Column: Deer-hunting philosophies changing with ecological challenges

A recent Al Smith column in the Lima News offers plenty of food for thought as we head into deer-gun season.

The piece begins like this:

    For more than a century, hunters have played a vital role as conservationists in America.

    Led by Teddy Roosevelt, hunters helped curb the wanton killing of animals and have helped bring back nearly depleted populations of game via strict hunting regulations and also through sound wildlife management paid via license and permit fees.

    The job has been so well done with the whitetail deer population that herds have not only repopulated their rural domains but are now also invading urban and suburban areas. Meanwhile, the population of hunters has declined, as our society has become less rural and agrarian. Fewer hunters, plus stricter hunting limits, proved to be the formula for success. But success has bred a new set of problems that hunters and wildlife managers must work together to solve.

    In just more than 100 years, the whitetail deer population in the U.S. has grown from an estimated 500,000 in 1898 to 20 to 33 million today, believed to be more than when Columbus arrived on American shores more than 500 years ago. Biologists and ecologists estimate that deer densities of 18 to 20 per square mile are ideal. In some areas of the country densities are more than 70 deer per square mile.

After highlighting how overpopulation is effecting the ecology of other plants, mammals and even humans, the column continues with observations on current wildlife management policy in Ohio...

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more of the article, with accompanying commentary from Larry S. Moore.

Again, from the article:

    Hunters and wildlife managers are responding by thinking more like ecologists. A prime example of how thinning deer herds helps preserve the ecology was the special hunts Indiana instituted a little more than 10 years ago in its state parks. Today seedlings have reappeared and plants that had not been seen in years are blooming again — all key ingredients in the ecological regeneration of a forest or woodlot.

    In other areas, wildlife managers have even tried birth control for deer but without much success. Hunting remains the most viable and sound population control mechanism so managers have instituted more liberal bag limits and offer special permits to hunt nuisance herds in urban and suburban areas. In many states, hunters may take more than one deer. In Ohio and elsewhere, regulations allow for taking only one buck. Any remaining deer a hunter takes must be antlerless (usually a doe). Unfortunately, for many hunters, that’s a problem.

    Historically, when deer were scarce, hunters and managers preserved herds by not shooting does. Bagging a buck brought a hunter respect. Shooting a doe brought scorn. Even after does became legal game, hunters who took them were often looked down upon by their hunting brethren. What a mistake!

    Biologists figure that just to keep a deer herd stabilized, hunters must take 35 to 45 percent of the female population. A single buck mates with numerous does. Females produce well. Twins are common and triplets are not all that uncommon. With that birth rate, the deer population can swell quickly.

Smith shares his belief that hunters would be doing nature a favor by taking a doe, before concluding:

    More than 100 years ago, hunters needed to change their philosophy to keep whitetail and other game animals from being depleted. Today, they need to change their philosophy again not only to help the environment, but all wildlife populations as well.

Alternative Commentary by Larry S. Moore:

Mr. Smith's comments triggered a different perspective as a hunter and outdoor writer. If nothing else, this certainly demonstrates that while we have a lot in common there are also diverse opinions in the outdoor world. The article comments on changing the approach professional wildlife managers and hunters have toward deer, hunting, stricter limits and new problems.

I disagree with the author on several points. The typical problem of deer browsing in yards is discussed without regard to the lost hunting access that the increased urbanization of Ohio has caused. Everyone having their 5 or 10-acre homestead or mini-farm is a great thing for the homeowner but not good for getting access to huntable properties. Meanwhile, deer welcome the smorgasbord of plants, shrubs, and landscaping. They have proven to be very adaptable.

Mr. Smith seems to be laying the loss of much habitat through over browsing at the feet of hunters. However, in many areas, environmental protectionists have resisted any hunting, whether by paid marksmen or by sportsmen, in many large parks. Recently Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Sharonville, Hamilton County, and Dayton Metro Parks have instituted sharpshooters and other management control plans. This is often at great expense and generally after years of neglecting the growing problem until it became a crisis.

Mr. Smith addresses the aversion many hunters have to shooting doe deer. This was never a problem for me or most of my hunting companions. True, doe deer were ignored at the check station and occasionally looked down upon. However, over the last 20 years those prejudices have been greatly reduced in Ohio. That is a pretty quick transition where prejudices are concerned. I can assure you that many hunters are taking an additional doe. I know from first-hand experience the Hunters For The Hungry Program, the food-bank operators, and most importantly the families that received the nutritious meat, which is also very low in cholesterol, never ask if the meat is from a buck or a doe.

Mr. Smith notes that wildlife managers have started thinking more like ecologists. Hunters and wildlife managers have always thought about a balance of nature for all animals and plants. I have been a hunter education instructor since 1988. We have always taught about carrying capacity and managing wildlife populations for balance between the habit and the species. I've been familiar with the Ohio Division of Wildlife deer management plans since about the same time. The DOW has since that time (and probably before I was aware) always included habitat analysis and wildlife density per acre when determining deer harvest required to maintain a healthy balance. Many areas, especially parks, require controlled hunts to properly manage the deer. This almost always draws protests from various animal rights groups. Hunters avoid some controlled hunts to avoid the confrontation. We know the evening news media will do everything possible to make us and our bows or guns look bad. Park managers, environmental protectionists, anti-hunters and citizen advisory boards where policy was made on emotion rather than scientific wildlife management principles are the ones needing convinced about the proper balance. In short, anti-hunting activists, ecologists and environmentalists should start thinking like hunters.

The article addresses birth control projects for deer as only partially successful. Here I am probably most sharply divided with the author. Birth control projects for deer were a disaster. They were a disaster from a public relations standpoint because anti-hunting groups waved a huge banner about “non-lethal methods” to control deer. In one Ohio study, about 85% of the doe still got pregnant within two years. So they were a disaster for population control. The Canadian maker of that birth control has pulled it from production. The health risks to humans following this are totally unknown. First, what happened to all those darts that were shot at the deer? Are they laying in the parks waiting for someone to step on or a kid to find? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the drug used in the deer birth control is not approved for humans. What happens if injected deer later leave the park and are killed by hunters? What is the risk to anyone who eats that meat? What about the effects on the off-spring of those deer? Is that meat safe? We all know drugs can cause birth defects. What effect could the drugs have on the offspring? There are too many unanswered questions and problems to call the program anything but a disaster.

It is good to conserve and protect critical habitats, and rare or endangered animals and plants. But wildlife population control still fits into that plan. Hunting is still the single most effective method of population control. While some hunters do need to change their attitude towards killing doe, many more people involved in the environmentalist and protectionist movement need to step back and consider the laws of nature and the balance of nature. Bambi was a great movie but should not be the basis for management of wildlife populations.

Related Story from the host of's Cam & Company:
Animal rights terrorists threaten our safety - by Cam Edwards
(story details how terrorists targeted a New York mayor who asked for and received permission from the state of New York, to hold a deer cull in his village)

Help us fight for your rights!

Become a member of Buckeye Firearms Association and support our grassroots efforts to defend and advance YOUR RIGHTS!

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

Get weekly news and instant alerts on the latest laws and politics that affect your gun rights. Enjoy cutting-edge commentary. Be among the first to hear about gun raffles, firearms training, and special events. Read more.

We respect your privacy and your email address will be kept confidential.


Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots organization dedicated to defending and advancing the right of citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities, including self-defense, hunting, competition, and recreation. Read more.