Although rarely considered predators, wildlife hunters can function as important ecological and evolutionary agents. In part, their influence relates to targeting of large reproductive adults within prey populations. Despite known impacts of size-selective harvests, however, we know little about what enables hunters to kill these older, rarer, and presumably more wary individuals. In other mammalian predators, predatory performance varies with knowledge and physical condition, which accumulates and declines, respectively, with age. Moreover, some species evolved camouflage as a physical trait to aid in predatory performance. In this work, we tested whether knowledge-based faculty (use of a hunting guide with accumulated experience in specific areas), physical traits (relative body mass [RBM] and camouflage clothing), and age can predict predatory performance. We measured performance as do many hunters: size of killed cervid prey, using the number of antler tines as a proxy. Examining ∼4300 online photographs of hunters posing with carcasses, we found that only the presence of guides increased the odds of killing larger prey. Accounting for this effect, modest evidence suggested that unguided hunters presumably handicapped with the highest RBM actually had greater odds of killing large prey. There was no association with hunter age, perhaps because of our coarse measure (presence of grey hair) and the performance trade-offs between knowledge accumulation and physical deterioration with age. Despite its prevalence among sampled hunters (80%), camouflage had no influence on size of killed prey. Should these patterns be representative of other areas and prey, and our interpretations correct, evolutionarily-enlightened harvest management might benefit from regulatory scrutiny on guided hunting. More broadly, we suggest that by being nutritionally and demographically de-coupled from prey and aided by efficient killing technology and road access, wildlife hunters in the developed world might have overcome many of the physical, but not knowledge-based, challenges of hunting.
|Publication Title||PLoS One|
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