Convincing Nice People That Deer Numbers Are Too High


I have tried with facts and figures, with myth and melodrama, with hyperbole and histrionics, to show that the deer population is out of control in many places and that this is harmful to the environment. Nothing works. Nice people think it is bad to kill deer and that’s the end of it. Sorry, James Fennimore Cooper, your Deerslayer is no longer an heroic icon of American culture.

I sit here thinking these thoughts while I watch out the window at a herd of deer strolling through our grove of trees.  It is a December weekend at the peak of hunting season here. There should be the crash of gunfire in the air, orange vested hunters peeking from the puckerbrush everywhere, pickups roaring up and down the country roads, moving squadrons of hunters around as in the days of yore. But the only sound is the soft brush of deer hooves in the fallen leaves. If you have the ears of a true environmentalist you can also hear, in your mind’s ear, the sound of antlers shredding tree saplings and the sound of deer teeth crunching more saplings and munching the acorns that would make more saplings, effectively killing off what would be the next generation of forest when deer populations are too high.

Where are the hunters?  I have told all the ones I know that they are welcome to hunt over our land. They could get a shot at more deer from my barn loft than they would likely see on the Alaskan tundra. But they don’t come. I’m not sure why but I think it is because there is so much red tape and rules now involved with deer hunting, that being able to hunt on my few acres just isn’t worth the effort. On the very few days when they are allowed, they go where there are more acres to hunt over. And underlying all that, the truth is that there are fewer people who know how to hunt effectively or who can shoot straight enough to hit the side of a barn door.

Why don’t I hunt? I don’t like to kill deer either. Furthermore, I am allowed only one or two deer a season and that’s not enough to solve the problem at present. Nor, in the one or two weekends allowed, could I have time to harvest, butcher and distribute the meat from the dozen or so deer I need to kill every year to get the deer population down to healthy levels. Getting permission for a professional hunter to come in is a good idea if I can prove the deer are reducing my business income.  I just don’t have time for the trouble, red tape, and money involved.  We need year-round hunting for awhile.

It may surprise you to learn that it is not blue-eyed yuppies and liberal- commie environ-metal heads (as a neighbor puts it) who are the most influential group in the protection of the Dreadnought Deer of Destruction. The real power is the hunting fraternity itself. Hunters want lots of deer around so that on the very few days when they are allowed to hunt, they can get their deer quickly and get back where it’s warm in time for the football games. Secondly, many landowners still won’t allow hunting on their property so hunters want big deer herds spilling out onto land where then can hunt. Believe it or not, deer are quite intelligent enough to hide out on land they know is not frequented by hunters as soon as they hear gunshots.

Deer/car accidents are on the rise. So we have a choice. We can either kill more deer by hunting or by hitting them with automobiles. If those were cows running all over creation, we would decide to trim their population in short order.

Speaking of cows, here’s the irony. Our commercial beef cow numbers are down to the lowest level since 1962.  I can guarantee you that if beef gets scarce, so will deer.


Our town in central Wisconsin has hired sharpshooters to shoot deer right in town (out of season approved) because our deer are so out of control. I just hit one with my car last week. The fences tree farmers and gardeners have to erect to keep them out are worthy of a prison camp. We have dogs which keep them out of our yard and garden.

Such a big problem here in Ohio, we have a terrible problem because we live in a rural community that is surrounded by association property on which there is no hunting allowed. Since we live on the outskirts with our land butting up to this association property we can’t grow any food because the deer mow it down. And they’re so tame, I run out yelling at them and they just look at me. They’ll stand right by our garage and look in the windows at us.

Mr Chiots does try to help though, he recently took up hunting and hunts a few counties away on the family hunting land. Between him and 2 other hunters they managed to get 7 deer, not a ton, but it helps. I’d much rather see the deer in people’s freezers than starving to death or being hit by a car.

