry.
“If we lose the whitetail, we’re out of business. That’s just the way it is. No matter what you sell as a company, it’s your job to protect wildlife. Protecting natural resources should be part of your mission statement.
“We discussed a lot of good ideas at the Summit, but now the work begins. None of those ideas matter if they don’t get implemented.”
Dennis Zuck, product specialist, Sitka:
“We attended the Summit because we’re interested in white-tailed deer and conservation efforts that produce strong, healthy whitetail herds. We support scientific deer management and want to make a difference.
“This Summit was the genuine infancy of something bigger. Organizations like the QDMA might be relatively modest in size today, but they have incredible amounts of scientific background and knowledge that are valuable to this country. When we look at the whitetail market, we see all kinds of people with different interest levels. But every one of them wants the best experience they can get, because deer hunting is a genuine passion for them. We see that in everyone here, and it’s inspiring.”
Aaron Oelger, director of marketing, Bushnell Outdoor Products:
“We attended the Summit because we support conservation, conservation groups and industry groups that are here. The whitetail is the most popular big-game animal in North America. It’s important that we all come together and support its long-term management.
“In some ways it’s been easy to take whitetails for granted. I’m in my early 40s, and in my lifetime white-tailed deer have always been on the rise. Every year we’ve had more opportunities. We’ve seen a marked decrease in deer the past three years where I hunt in mid-Missouri and central Kansas. We can argue about root causes, but we need to start turning that around or my nephew’s generation won’t have the hunting opportunities I enjoyed. That’s a major concern for my generation. We’re excited to be here, and we’re optimistic about what comes next.”
Gene Price, marketing director, Trophy Rock/Redmond Minerals Inc.:
“The Summit showed a high level of commitment by our industry to white-tailed deer management and the hunting community. The whitetail provides about 90 percent of the driving force in our sales. We’re looking forward to working with the QDMA to see how they’ll use the information they gathered at these meetings.
“It was great to see so many leaders gather for the conference. Whether they were from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or state wildlife agencies, it was good to see their level of concern. They sent key people to work with us. They legitimately want to create a better place for whitetails and deer hunting.”