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Choctaw Animal Control

"Choctaw Deer Management...hmm"

One of my favorite Choctaw stories is the story of the hunter and the alligator. In my own words as I recall, it reads as:

An inexperienced young hunter ridiculed by the men in his tribe due to his misfortunes in the woods was out trying to provide food for his family and meets up with an alligator on a smothering summer day. The season had been so hot that all the waterholes that the alligator knew of had dried up and it was traveling to find another. The hunter could see that the alligator was weak and stressed from being without water after its long travels. The alligator speaks to the hunter and pleads for the hunter to carry him to a waterhole some 200 yards away. The hunter at first startled at the alligator speaking to him explains that he is on a mission to hunt for food for his family. The alligator continues to plead and beg with the young hunter to take it to water because it doesn't have the strength to continue on its own. Still unsure of the alligator intentions, the young hunter explains to the alligator that he does not trust it and once he approaches the alligator, the alligator will grab and kill him. The alligator continues to plead with the young hunter and offers a deal that if the hunter carries him to water than he would tell him the way to be a successful hunter. Being that the hunter was inexperienced and has never been successful at providing much food for his family; the hunter reluctantly agrees but tells the alligator that he will only carry him if the alligator allows him to bind his mouth and feet. Desperate to make it to water, the alligator agrees and the hunter proceeds to bind the alligator's mouth and feet with vines. The hunter pulls the alligator up on his shoulder and carries it to the waterhole. Once at the watering hole, the hunter unbinds the alligator and jumps back out of the way. The alligator gathers his strength and slides off the bank into the water. After driving and submerging a couple of times, the alligator swims to the bank and thanks the young hunter for helping it get to water and begins to tell the young hunter how to be successful in the woods. He tells the hunter to look at the trail behind him and advises him to walk it until he comes to a small doe. He tells him "don't shoot her, she is young and will mother several large bucks throughout her lifetime". He tells him to continue on until he meets up with a large old doe and tells him "don't shoot her, she has lived her life and has mother several deer, but still has more life to give". The young hunter is than told to continue on the path until he meets a small buck. The alligator than advises the hunter "don't shoot him, he is young and has just now started to live his life and will father several large bucks as well". The alligator continues on to tell the hunter that path will lead to a clearing that is border by a hardwood thicket. He tells the hunter to sit at the edge of this thicket and right before dark, a large bodied mature buck will enter the clearing. "This is the deer that you will harvest for your family. Harvest this deer and you will be an accomplished hunter and will be successful in the woods throughout your lifetime". The hunter thanks the alligator for his wisdom, turns and begins to travel down the path. As the alligator had told him, he meets the young doe, old mature doe, and young buck. He continues on to the clearing and does as he was advised and waits. As the daylight starts to fade, the young hunter looks up and notices an extremely large bodied, heavy antlered mature buck step out not far from his location. He successfully harvests this deer and returns to his family with food to last for the entire winter. From that point on, the young hunter grows into a successful hunter and acknowledged by all members of his tribe as a great hunter.

Now this story covers some of the ideas of Quality Deer Management, with the exception of now I would push for that large doe to be harvested to help balance the deer herd. However, to have conservation wisdom in our Choctaw stories illustrating the wise use of our natural resources help hit the point home. In much of our history, many writers have credited the Choctaws as wise hunters and gatherers in that only what was needed to support the family and community was taken.

I'm a supporter of Quality Deer Management (QDM) and I have been approached with others that have reservations of the concept of QDM. QDM is not the absolute restriction of harvesting bucks. QDM is simply the management of deer herds as a whole. While yes, much of the literature out there is to allow young bucks to grow up and to harvest more does to thin out the deer herds, I'd like to reiterate that much of this management concept is based on how the deer population is currently in an area. Taking into account the tribal lands within the exterior boundaries of the Choctaw reservation, there is no question that in this point in time, deer herds are in need to be thinned and to do that doe harvests have to be increased. Although I've seen some nice bucks walking through these properties, I would still be recommending more doe harvests until that time when deer herds begin to balance out. In addition, I'd be pushing that younger bucks be allowed to walk and add on another year or two. One of the misconceptions I've been hampered with is that I'm completely against the harvest of a young buck. I'm not totally against the harvest of young bucks for youth or newcomers to the sport of hunting; however, yes, I have been known to say that if you are hunting for food rather than sport, why not harvest a doe versus a buck with antlers. I have yet to know of anyone to eat an antler…and if you are hunting for sport, wouldn't you want to harvest a large bodied, heavy antlered mature buck as your trophy?

Is QDM working? Based on observations and harvests that I have seen on the Choctaw Indian Reservation, as well as throughout the state of Mississippi. I would have to agree "yes" but we are far from a balanced deer herd. I have seen some very impressive bucks harvested this year and many in the larger age class; however, I have seen several large groups of does as I travel throughout the central and southern parts of the state. Another area where I have been impressed with this year is the involvement in improving wildlife habitat among our hunters. Be it green plots or mineral supplements, hunters have been more and more involved with the idea of management of wildlife habitat, which benefits more than just deer. Lastly, I have been impressed with the overall involvement of hunters and newcomers to the sport. Those who attend our wildlife events and those who provide input are the keys to having a successful deer program. We have taken strides towards a more comprehensive wildlife program and have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. With your involvement, whether it be in the field, in a classroom, or talking in a parking lot, you as a tribal steward are crucial to our success at maintaining and sustaining our natural resources.

- M. Reed, Tribal Biologist