Any hunters out there that don’t want to eat the venison or want to keep hunting past what they can use should look into Hunters and Farmers feeding the Hungry, a great program that will cover the processing cost and everything for your deer. Mr Chiots was hoping to get his limit of 6 deer so he could donate the remaining 3 to them, but didn’t manage to see enough deer during the season.

More people should take up hunting to help out, including you Gene. Besides the delicious venison, one of the best parts of hunting is that I don’t have to buy meat at the store, it’s a great way to thumb your nose at the current food system, just like growing your own veggies keeps you from needing the store as well.

I have no problem with hunting a superabundant species that happens to be delicious. I do have a problem with hunters claiming to be “the best environmentalists.” And this is why. Thanks for telling it like it is.

In the last issue of Field and Stream, there is a segment stating that in the 1890 up until the early 1900’s the deer population was down to about 500,000 +/-, now days it is up to 30,000,000. I guess it’s because not many hunt deer for subsistence anymore. I personally kill a couple every year, grind up most of it with beef fat and it is great for anything that you would use ground hamburger for. There a plenty of hunters in my area and still too many deer.

Farmer Deb – I’m talking about wolves and cougars whose primary prey are large animals like deer, elk and moose, whose populations have been hunted to/near extinction and whose natural inclination is to avoid human contact. At this time, I don’t consider coyotes and foxes as deserving of any kind of protection since they have managed to increase their numbers and range as the wolf population has diminished; they don’t fear people and are truly pests. Also – coyotes don’t prey on deer all that much and don’t put much pressure on deer beyond “get big enough so coyotes don’t eat you”.

I realize that my life’s experiences don’t match yours and I’ll defer to your judgment on this issue; I don’t think that wolves could build to population density high enough to severely impact farmers. Sure – a livestock attack once in a while, but not every day. Is there an insurance policy where you can get paid for livestock damages incurred by large predators? If there is – what are the payout rates? What kind of proof does it require? Would it make things bearable if the government picked up the tab? If it’s a government policy that allows these animals in, then I would hope that the government would pay above market rate for these occurrences…

My hope is that there is some way for these animals to exist at the same time you earn a living. Right now, the only places for these animals to live is where people don’t – and it can be easily demonstrated that we pushed them out.

Regarding deer population – if there are only so many bullets that are going to be shot in a season, then make sure that they all hit does as does are the only ones that can increase the population. I know does don’t have a beautiful rack and weigh less than bucks – but, as the path to future growth, they are the ones that must be taken out.

Man oh woman, do I appreciate all your comments about deer. I wish I could bundle them up and send them to the proper authorities. But from talking to wildlife officials, I know that many of them are as frustrated as we are. I wonder if hunting alone can solve the problem however. I thought about calling out the National Guard, but on second thought… that could be even a worse disaster. Gene

Eric we have enough issues with coyotes and foxes preying on our sheep, goats, and poultry. So far these critters have passed up a sensible education, and continue to eat things other than their “natural” prey. Sorry, while I like the large predators, I don’t expect we’d be able to manage them any better than we have the deer.

We can’t return to the systems of yesteryear. Habitat has a bigger influence on deer and elk populations than predators do and the habitat we’ve created favors these high populations. Just adding predators to the mix will only create a new set of problems, not solve the deer population issue.

Shoot the does! Like Roof says, those horrible things often bear twins! Deer jerkey, roast, loin, hamburger. Mix it with pork. Cube some for stew meat. But while you’re preparing the menu, don’t forget to just look at the woods. Just look! The squirrels are playing and chasing. Coyotes are hunting. Raptors are checking things out from above. The deer are always just out of range. They are kind of pretty. It’s OK to say it. Enjoy nature as you try not to freeze. I got to my stand last year in January for antlerless only season. I heard something behind me, turned and a buck had followed me through the woods. He was a good looking boy. I wasn’t what he was looking for so he bounded away. It’s OK to enjoy the animals. It’s also OK to eat them.

