By John Eberhart:
If you hunt phenomenal hunting land with little competition, feel fortunate and be proud of your kill accomplishments, but don’t assume you’re somehow a better hunter than others hunting in more heavily hunted areas with differing types of pressure criteria. Unless defined clearly, which it never is in hunting film or media, the commonly used term “hunting pressure” is vague, unclear and relatively meaningless.
Having exclusively hunted on knock-on-door for free permission properties and public land in Michigan (the most heavily bowhunted state in the country) for 51 seasons and having bowhunted in lightly hunted states like Iowa, Illinois and Kansas during Michigan’s gun season each year since 1997, I speak from direct experience on the vast differences between the amount and type of hunting pressure from one area to another. Anyone saying there is no difference in mature deer behavior no matter the area is either; extremely naïve, their ego doesn’t allow them to admit it, or their totally out-of-touch with reality.
The amount and type of hunting pressure an area receives is so crucial to how it’s hunted and how strict a scent control regiment is required that in each of my three books there’s a complete chapter on each topic and are also addressed in each of my instructional bowhunting DVD’s (deer-john.net).
While the killing of animals should never be considered sport, I’m going to use organized sports as an easily understood contrast to differing levels of; hunting properties, hunting pressure, and so-called hunting experts.
In school everyone had the same opportunities to participate in sports. What organized sports has that hunting doesn’t is that whether in, middle school, high school, college, or at the professional level, the most gifted or driven participants excelled and kept rising to the top of their sport using the same playing fields, courses, rinks, tracks, courts, and matts as their competitors. That is definitely not the case in deer hunting as there is absolutely no way of establishing any hunter as being more gifted or driven strictly based on their accomplishments, because the playing fields (hunting properties and amount and type of pressure) are miles apart from being equal.
The reality is the vast majority of high profile hunting personalities exclusively hunt on their own large micro-managed properties or leases, on pay-to-hunt ranches for free in lieu of advertising, and some even kill within high fenced enclosures. While they may want you to believe it, those types of hunting areas in no manner whatsoever, replicate hunting conditions where the vast majority of hunters, hunt.
They may be descent hunters, but in the areas they hunt, they don’t have to be to kill monster bucks and given the opportunity to hunt the same properties as most TV, video, and media personalities, many of you reading this post would also be just as if not more, successful as them.
So how is hunting pressure defined? The best way I know is to relate it to us. Most adults would feel comfortable walking through a small rural town after dark because history tells us it’s safe to do so.
Now let’s throw in known history of danger. Most adults would not walk after dark through an inner city neighborhood in Chicago or Detroit for instance because there’s a known history of consequential danger. Adults have learned which areas to avoid because the history of danger is high.
We do not have exclusivity on the desire to survive and just as the feeling of vulnerability affects our security precautions and movement habits, so does the amount and type of hunting pressure affect mature bucks; survival rates, daytime movement habits, reaction to hunter intrusions, reaction to hunter tactics, human odor acceptance, when and how they socially interact with other deer, and when and where they make or re-visit signposts during daylight hours.
For a Deer & Deer Hunting article I created the term “heavy consequential hunting pressure” to address the worst case scenario of hunting pressure and to save on article word count restrictions used the terms initials hchp when referring to it.
Hchp is defined as; an area with a minimum of 10 bowhunters per square mile and at least double that amount of gun hunters and where most hunters target any legal antlered buck. Hchp directly affects; how many bucks survive beyond their first set of antlers, the type of security cover they bed in, how much they move during season during daylight, the amount of transition or perimeter security cover required for daytime movements, how severely they react to human intrusions, and what traces of human odor they will tolerate before spooking.
In hchp areas bucks 3 ½ years and older have usually survived at least one consequential hunter encounter. Only one of the many 3 ½ year old or older bucks I’ve taken in Michigan did not have at least one old wound whereas none of the nineteen similar age class bucks I’ve taken in Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois had an old wound. Some other states with many areas receiving hchp are Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and W. Virginia to name a few.
Hchp areas should not be confused with areas where there are hunter engagement criteria’s or rules, that’s only hunter presence. No matter the amount of hunters, where there are no negative consequences from hunter encounters until bucks reach an age or antler size kill criteria, once they reach it, they are much easier to kill because their vulnerable daytime movement habits while growing-up, remain somewhat intact. A natural byproduct of kill criteria areas is the amount of bucks that reach maturity because they are allowed to do so before being targeted. Just watch about any TV show or video for confirmation that most bucks they let pass, are bigger than what many hunters in hchp areas will ever see in a lifetime of hunting.
Hchp overwhelmingly trumps all other factors influencing mature buck numbers, movements and behavior and unfortunately most hunters have no option but to deal with it.
Hunter expectations should be tightly bound to the area in which they hunt. In some hchp areas bucks scoring a hundred inches are less common than hundred-fifty inch bucks in lightly hunted and managed areas.
If you hunt terrific property, feel fortunate, if not, embrace what you have and keep realistic expectations.