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CASH Courier > 1995 Spring-Summer Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Spring-Summer 1995 Issue 

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.

(1)   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.

(2)   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.

(3)   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.

(4)   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.

(5)   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.

(6)   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.

(7)   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).

(8)   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.

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