HOW DEER HUNTING INCREASES THE RATE OF DEER STARVATION
By Ron Baker
Hunters and wildlife frequently claim that deer
hunting reduces winter starvation rates and that hunting is more humane
than letting thousands of deer starve. But the facts are exactly the
opposite. Public hunting usually increases the rate of deer malnutrition
and starvation in many ways.
Deer Management induces abnormally high reproductive rates by
disturbing the normal sex ratio of deer so that there is a numerical
imbalance of does to bucks – as much as five or six to one in some
locations. In many areas serious habitat overcrowding exists even after
the conclusion of hunting seasons. Most wintering deer are fawns and
pregnant does. These does must feed both themselves and their developing
embryos. More young or pregnant deer combined with reduced food supplies
during winter results in more malnutrition and starvation.
Most hunters seek out and kill the larger bucks. Younger and
smaller bucks mate with breeding does resulting in smaller and weaker deer
that are more susceptible to disease and starvation.
Large numbers of hunters pursuing deer during increasingly lengthy
hunting seasons results in increased stress on deer populations during
late autumn. Stress is an important decimating factor, which makes deer
more susceptible to malnutrition and disease.
The pursuit of deer by hunters during three or four weeks results
in the loss of varying amounts of critical fat reserves. These are
accumulated during summer and early autumn and are designed to help carry
deer through the winter. Because of the stress that results from their
pursuit and harassment by hunters, deer in areas that lack safe
sanctuaries eat less than usual. This causes weight reduction at a time
when fat reserves are needed to protect deer against increasingly cold
temperatures and lessening food supplies.
Heavy hunting pressure disrupts the normal movement patterns of
deer – sometimes drastically. Deer are often forced into small, compact
areas of safety where these areas exist. This often leads to overbrowsing;
or, if food supplies in these locations are inadequate or insufficient,
the deer will become malnourished.
Countless deer are wounded during hunting seasons. This is
particularly true during bow hunting seasons. Wounded deer which are not
tracked down and killed, often die slow, lingering deaths, during which
time they eat little or nothing. Weakness, resulting partly from hunger
is often a secondary cause of death.
Deer hunting breaks up family units. A four or five month old
fawn, while capable of fending for itself, is still dependent upon its
mother for direction and social stability. A fawn which loses its mother
during hunting season is more susceptible to malnutrition, starvation and
stress-related ailments than a fawn whose mother lives through part or all
of the winter. In fact, Paul Bozard, head of the park police in Allegany
State Park, believes that one reason for the high fawn mortality rate
during the winter of 81-82 was because many fawns had lost their mothers
during deer season and were thus more likely to die of starvation and
malnutrition than if their mothers had survived.
(Family unit disruption
also occurs as a result of natural predation in a balanced ecosystem, but
at a much slower rate than during hunting seasons when large numbers of
deer are killed in a relatively short time).
State wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
often order wildlife “managers” to kill natural predators such as wolves
and coyotes or establish hunting and/or trapping seasons on these animals
because they sometimes compete with sport hunters. With few natural
predators to kill weak or malnourished deer, there are more wintering deer
than there would be in a well-balanced ecosystem. Thus, there is more
deer starvation. The “starvation argument” is nothing more than an excuse
to hunt deer – often with disastrous consequences for deer, large
predators and natural lands where habitat is destructively manipulated.
Hunting usually creates many more problems than it solves. The next time
a hunter tells you that he is doing deer a favor by reducing starvation
rates, tell him the facts!
Ron Baker is a homesteader in the Adirondacks and
a contributor to the Backwoods Journal. He is the naturalist and is the
Vice-President of C.A.S.H.