God bless you, Gene. Why can’t people take the time to learn how to shoot? A couple of hours each month with a BB gun would do wonders. A couple of sessions with an 870 firing a few slugs and you’re in shape (can’t use a rifle in IL for deer). Deer or no deer, learn to handle a gun. It’s just as important as knowing basic car maintenance or how to wire an outlet.

I’m very much in favor of killing more deer. But as you point out, they go where the hunters aren’t. How do we get the deer out of the suburbs? Knife season? Spears? I can picture my co-workers looking in horror out their home window seeing a deer being killed in the common ground out back. People are too far from their food.

Side note, it’s interesting the shape of a deer hoof compared to how we’re told to trim our goat hooves. Near as I can tell it’s the same animal. Are we wrong in flattening our goat hooves?

As long as we are talking about wildlife becoming pests… let’s not forget about the Canadain Geese. Man they eat grass like a herd of cows. Golf courses and some beach fronts are all but ruined from the visiting birds and the extensive crap they leave.

The deer and the geese are pretty and fun to watch, both are good when cooked correctly. I am not a fan of goose meat, but do think jerky made from them is quite good.

I am a hunter as are my boys. I like the whole experience. I don’t like to see the mob of deer that are eating my current wheat field on rented ground though …..

Beth: I’ve been told that younger does tend to have a single fawn, and older does tend to have twins or even triplets. I’ve noticed that pattern with the deer I’ve watched, so maybe there’s some truth in it.

Keep waging the fight against paperwork and over regulation. States are trying to turn a profit on deer hunting when they should recognize the problems deer create and help solve those problems. I shouldn’t need a tag to take a deer to a butcher; they’re just skinny cows, or tall sheep, to me.

land rats. thats what we call ’em. thanks for bringing this up, Gene. another thing to consider – with times hard as they are there are hungry people in our community NOT being fed. but those deer look like they are doing alright.

keep up the good work!

By removing those wolves and cougars in the first place, we claimed the role of “top predator”. The reason that I suggest returning these predators is that we, as a society, have abdicated our responsibilities as top predator; the ecosystem is out of balance for the large animals with deer herds going through boom/bust cycles with their attendant issues.

Where people choose to live with these predators – there will always be issues just like there are issues in the ocean. Fortunately, humans are not their preferred meal of choice and sensible education and reasonable precautions should minimize the conflicts.

John mentioned one of my favorite phrases – “unintended consequences”. I heard Fred Kirchner (sp?) of the Leopold Institute use those words as one of his main points in a keynote address to a conferencxe several years ago. I have been highly sensitized to them ever since. Deer populations, aside from antiquated DNR policies, are jsut another of the unintended consequences of Mr. Butts fencerow to fencerow policies that led to the elimination of fencerows. The general farmer of 70 years ago could monitor his land and its inhabitants on a daily basis. Marginal lands were often cleared and in permanent pasture. Woodlots were also used for livestock habitation which kept underbrush to a minimum. These things were not all good for the environment but they sure kept hospitable deer sanctuaries to a minimum. The stakeholder vs deer population was balanced much differently. Today’s endless forests of corn and savannahs of soybeans with hillside pastures reverted to unused woodlands have created some significant benefits for the deer. I am not interested in the downsides of wolf and cougar repopulation but I would welcome a repopulation of small farmers.

Deer are indeed “hoofed locusts.” It’s fine when they’re nibling on dandelions and lilac bushes, but when they’re trashing your garden, it becomes a different issue. I don’t “farm” for a living, so I can only imagine how those of you out there who grow food for a living feel when deer are destroying a part of your livelihood.

Here in Helena, Montana, we have an estimated herd population of around 250 deer IN TOWN. My 60 year old next door neighbor was trampled by a buck that was in the rut IN HER DRIVEWAY two years ago. She’s recovered, but her hips were broken and it really, really shook her up. In response, the town thinned the herd (which last year at this time was over 500) to its current numbers.

