and more enjoyable hunting for everyone involved!
You’ll discover big benefits whether you want to formally consider your neighborhood a conservation co-op or not. However, there are some important things to remember when getting started.
You’ll need common goals, not identical goals. You and your neighbor both want to hunt mature bucks, but your definitions of “mature” may be different. One person may think a 2 1/2-year-old buck is a trophy, while another wants them 4 ½ years or older. That difference does not mean they will not benefit from cooperation. Trying to force specific goals will be counter-productive. Realize that even though your goals are not identical, you do have common goals (more mature bucks), and you can work toward them.
Be realistic. The deer population in an area is seldom driven by what happens on a single farm. I often hear people say a co-op will not work in their neighborhood because one neighbor has no interest in changing what he or she harvests. While it is very easy to blame an “uncooperative neighbor” for a declining deer population or a lack of mature bucks, that is rarely the case. The impacts of one landowner harvesting immature bucks or numerous does can be minimized so long as others adjust their personal harvest expectations to meet the overall goal of the neighborhood. By working together you can develop harvest goals that fit your population and improve everyone’s hunting.
Good things take time. Do not expect to be able to introduce yourself to the neighbors and change the way they manage their farm in a single visit. Think of success coming over the course of years, not months. Don’t give up because you don’t see a change in the first year or two. Keep the communication lines open and the rewards will come.
A nonparticipating landowner does not doom your co-op. Rarely do you get 100-percent participation right out of the gate. Often people are comfortable with what they have and worry a co-op would mean someone else telling them what to do. Keep communication open with everyone in the co-op area and the benefits will become obvious to everyone.
Have fun. The reason you are interested in a co-op is because you are passionate about deer and want to enjoy the results (good deer hunting). Neighborhood gatherings, sharing hunting stories and making new friends are fun, too. If you look at the co-op as work, it will fail. Keep it fun and it will grow.
Combining People and Tactics
Forming a successful neighborhood co-op is up to individual landowners. The Department of Conservation regulates deer harvest to maintain a sustainable deer herd, but cannot form and maintain good relationships among neighbors or regulate to meet everyone’s personal goals. Right now landowners have maximum flexibility in what they harvest, which allows you to manage the deer herd to meet your goals. By communicating with your neighbors you can better understand the local dynamics of the deer populations and the impacts that localized harvest has on the population.
While managing the trigger is a big part of the success of a co-op, habitat management yields big benefits as well. Many landowners are working with 100 acres or less. While you can see large benefits from managing the habitat on these smaller tracts of land, that benefit is magnified if the neighbors are managing their farms, too. Several neighbors working together can provide more food, cover, fawning cover, etc., that will increase the amount of time deer spend in your neighborhood and potentially increase the carrying capacity of the land.
Conservation co-ops can be successful for other species of wildlife, too. Turkeys, quail, rabbits and even waterfowl management can be more successful when you are working on a larger scale. You find success with landowners managing with different species in mind. If your interest is deer and your neighbor is a quail enthusiast, his quail management can help your deer herd and your deer management can help his quail population.
If you and your neighbors would like help forming a neighborhood co-op for deer or other wildlife species, contact your local private land conservationist (see Page 3 for regional phone numbers). While we cannot build and maintain neighborhood relationships for you, we can help by providing technical assistance on habitat improvement projects, providing management workshops and training, and possibly other assistance such as determining appropriate deer harvest to meet your common goals. In the meantime, fire up the grill and start working on those relationships with your newest friends. Before you know it you might get to enjoy not shooting a great buck, too!