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Might Hunting Actually Contribute to Deer Overpopulation?

An animal rights group pushes back at the idea that hunting is the only way to regulate the nation's deer herds.

The long-held chestnut most deer hunters give animal rights activists is that without hunting, America's deer population would explode to unsustainable heights. "The only relatively efficient means to manage deer herd numbers other than habitat modification is through managing hunter harvest (i.e., contemporary predation)," says the Noble Foundation, a nonprofit advocating for agricultural productivity.

Estimates peg the United States' white-tailed deer population at 20 million, a huge and probably unsustainable leap from an all-time low of 500,000. A new article on Scientific American, however, challenges the notion that the best way of dealing with overpopulation is by culling the herds with gunfire (emphasis ours):

In Defense of Animals (IDA) reports that even permitted sport hunting, under current wildlife management guidelines and outdated land management policies, contributes to deer overpopulation problems. “Currently, there are approximately eight does for every buck in the wild,” the group explains. “Laws restrict the number of does that hunters may kill.” Since bucks will often mate with more than one doe, the ratio of does to bucks “sets the stage for a population explosion.” And open season on both sexes won’t solve the problem, as too many does would die, stranding needy fawns and depleting the reproductive pool—as happened in the early 20th century when deer numbers fell precipitously low. IDA and many other animal protection organizations believe that sport hunting should be banned and that deer populations should be allowed to regulate naturally.


The IDA, an admittedly partial source, fails in explaining how deer populations could "regulate naturally," but if there is a chance that hunting isn't the answer, perhaps the government should consider the wisdom of letting anyone traipse around the woods to kill animals. Besides, it's not just deer dying out there, 1,000 humans are also shot annually in hunting accidents in America and Canada.

photo via Flickr user HuntFishGuide

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