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Leggett: Arizona's move to ban game cameras could alter hunting landscape

Mike Leggett
American-Statesman Correspondent
This trophy buck photographed at Camp Verde Ranch, was located using a game camera posted near a cottonseed feeding station. He was watched for several years before a hunter was allowed to take him, making sure he was old enough and had ben able to breed successfully.

The state of Arizona has done something that could profoundly change hunting throughout the country, but obviously only if other states if other decide to climb on board this particular train.

What the state’s game and fish commission did recently was to ban all game cameras for use in hunting situations.

What hunters and landowners do – especially in Texas, where corn and protein are routinely used to attract deer to certain spots – is use cameras placed in strategic locations to keep track of certain animals coming to those feeding areas.

I know that in Arizona and other “desert” states, guides and hunters have been using cameras to locate trophy animals around water sources and then keep track of those animals until hunting seasons begin.

The Arizona commission decided that using cameras in this way was a violation of the so called “fair chase doctrine,” which is foundational to groups such as Boone and Crockett and their attempts to keep hunters from using techniques B&C perceive as too technical or advanced to give hunters an unfair advantage over the animals they are chasing.

I don’t agree with that or with the state’s right to choose not to allow cameras to be used for locating and following certain animals but I do know that if Texas were to take such a drastic step lots of landowners would be rightly ticked off.

At Camp Verde Ranch, where I help manage the wildlife, we use cameras placed at every feeder to monitor the deer coming to those spots. Typically, we will have found certain bucks one or two years prior to the season they are taken and the cameras let us keep up with them, monitor their growth and development and also keep up with hogs and raccoons and other invaders hitting those feeders.

They also let us know if a buck we are hunting has been injured in a night or sliding on rocks and allow us to keep watch over him to a certain degree and to decide whether or not to take a chance and hope he survives another year or if he needs to be taken off the ranch.

There have also been advances in census methods that allow landowners to set up cameras in certain areas of their ranches in order to conduct their annual deer counts. Those counts then are used to determine the annual harvest numbers for bucks and does and that helps keep the buck/doe ratios in proper standing with the habitat on that ranch.

Now, most states don’t depend on census numbers for harvest the way we do in Texas but there’s a reason we do it. Few of those states that don’t rely on game cameras are able to keep up with their annual harvest like Texas. That’s important to maintaining the correct number of animals on a given ranch and to prevent over-population of whitetails.

One thing that is common in states where management isn’t a common practice is that those states often establish a minimum number of points for bucks. That’s a lousy way to manage buck harvest, because there’s no guarantee that the bucks that grow eight points (a common break point for harvest) are old enough to be killed.

And one thing I’ve learned from hunting on ranches all over the state and in setting harvest numbers for other ranches is that what we should all be doing is harvesting mature bucks. If they’re mature, they are good to go and will only help the deer herd and that makes a trophy buck for me.

If he also has a really wide spread or great mass or lots of points, and he’s mature, he isn’t doing a lot of breeding most of the time anyway and he won’t be missed in the gene pool.

So, here’s hoping that Texas Parks and Wildlife never falls for this particular kind of management regulation. It won’t work and it won’t help the health of our deer herds in Texas.