Stewardship

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Why Should I Bother to Enter My Trophy?

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Whether we realize it or not, hunters are citizen scientists.

Presumably, you buy a hunting license and participate in hunter harvest surveys when asked or required. You report your duck bands. Congratulations, you are now part of an important dataset. You are a member of the public who helps conduct scientific research. That is a citizen scientist. 

Citizen science isn’t new. Some credit Thomas Jefferson with the idea by employing a network of weather watchers throughout the colonies to try and understand what we now call meteorology. It seems predicting the weather has been a hot topic for centuries. Today, the Audubon Society—a product of Boone and Crockett Club Member George Bird Grinnell—asks members of the public to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. They count and identify birds, then share the information with the Audubon Society, which has been compiling the results since 1900. This longstanding tradition was the brainchild of Frank M. Chapman, an early member of the Boone and Crockett Club. 

“Hunters collect data on biodiversity in its key dimensions,” wrote the authors of a recent paper published in Global Ecology and Conservation. The paper recognizes that engaging hunters as citizen scientists has its merits, namely in the collection of data from a large group of participants. The record-keeping system of the Boone and Crockett Club is no exception. 

The Club has been measuring North American big game since 1895. In the 1920s, it began keeping records and released the first record book in 1932. Today, there are more than 70,000 records in the Boone and Crockett system. Like those Christmas bird counts, is this citizen science? You bet it is.  

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Now in its 14th Edition, the Club's Records of North American Big Game book was first released in 1932 and only contained simple measurements.

What Good Are Records? 

In the late 1800s, the founders of the Boone and Crockett Club were concerned about the fate of big game animals, especially in the western United States. In all reality, they thought many of these animals would become extinct. They wanted to document them before they were gone. 

Seventy years ago, the Club standardized their measuring system, which is still in use today. Because the measuring techniques have remained constant over that time, it has established a baseline and allows standardized comparisons of big game animals through time, which researchers can use to study wildlife management.  

Dr. Kevin Monteith is an Associate Professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair with the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Department of Zoology and Physiology. He’s also a taxidermist and a Boone and Crockett Official Measurer. He’s one of those researchers utilizing Boone and Crockett records. As lead author on a paper titled, “Effects of Harvest, Culture, and Climate on Trends in Size of Horn-Like Structures in Trophy Ungulates”, Dr. Monteith worked with professional members Jim Heffelfinger, Vernon Bleich, R. Terry Bowyer, and other researchers to evaluate trends in horn and antler size recorded from 1900 to 2008. They used more than 22,000 records among 25 trophy categories to test the idea that hunting has the potential to adversely influence the size of horn-like structures of some ungulates. So what did they find? 

For starters, they found “the number of entries per decade increased for most trophy categories.” Second, and most interestingly, the general trend in size of some categories declined. 

Monteith is careful to point out that records research is not absolute in its findings. 

“Records are not designed to be a random sample of a population,” he said. “Records can, though, represent the expression of phenotypic potential of a species over time.”

Other research coming out of the “Monteith Shop” used Boone and Crockett records to assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts for large mammals in North America. Tayler N. LaSharr’s research concluded that, “Overall, our analyses indicated that record books likely contain useful, long-term data that can be used to detect and evaluate temporal changes in horn, antler, or pronghorn size of large male ungulates.” For more on this study, Boone and Crockett Professional Member John Organ takes a much deeper dive into this research in this article

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This record-book typical whitetail deer was taken in Lincoln Co., Kansas, during the 2018 archery season by James Willems. It's now part of the Club's data, which is used by many, including game managers, researchers, and fellow sportsmen.

See more Field Photos here.

Sometimes analysis of the records is able to provide species-specific results. In a paper published by Boone and Crockett University Programs Fellow Rebecca Cain and other researchers, they reviewed record book white-tailed deer entries in nine midwestern states. They found that 3,658 deer were entered into the Boone and Crockett records from 692 of the 856 counties within the study area. The study found that, “More record [book] deer were harvested in counties that had more high-contrast edges, less contiguous land cover, and greater variation in soil productivity.” As a result, the researchers concluded that, “These results provide information for managers and hunters to better understand the spatial distribution of record deer and factors that are correlated with their distribution.” 

But I Don’t Want to Enter My Trophy 

The reasons why hunters don’t list their trophy in the records are many. They don’t want to deal with the hassle. They don’t like the idea of a measuring system. They don’t want to spotlight a particular county. And for the record, the Boone and Crockett Club will only make public the county in which the animal was taken, not your secret spot. The list goes on. Yet there are perhaps just as many reasons why a hunter should enter their animal. 

Think about the big picture. These records can educate and inform wildlife managers, who can then make informed decisions on habitat management, which can result in healthier populations of game and higher quality hunting experiences. 

Here’s another perspective. A few years ago, Bugle magazine published a story written by a young hunting guide. In it, author Troy Smith writes, “So again, why enter? Why shell out $40 that gets my bull and my name on a list somewhere? I get a sense of pride contributing to a decades-old database created and contributed to by hunters.”  

The word "contributed" stands out. Hunters contribute to state fish and game agency budgets when buying a hunting license. We contribute to Pittman-Robertson funds every time we buy a new rifle or box of ammo. And we can contribute to a decades-old body of research if we choose, because, in the end, the records are not about one hunter or one animal. The records are much bigger than that. We are citizen scientists who, collectively, are part of a wildlife conservation legacy that will long outlive us.   


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PJ DelHomme is a writer for Crazy Canyon Media in Missoula, Montana. He regularly contributes content to the Boone and Crockett Club as well as national and regional publications.

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-Theodore Roosevelt