Personally, my wife is 5 months pregnant. I’m now insanely wary of deer on our property. We have a 6 foot high fence in our backyard, and a pit bull/golden lab mix who barks incessantly when a deer is around. If a buck wants to get in the rut around my pregnant wife, that’s a bad choice on his part. He’d better get the jump on me, cuz I’ll show no mercy. (And I’m a pretty peaceful dude who has never hunted or killed an animal with a firearm in my life.) And yes, in a fuel constrained world, those deer won’t be in people’s back yards. They’ll be in freezers and on dinner tables. This overpopulation problem will be a short term blessing to hungry families as our “cheap fossil fuel fiesta” comes to an end.

Beth Greenwood wrote: “So far, there’s been enough food for both the people and the deer, but I know that old Dr. Malthus is lurking; if the food gets short, deer will die.”

Two years ago, we had a metre (39″) of snow, followed by a -17C (5F) cold snap.

The deer were dropping like flies. I estimate there were at least a winter kill for every 3-4 acres. We’d find them in the bush, and drag them out into the open fields, where the eagles would quickly deal with them. Better than having them stink up the place in the spring.

Malthus has become a laughing-stock because he didn’t know that humans would be eating fossil energy. Before too long, I think deer may once again be in short supply as fossil energy dwindles. But that doesn’t help our situation today with these pests, while oil is still “cheap” at $80 a barrel. 🙂

I shot my second of the season yesterday and hope to get it all in the freezer tomorrow. They definitely are a problem, but hunting them is a pretty challenging proposition in several regards.

As you say, there are fewer people who know how to hunt effectively. It is a skill which I’m slowly learning (this is my 7th or 8th season hunting) and one which takes practice and experience like any other skill. Unfortunately the regulatory structure discourages that practice and has many (hopefully) unintended consequences.

I try to be conscientious and ethical and even law-abiding, but it is human nature to have judgment start to “fade” at the edges. I’m not talking about dangerous practices, I’m talking about things like target choice and shot selection. The hunting seasons and bag limits discourage practice and encourage snap judgments. On the last day of the season the temptation to take a longer than usual shot (“I can hit it at the target range…”), or one in heavier than usual brush (“Yeah, but that big slug will punch through those little twigs”), or less than optimal shot selection (“Well, it’s not perfect, but if he doesn’t move it should work, and it will break the offside shoulder for sure…”) is tremendous. Part of fighting those temptations is simple maturity, and experience plays a role (“Oh, no it won’t”), but having the time to make a considered decision and the knowledge that there’s always another try tomorrow would help.

Red tape is a huge issue too. Honestly if I had to buy a license I wouldn’t hunt but as a land owner IN-DNR gives me a pass on that. Unfortunately I still have to go through the “check-in” process which involves hauling the deer 10-15 miles one-way and standing in line while most years the meat bakes in the sun outside in the back of the truck. The check stations have pretty limited hours too, so the meat sits around a lot and I waste a lot of gas and time dealing with that process.

I think a lot of non-hunters don’t realize how many rules there are (several people I’ve talked to have been amazed) and how much they’re designed to make hunting more difficult. I think there’s some leftover idea of “sport” to the thing, as in “Yeah, but a rifle with a scope wouldn’t be sporting.” For most landowners it isn’t about sport, it’s about food and pest control. Maybe a different set of rules for resident land owners entirely would help.

We do have one good thing here which is the county by county “bonus antlerless” tag. In my county I can shoot up to 8 antler-less deer in addition to one with antlers. Theoretically that should help with the excess doe population problem, but it doesn’t seem to.

If it were up to me, I’d eliminate the “seasons” entirely, at least for land owners, and I’d merely set a (very high) annual bag limit. I’d also switch the “check-in” to an online system, at least for land owners. That would take the season pressure off, let hunters get in more practice and hopefully make better decisions, reduce the urge to manage for huge easily hunted herds, and keep me from having to drive a dead deer all over half the county before I can eat it.

This is getting too long, but one last thought:

As the social acceptability of hunting has declined I think I’ve seen the skill level, and the decency of the average hunter declining too. If society feels that decent people don’t hunt, then a disproportionate number of those hunting will not be decent people. I see more and more lunatics all the time, but not more hunters total. I don’t let anyone hunt on my land anymore except family and very close friends.

