Refocusing A Cooperative

by Anna Mitterling, Wildlife Cooperative Coordinator

What do you do when a cooperative seemingly fails? How do you come back from a once engaged cooperative, to suddenly dealing with high levels of distrust and animosity? Last week I was invited to meet with a cooperative that felt like this. Their meeting with me was seemingly their last ditch effort to regroup. After talking with them for a few hours, they seemed excited about what could still be, and had some ideas in their pocket on how they could bring back the cooperative.

Cooperative.jpgThis cooperative started forming over ten years ago. As they slowly grew, they were bringing on more members, and seemingly growing and doing well. Although at some point, some hunters started getting frustrated with hearing about passing young bucks all the time. On top of this, there were some poaching issues, and the combination of frustrations mounted to pretty high levels. As you can imagine, this did not end well.

Fortunately, there is still interest in an organized cooperative in this area, and not all hope is lost. As I sat down with a group of about ten interested hunters and landowners, we went back to some of the basics. For starters, satisfaction within a cooperative has more to do with creating an environment where people feel included, than just seeing deer or harvesting big bucks. Secondly, a legal buck is a legal buck, and if a hunter is satisfied with that, they it is their right to enjoy taking that deer. It is important to remember that our harvest standards for ourselves are not always the same as our neighbors.

The big new idea this group had, was to start up a buck pole. They figured this would be a way they could bring the local community together, and celebrate the harvests. They agreed it would be best for a few years to sit back and focus more on neighbor relations rather than the size of bucks harvested. Hopefully, in the end, they will be able to rebuild the trust they need to improve the hunting conditions in their area, in the meantime it is crucial they work to build the simple neighborly trust.

Finally, we talked about approaching harvest goals a little differently.  We looked at factors that are of concern to the local hunters, and things that make hunting more enjoyable. Predation is a key concern, and seeing buck activity in the fall is another big one. Ironically, we can look at both of these topics under the same conversation: buck to doe ratios.

Think about it. If there are 20 does to every buck, that buck has to service a lot of does in the fall. This can lead to multiple breeding periods leaving the bucks to enter into winter in poor condition from chasing does all fall. When we look at the repercussions of multiple breedings in the fall, we are looking at multiple fawn drops in the spring. When are deer most vulnerable to coyote predation? When they are just a couple weeks old. And coyotes can only eat so many fawns at a time. If the fawn drop is spread out over time, think of how many more fawns will become prey to coyotes, versus if the vast majority of the fawns dropped around the same time.

All the while, this same topic can still have an effect on the deer activity we see in the fall. If there is only one primary rut, imagine how much activity there will be early November. If the does are not going into heat multiple times, buck have a window of time to spread their seed. There will be competition over does, more sparing, more activity in general. Sounds like some wins to me!

Before you throw in the towel on a cooperative you are part of, before you give up hope, take time to think about what you could try changing. What is a new focus or passion you could bring to the group? I am here to help with these conversations too. If you are looking for some ways to revitalize your cooperative, please feel free to contact me at amitterling@mucc.org.

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