For many of us, to happen upon a deer grazing in a far-off field or at the edge of the woods is a magical moment. We often stop and exclaim, “Hey, look! A deer!” as we point it out to our friends and family so they may take in the sight of such a graceful and beautiful creature. If we are lucky, we may spot a few fawns with their mother, or even a majestic antlered buck. Fortunately, seeing a deer is not as rare as it used to be. For instance, in the very early 1900’s, it was unheard of to spot a deer in the wilderness due to their population dwindling to near extinction after mass deforestation and unregulated hunting. It wasn’t until the implementation of hunting laws that their population began to grow again. Unfortunately for the deer, like many non-domesticated animals in this country, they have become victims of a vicious cycle of greed and tradition.
Every year, hunters kill approximately six million white-tailed deer across the United States. Although many argue that they hunt mainly to put food on the table, statistics say otherwise: according to the 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, less than two percent of hunters have a household income below the poverty line. In fact, most hunters are in the middle to upper-middle class income range. Even the most well-known recreational hunter in America—Ted Nugent—said in his own publication World Bowhunters Magazine, “Nobody hunts just to put meat on the table because it’s too expensive, time-consuming and extremely inconsistent.” Clearly over the past several decades, hunting deer has become more about recreation and less about feeding families.
As much as state and federal wildlife agencies profess that killing deer helps lower the deer population, what these agencies aren’t telling you is that hunting only lowers the population temporarily. Once several members of a herd are killed, there are more resources for the deer who are left, signaling to the females to reproduce at a higher rate. In effect, the population booms far past the original non-hunted number. According to a study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, does in hunted herds will even produce two to three times as many twins as in non-hunted herds. In reality, state and federal wildlife agencies work to keep the deer populations high so they can profit from increased hunting license sales. Thus, recreational hunting has turned into a money-making machine, and the deer are paying the price with their lives.
Although hunting enthusiasts may argue that hunting deer is no different than a predator stalking its prey, they are gravely mistaken. The deer’s natural predator—the mountain lion—will take the weakest and smallest deer because they are easier to isolate from the rest of the herd. Hunters, however, pride themselves on bringing home the largest doe or buck. In effect, the weaker and smaller deer are left to procreate with each other, perpetuating future generations of weaker and smaller deer.
A similar example can be witnessed in the ram population in Alberta, Canada. Scientists observed that over a forty-year period, rams’ horns decreased in size by nearly twenty percent. The scientists discovered that due to increased trophy hunting in the region, the rams with larger horns were being killed while the rams with smaller horns were left to reproduce with the herd. Clearly, hunting does not restore or revive natural order.
A once necessary way of survival has devolved into a harmful, thrill-seeker’s sport, preying on animals who want nothing more than to be left alone. Hiking, boating, bird-watching, and photography are just a few of a multitude of ways you can enjoy the outdoors without hurting animals. And while you are basking in the outdoors, you may come upon a beautiful white-tailed deer. Just appreciate the moment. Most importantly, just let them live.