I’m with you on the red tape Gene! I’ve considered hunting myself (I’m an avid sportsman and marksman), but I’d have to buy a permit, license, and tag… with the risk of not even getting a deer in the short amount of time I’m allowed. In my parts (Mohican) there are tons of hunters, too many actually… I can’t even take a stroll through my fields without passing multiple hunters who then get angry… and sometimes hostile, that I’m scaring away any deer. My brother who does hunt actually had a few hunters shoot at him this year! INTENTIONALLY! He was even in our field, so it wasn’t like he was trespassing!

I’ve considered applying for a kill permit, which in Ohio allows you to cull a specific number (our neighbors had one for 90 or so deer, so it’s a decent number) with any means necessary… this means I could sit out in the summer with a rifle and pick them off easily enough. Unfortunately it means a large amount of meat on my hands that I neither care to pay to get processed, nor have to load into a truck and find a local processor that is willing to do it pro bono for food shelters. Not to mention, that means even more red tape to go through.

Additionally there’s the wacko-gentility of making doe (almost) off-limits.

We have elk and deer. The elk are the worst. They are big and do a lot of damage to pastures. They love my timothy field. Of course the clever folks want to bring back cougar and wolves cause they all read Farley Mowat or something.
We are already getting the articles seeded into the local news outlets. Wolves don’t kill people. Wolves only kill what they need to live on and then only the week and the sickly.
The usual BS that has come from years of college.
Perhaps it will work and perhaps not. If not it will surely be the excuse for some other hair brained scheme by the clever folks at Fish and Wild life.

The deer are a scourge here in the Gulf Islands, too. Not so many years ago one knew the day hunting season started by the noise of gunshots, but a changing demographic that has made hunting less “acceptable”, and a larger population base that makes for less area to hunt in, has made for booming numbers of deer.

The best defense? A deer fence and a dog inside that knows its job. An old fellow I know keeps his garden gate open for a few weeks, lets the deer get used to coming in, then goes out and shoots enough for an entire winter without even putting on his coat.

A few years ago my neighbor and his cousin killed 19 deer on the 200 acre place bordering us. You couldn’t tell the difference. The next summer the survivors still browsed every branch off our fruit trees less than five feet off the ground, stripped every leaf off my pole beans, peppers, okra, and worst of all, my red raspberries. Here in Tennessee, landowners can get permission from the game warden to shoot deer out of season if you suffer crop losses due to deer. The local Amish here shoot deer to protect their produce plantings from destruction.

Perhaps it would useful to remember that:

What the DNR doesn’t know won’t hurt you!

And there will be fewer pets, less livestock, and maybe we’ll get rid of a jogger or small child or two with more predators! NOT a viable solution for most places.

Gene, you could do like I do…have a few hunters who hunt for food harvest your property. I tell them as far as I’m concerned on my land there is no limit. These are careful hunters who use the venison to feed their families…they need it to make ends meet. Last year two families froze about 1200 lbs of meat.

Civil disobedience…

I guess we have Bambi to blame for that. That, and supermarket beef. I think it would be a totally different situation if it was venison or nothing.

You could go back to the old-fashioned method of killing deer by using a bow and arrow, which I think is more sporting anyway. They don’t make any noise, so if a deer is felled in the forest and nobody hears it, is it still still dead?

I’m thinking of taking after the raccoons that climb over my fence and wander through my garden on their way to the idiot neighbor who feeds them by hitting them with a small crossbow or slingshot. Raccoons, if you can believe it, are protected in Oregon, and it’s not illegal to feed them. So yeah- cross bow or slingshot- running after them with my spading fork is getting to be too hard anymore.

There’s another option – bring back the wolves and cougars who are the deers natural predators to rebalance the system. That way, the people who want to can stay in their homes and the hunters will have a healthy (though wary and smaller) herd to hunt.

Agreed, deer are a scourge. Misguided people here actually buy corn and feed them in the winter! Of course, these same people depend on the grocery store for all their food, as do 95% of the 10,000 people on our island. (And I’m sure the corn they feed the deer comes from off-island, as well.) As oil becomes more scarce, something’s going to give.

But we produced over two tons of human food here last year — no thanks to the deer, who have become so tame that I can easily bounce rocks off them as they eat all the ground-fall fruit that I’d rather make into cider or feed to our goats. Not to mention the ~$6,000 we put into deer-fencing last year, with another ~$15,000 or so of fencing needed if we are to supply more than ourselves with food. Not to mention the young nut trees that we put out that the deer have girded.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if all the “Bambi Lovers” were also vegetarians, but they don’t “walk the talk.” We’ve all grown used to exporting our problems. Why face the nastiness of death and skinning and butchering, when you can export the manure lagoons to Iowa and the butchering to Chicago? This is not something that can continue for very much longer.

I’m thinking perhaps a cross-bow and a large compost pit are what’s needed here.

I would love to be witty or light hearted about this but the stark reality is something else. I have hit 11 or was it 13 deer in my lifetime, I lost count. Most of these were minor fender benders but 3 were serious accidents where people could have been seriously hurt or worse. The total cost of just these 3 amounts to over $15,000.

I can immediately recall three fatal incidents locally due to deer collisions, no not to deer to humans! This is is a serious situation and too many people refuse to accept that Bambi can kill. In all three cases the deer came thru the windshield!

There have been numerous cases again in my area (W NY)where bucks have jumped thru plate glass windows in villages and even schools due to their reflection in the glass and defending their territory. It just happened again this week What if those bucks injured the children?

My wife had a deer tick removed last year, our grandson was crippled and hospitalized due to debilitation caused by Lyme disease from deer ticks. A friend just informed me that their son was also hospitalized last week due to the same condition.

Sure they are beautiful creatures and I love to see them, they also break my fences, eat my crops, spread disease and kill. Let’s face it they are now the new rats.

While I can’t speak for California in general, there is no shortage of deer on our place, either. We’ve counted as many as twelve does plus this year’s fawns at one time, and seven or eight bucks. Two of them are nice big four points (big for a mulie–they don’t get the size that whitetails do) which were conspicuously absent during hunting season. We have a big meadow and plentiful water, as well as orchards for them to nibble on. So far, there’s been enough food for both the people and the deer, but I know that old Dr. Malthus is lurking; if the food gets short, deer will die. The population has increased exponentially because there’s plenty of food, but also because we have at least three does that keep having twins. The last five years we have had at least two sets of twins on our place each year. While I know deer do twin on occasion, that many sets really makes me wonder if something else is going on. Is anybody else seeing more twins? We also had a piebald and a true white spike buck last last year. My husband has been hunting over fifty years and had never seen either, nor have I. Neither has shown up since hunting season, so I’m betting that both were harvested. While we hunt, there’s no way we could keep the numbers down at the current allowed rate of one buck per hunter per year. And there have been at least four deer fatalities in two months (deer hit by car, not people killed by deer)in the vicinity of our 400-person community. That’s a lot of deer in a fairly small area. I tend to look at it from the perspective that if things get really bad, there’s plenty of meat on the hoof!

Gene, I feel your pain. I have the good fortune to own forty acres of land a half-hour from home, in southern Wisconsin. This parcel would make lousy farmland, but it is outstanding deer habitat. And there are indeed too many deer. Every year, I and my two hunting buddies pull close to a dozen deer off the property in November and December, and every year they re-appear by the time that hunting season approaches again. We’re near the area where they’ve discovered chronic wasting disease, so seasons and bag limits are quite liberal, and we’ve done what we can to take advantage of the situation by harvesting a lot of venison, for ourselves and for others. We’re up to eight this year, so far. But we can’t keep up with the whole landscape. Too many deer.

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