Deer populations have increased across most of North America, in some places reaching levels of abundance surpassing those that existed when the first European settlers arrived.
But that’s not what Barry Brandow Sr. and other hunters are seeing these days near Grand Forks, in southeastern British Columbia, where a regional population collapse of mule deer and white-tailed deer appears to have taken place.
“The end of July when the snow would melt, you could finally get into the back country and set your camp up. You could ride your horses on the ridges in that alpine tundra, and it was very common to see, in clumps, big mule deer,” said Mr. Brandow. “Today, because of logging roads, the long [hunting] seasons, predators, you name it, you can ride all that country and you’ll be lucky to see one buck or two. I mean virtually they are gone.”
Mr. Brandow, who has worked as guide and outfitter in the Boundary region of B.C. for 35 years, has organized a campaign by hunters to draw the government’s attention to the crisis they see unfolding.
Rather than just write letters to Victoria, the hunters are making their pleas in YouTube videos. Facing the camera, sometimes with hounds baying in the background, they talk about how hunting has changed and they urge the government to take action.
They are plain-talking country folk, and some of them look like they could have parts on Duck Dynasty. But there is no mistaking how deeply they love deer, and how badly they want to see the population rebound.
“I’ve watched our deer populations plummet to virtually none. Where there was many, many deer to virtually none,” says Mr. Brandow Sr.’s son, Barry, in one video. “[In] cities like Grand Forks there’s a lot of deer so people assume there’s a lot in the bush and there’s nothing to worry about. And the big reality of it is there’s bugger all in the bush.”
Deer are flourishing inside city limits, where there is no hunting and few predators. But in the wild it’s a very different picture.
Barbara Nicolson, who identifies herself as a resident hunter and guide, said it used to be common to see both white-tailed and mule deer along country roads. Now sightings of either are rare.
“I don’t expect to ever get back what once was,” she says. “My son has just begun hunting and my fear is that he and other young hunters like himself will not have the privilege of seeing what I saw.”
Says Marty Thomas: “I love hunting. I don’t want to see the season shortened up, but whatever it takes to try and bring the deer back.”
Mr. Brandow Sr. who has posted 16 videos so far, said more hunters are offering to do such testimonials.
“There’s lots more to come, that’s for sure,” he said.
Officially mule and white-tailed deer populations in B.C. are listed as stable, but population assessments also note that there can be regional declines.
Mr. Brandow Sr. said it’s clear that in southeast B.C. deer numbers are way down, and something needs to be done.
“We’re out there all the time. We see it first,” he said.
Mr. Brandow Sr. said the hunting season is too long, the shooting of does shouldn’t be allowed and some access roads should be shut down.
“And what about the quad bike?” he asked. “We just can’t carry on this way with the quad bike. Number one, you can very quickly get off it and fire at your target, whether it’s a grouse or a mule or white-tailed deer. And with no conservation officers out there, you can rest assured most of these guns are loaded. You don’t even have to get off. Just pick it up out of your gun rack and whack, you are shooting.”
That’s how people are hunting these days?
“Oh, it’s just exploded,” he said of hunting on quads. “Over the last five years it’s been a steep increase. We are reaching a point where guile and cunning and hard work is no longer a part of the hunting season. It’s just riding all day on your quad bike.”