I feel for Bill Cochran.
Since my good friend retired from The Roanoke Times in 1998, he’s been writing an online-only column on our website, Roanoke.com. His stuff goes up once a week. It used to be Thursdays but now it’s moved up to Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
Since I started here I’ve had columns on Sundays and Tuesdays, plus my Outdoors page on Friday (now Saturday). In 2006 I started this blog, meaning I can post “breaking news” anytime. Bill and I spend a lot of time together, often traveling to DGIF meetings (which are usually on Thursdays) in Richmond together, and we have talked about the head start I get on writing about news that we’re both covering at the same time. Bill is a good sport about my advantage, which creates a challenge for him to put a fresh take on “old” news.
Bill makes it work by being really smart and insightful. He always finds a way to freshen up his coverage to touch on angles I don’t.
Monday’s news about the deer kill roller coaster ride going up is a good example. My Tuesday column (which published online Monday night) focused on the news. Bill’s take came out last night.
While I did my own number-crunching thing, Bill pulled DGIF deer guru Matt Knox into his column. I was included in an email exchange between the two on Tuesday morning, and Knox had expressed his frustration that high kills and record kills are so often treated as great news, while low kills usually draw an opposite reaction.
After I read Knox’s note I went back and reread my column to make sure I hadn’t hailed the big uptick in the kill as good news. I hadn’t, at least not overtly. But I think a reader could get the idea from my column that I was treating the rise in hunter kill as a good thing. After all, I’d used a running analogy of negative splitting a race (running the second half faster than the first) and that most certainly a good thing.
The dynamics of hunter success versus deer herd management objectives does create a paradox. The DGIF’s deer management plan calls for reduction or stabilization of deer numbers across most of the state. If those objectives are met, hunters will see and kill fewer deer. Yet, it’s natural for hunters to want to see and kill more deer. We equate that with success.
Knox wrote that over-analyzing deer kill trend figures during the season is really not important (I’m paraphrasing here). What really counts are the numbers at the end of the season. I totally agree that the final numbers are the most important aspect. But I do think that looking at in-season ebbs and flows has its place, providing some context to what we are seeing afield.
Hunters had been complaining that action was slow in early November, and electronic checking numbers reflected that. Action seemed to pick up at the end of the month and the numbers reflected that.
That said, I feel for guys like Knox.
Writers such as Bill and I constantly bother biologists and experts for predictions, and they oblige. It probably isn’t fair for us to constantly reference those predictions before the final numbers come in, but we do it anyway. Hey, as long as we’re there in the end when it really counts, that’s the most important thing, right?
Knox said before the season started that the deer population is down. If it weren’t for the mast failure, he said, the kill would probably be down. The mast failure, however, could inflate the kill numbers by making deer more visible and vulnerable.
He was right before the season started, and remains right now. When we see the final tally, wherever it might fall, it won’t be good news or bad news. Just news.