Why and How Hunters Should Read Wildlife Research – Foundry Outdoors
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Why and How Hunters Should Read Wildlife Research

There are different levels of nerdiness when it comes to hunters. Some folks could probably care less about the biology of the natural world they’re spending a couple days of the year in, while others are measuring soil pH and formulating the perfect food plot mix year after year. Admittedly, I would rank myself down at the nerdier end of the spectrum for hunters. The natural world we spend time hunting in is immensely complex, and understanding it even a little bit better takes a lifetime. I tend to believe that we learn the most from personal experience and spending as much time in the outdoors as possible. But data and research have a valuable place, as well for starting to understand complex phenomena in nature. 


Why Read Wildlife Research?

Every year, funding for wildlife research (often provided by hunters) goes toward studying natural phenomena and often informing wildlife management decisions. Many aspects of managing wildlife, for instance harvest regulations and habitat management recommendations, come from scientific research.

Why, as a hunter, would it benefit you to be able to read and interpret scientific literature? There are plenty of reasons, one of which being that the researchers want you to. Data is collected and analyzed to be acted upon one way or another. Sure, not all research has practical applications, but in wildlife, much of it does. If you know where to look, the body of literature regarding wildlife covers a vast array of topics. Studies on habitat usage, wildlife behavior, disease and physiology all have major applications for hunters trying to better understand and protect the species they hunt.


How to Read Wildlife Research

So, how do you go about finding and interpreting wildlife research papers? Google Scholar is probably one of the most straightforward, accessible tools. Filter topics by date range, author and subject to locate bodies of literature. One thing to note is that not all articles will be fully accessible. Many of the journals that publish research are pay-to-access. However, the abstract will often be available and is usually full of good information.

The abstract of a scientific paper is a short segment at the beginning of the paper that summarizes the study, its results, and sometimes management implications. Basically, the methods and findings in a nutshell. Sometimes, this is all you need to answer casual questions. Other times, digging deeper into a paper is necessary. For instance, you read an abstract about wild pigs consuming alligator nests. Great! You now know that wild pigs have been documented eating alligator nests. But if you want to know where this happens, how the researchers made this discovery, how common is this behavior, etc., you’ll want to read the paper itself.

The introduction gives some background on the study and cites other literature to build off of. This is a good place to find additional resources and understand the motivations for researching a particular topic.

The method section goes into detail about how data was collected and analyzed. The idea is that another scientist could replicate the study and come up with their own conclusions.

The results section of a paper often includes figures that illustrate the data collected in the study. Figures are a great way to visualize patterns and better understand the data.

Table from the results section of the paper Taylor, T. S. (1978). Spring Foods of Migrating Blue-Winged Teals on Seasonally Flooded Impoundments. The Journal of Wildlife Management42(4), 900–903. https://doi.org/10.2307/3800781

The discussion section of a paper is just that: a discussion of the results. This is where the authors might note management implications of the results and discuss the data in a more applicable way.

Often, wildlife research is disseminated into more outreach-focused literature like extension brochures and magazine articles. Agencies use data to inform the decisions they make in regards to managing species and habitats. As a hunter, advocating for conservation and science-based management is a component of being an involved, responsible steward. Reading wildlife research allows access to tons of great information that can help you make habitat management decisions for your own properties, know what to look for in seasonal food habits for certain species, advocate for solid conservation practices, and so much more. This research is more accessible than ever before and spending some time reading it has excellent benefits!

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