John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
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This week’s column pokes gentle fun at those who criticize the way biologists manage deer and other wildlife:
As the calendar flips from 2010 to 2011, the last person I’d want to be is a West Virginia Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
The state’s deer seasons have ended. Hunters who didn’t bag a buck have had the entire holiday season to become even more disgruntled. Human nature being what it is, they’ll likely take their frustrations out on the people they think are to blame.
Some will vent their spleens during telephone calls to the DNR. Others will wait until the Natural Resources Commission’s midwinter meeting, or until DNR officials hold their annual sectional meetings in March.
The DNR guys will listen politely, as they almost always do, and will patiently try to explain why they managed the deer herd the way they did. The critics, in turn, will walk away convinced they know infinitely more about wildlife management than any DNR employee could ever hope to learn.
This is not a new phenomenon.
The late Jack O’Connor, longtime shooting editor for Outdoor Life, characterized the mindset in a letter to the editor of the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune in early 1967:
“In my day I have been in a fair number of states and I have yet to be in one where the game department was not under fire and where there was not a strong movement under way to get rid of the director, to hang the biologists, to have the head of the law enforcement division torn asunder by wild horses, and the chairman of the commission beheaded, drawn and quartered, and his head exhibited in front of the state Capitol on a pike,” O’Connor wrote.
“I long ago found out that if I wanted to get all the correct answers to the problems of game management I was wasting my time if I went to see the game department biologist. These poor slobs have only studied the various aspects of game management in universities for from four to eight years. They only spend about 250 days a year or so in the field and in the laboratory.
“They only know something about ecology, biology, chemistry, and various worthless subjects. As a consequence these biologists are all fatheads and their opinions are without value.
“If I want to get all the answers but quick I just go to any bar, barber shop, or sporting goods store. I quickly find out that many people know exactly how all the problems should be dealt with, and that all this wisdom comes to them through a sort of osmosis – through having bought a hunting license, having spent two weekends hunting deer, or having talked to old Hi Jenkens, who used to be a market hunter and who came here in 1908.
“For my part I set little store by these swivel chair experts in the game department or any other quacks with modern scientific pretenses. If I want to know how the weather is going to be I wouldn’t think of getting in touch with the weather bureau. Instead I stop some little old lady on the street. I ask her how she feels. If she tells me that her corns are hurting, I know it is going to rain.
“When I feel lousy I wouldn’t think of consulting an M.D. Instead I pull a hair out of my head, send it to an old barber I went to when I was in college down in Arkansas. He burns the hair in a darkened room, notes the color of the flame, and tells me what is wrong.
“The fact that I am still alive and relatively frisky at my advanced age shows the old boy knows his stuff.”
In another part of the letter, O’Connor wrote that if Idaho’s governor “fired every member of the [game] department and staffed it with St. Peter, the Angel Gabriel, Sir Izaak Walton, Nimrod, Diana, Daniel Boone and Charles Darwin he’d still get more criticism of the game department than any other.”