By Reggie Ellis

Nobody cares more about deers than the people who kill them.

It may sound like an oxymoron, but California's hunters are the primary source of funding for the state Department of Fish and Game's Deer Management Program. One of the most active hunting groups in California and the nation is the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF), which recently raised more than $12 million at its annual Western Hunting and Conservation Expo. In addition to the annual convention, MDF chapters hold their own dinners to raise funds for their region and state. Eddie Reynoso, regional director for California South (of Sacramento), formed an Exeter Chapter last year and will be holding the chapter's second annual banquet on Thursday, May 10 at the Exeter Memorial Building.

&#8220If my 8-year-old son or 6-year-old daughter want to go hunting or just to see wildlife I want to make sure that they have that opportunity,” Reynoso said. &#8220Hunters - who not only pay extra taxes on our guns, ammo, equipment, tags, etc. - are the ones who fund all of the projects that protect wildlife and preserve their habitats.”

Last year's dinner, the first year in Exeter, raised $20,000. Reynoso said the Exeter Chapter kept $4,300 and the rest was sent to the state for program funding. In all, Reynoso's southern district raised enough money between five chapters to send $272,000 to the California Department of Fish and Game. One of the program's funded last year was a multi-million dollar San Joaquin Valley Fawn Study, which tagged 50 deers to track migration between summer and winter and implanted does with sensors that are set off when they give birth to fawns to track population.

This year's event should raise even more as MDF is auctioning off the last California Open Zone Deer Tag for this year. The tag allows for hunting in any hunting zone in California while that area is in season. There is normally a lottery of about 6,000 people in line to get about 25 tags.

&#8220This is a very rare tag issued by Fish and Game and we are expecting it to sell between $16,000-$20,000,” Reynoso said. &#8220We will be accepting live bids and over-the-phone bids for anyone who can't attend the dinner.”

Keeping the money within the local area is a priority for Reynoso who was born and raised in Exeter. The Exeter Chapter has already promised $1,600 for a deer monitoring program near Camp Nelson above Springville. The U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game would work together to manage vegetation on 960 acres in the Tule River watershed to reduce the chance of wildfire in a key winter range. The money would be used to pay two people for 10 days of work.

&#8220Without hunters there would not be enough money to fund some of these studies that are essential to keeping deer populations healthy,” Reynoso said. &#8220Obviously this is in our best interest because if deer populations decline, hunting restrictions go up.”

From the Badlands of the Dakotas to the desert Southwest, mule deer symbolize the American West. But habitat loss and degradation over the past 40 years have caused mule deer to suffer and their populations are now in severe decline.

Formed in 1988, MDF now has over 10,000 members and approximately 65 chapters nationwide who support its grassroots efforts with its own Mule Deer magazine. MDF's goals center on restoring, improving and protecting mule deer habitat, which result in self-sustaining, healthy, free-ranging, and huntable mule deer populations.

Through chapter fund-raising events like the dinner in Exeter, MDF volunteers raise thousands of dollars to help fund habitat and conservation projects throughout the West.

Tickets for the second annual MDF dinner in Exeter are $75 for adults and $45 for children 17 and younger. In addition to the Open Zone Deer Tag, five special hunts will also be auctioned off, including hunts for dove, pig and duck. There will also be a raffle for a Christensen rifle, Kawasaki quad runner, Swarovski laser guide and a gun safe. All children will receive a door prize. All tickets are sold in advance, so none will be available at the door. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. For questions or more information, call Eddie Reynoso at 679-8463.

Start typing and press Enter to search