Sorry Elmers, it’s time to snuff out one of the most overused and overstated rationalizations for your beloved sport.
Hunters would have you ingest the preposterous pabulum that hunting helps animals; that hunters are their philanthropic fairy godparents (well-armed well-wishers, if you will) performing the gallant duty of keeping animal populations in check; that animals won’t go on living unless they kindheartedly kill them (this of course is all the more outrageous in light of how many species have been wiped off the face of the earth, or perilously close to it, exclusively by hunting).
But deer, along with most other animal species—besides Homo sapiens, have built-in mechanisms that cause their reproduction rate to slow down when their population is high or food is scarce. Though state “game” departments are usually loath to share any information that might work against one of their arguments for selling hunting licenses, even they know that in reality the wildlife can ultimately take care of their own. According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, “A mule deer herd that is at or above the carrying capacity of its habitat may produce fewer fawns than one that is below carrying capacity.”
The fact is, hunting encourages ungulates to reproduce more, thus seemingly warranting the alleged need for population controls via, you guessed it, more hunting.
Hunting industry propagandists have a lot of people convinced that culling is a necessary evil for controlling animal overpopulation. Lethal removal is their one-size-fits-all solution, no matter the circumstance. But there are always alternatives to that fatal fallback position. When we finally get past the viewpoint of animals as objects, or “property of the state,” and start to see them instead as individuals, the justifications for culling begin to wear thin.
Many places that provide habitat for healthy populations of deer could also support the natural predators who evolved alongside them. All that’s required of humans is to get out of the way and let nature take its course, or, in some cases, repair the damage they’ve done by reintroducing wolves or other native carnivores who were fool-heartedly eradicated. Yet, in the western US and Alaska, as well as in Canada, natural predators are still being killed to allow deer, moose or elk hunters a better chance at success. While some people complain that these browsers and grazers have gotten too tame, hunters in states like Idaho and Montana are whining that wolves make the elk too wild and thus harder for them to hunt.
I tend to be even more cynical about areas where humans have claimed every square inch for themselves and aren’t willing to share with native grazers. When I hear grumbling about deer, elk or geese pooping on a golf course, I have a hard time relating to people’s grievances. It’s the height of speciesism to expect that these animals should face lethal culling for successfully adapting to an unnaturally overcrowded human world.
Ours is the invasive species, overpopulating and destroying habitats wherever we go. We wouldn’t want some other being jumping to a knee-jerk “cull them all” reaction every time humans reached their carrying capacity in a given area.
Sooner or later Mother Nature will tire of humans’ destructive dominance and come up with a way to bring life back into balance. I can just hear her telling off the hunters: “Other animals have a right to be here too—just live with it, Elmers!”
Portions of this post were excerpted from the book, Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport
Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson