Answering the Call of the Wild: With the First Two-Year Program of Its Kind, Southwest Texas Junior College Is Introducing Students to the Field of Wildlife Management

Article excerpt

As the first cool front of the year arrived in the brush country of South Texas, a young college student ensconced in an elevated deer blind was living his dream. With the sudden drop in temperature, a surge in deer activity occurred as the older, larger-racked bucks began to appear in the semi-open chaparral. The student estimated each deer's age and antler size in inches and jotted notes for later reference.

After glassing (viewing through binoculars) several mature bucks exhibiting 10 or more points and scoring in excess of 150 inches, the young man's adrenalin level escalated in anticipation of seeing one of the old monarchs known to frequent the area As the sun dipped below the pastel, orange-colored evening horizon, a buck appeared 100 yards from his position.

The large, dark-bodied buck with jet-black, damp hocks appeared then rapidly disappeared back into the sea of brush, but not before the young man could distinguish 16 points on massive, wide-sweeping beams. A rack of this magnitude does not require much time to critique before a decision to shoot is made, but the young man was not hunting. He was scouting the area for a client who would be arriving in a few days.

The harvest of a predetermined segment of the standing crop--in this case, deer--is one of the most fascinating phases of wildlife management. The student was working on the ranch as a wildlife intern. It was a vital part of his learning experience, which would eventually lead to a career in wildlife management.

His field activities included much more than scouting. He was involved with food plot development, estimating vegetation abundance and its utilization by deer, and identification of the species making up the vegetative component of the ranch. He also participated in habitat manipulation practices employing techniques such as prescribed burning, surveying wildlife populations, data collection and, of course, participating in the most exciting part of the program--hunting--all of which he studied in the classroom at Southwest Texas Junior College (SWTJC) in Uvalde.

Guided by Knowledge

Guiding an individual to a deer is not difficult, particularly in Texas where an estimated 4,000,000 deer exist. But to harvest the correct animal takes patience and, above all, skill. The guide must not only know how to locate the particular animal, but be proficient at estimating its age and antler size--a skill that requires practice.

On intensively managed lands, the harvest is composed of only those bucks satisfying predetermined criteria. At one time, sportsmen would shoot the first nice buck observed, but that is changing. Sportsmen have become discretionary as to what they shoot. Therefore, the biologist must have knowledge of overall herd quality and composition and know what deer can be removed. This requirement is satisfied by obtaining a good estimate of the mature buck component.

For example, if 100 bucks are observed on a survey, and 20 percent of them are five to six years old, no more than 20 mature bucks should be removed. If the harvest exceeds the recommended quota, younger bucks are subject to removal prior to maturity--"their optimal antler-growing years."

In some cases, managers recommend harvesting only 50 percent of the mature trophy-racked bucks. In this case, only 10 trophy bucks would be harvested, with the remainder consisting of mature bucks demonstrating undesirable phenotypic (visible) characteristics.

Based on these criteria, the student's scouting activity becomes even more important, because there is little room for error. A professional guide's objective is to satisfy hunter and harvest criteria simultaneously.

Biologists depend on data collected on population surveys in conjunction with harvest statistics such as age, weight and gross score of the antlers in inches, if male, of the animals removed. The consolidation and analysis of this information ensures the manager of making the correct decision. …