As a Realtree Master Land Pro specializing in hunting and farmland sales, I’ve been challenged numerous times by acquaintances who frown on my love of whitetail hunting. The general statement is, “I just don’t understand why you would kill those beautiful defenseless animals.”
After hearing my reasoning most walk away satisfied that I’m doing more help than harm to the balance of nature. They typically leave with a greater understanding, but it's just might not be something they would want to participate in.
I’d like to tell you what I share when asked why I hunt. You will soon see there is so much more that goes into hunting for guys like me and 95 percent of the people that hunt are as passionate about wildlife as I am.
More Help then Harm
Last year, I planted over 30 acres of food plots on six farms where I hunt in Kansas and Missouri. With all of these feeding locations, I harvested one antlered deer. I also hosted several soldiers who collectively harvested eight more deer. Now think for a moment how many deer I fed and provided a premium food source for. Many of my trail camera photos showed lush food plots with over 20 deer grazing. Not just throughout the season, but into the winter and spring. For rough math let’s say I fed 20 deer multiplied by six plot locations. This is 120 deer with only nine being harvested. This ratio could be 20-to-120 and it would still keep the herd thriving Many people think because the woods and all the plants are green deer must thrive, most don’t understand that native vegetation will average between seven and nine percent protein, nowhere near what a whitetail needs to flourish. The food plots I plant will provide over 20 percent protein.
In the spring, female deer must have their nutritional demands met for the sake of their fawns. If these demands aren’t met, undernourishment can occur, causing the mother deer body to re-absorb her unborn fawn(s). Fawns that are born unhealthy at a low birth weight will have a rough start in life and are much more prone to an untimely death, become victims of predation, or even be abandoned by their mother. Added nutrition also helps mother deer produce an ample milk supply full of proper nourishment that fawns need to mature into healthy adult deer.
Many whitetail hunters also hunt predators to protect the population. In 2017, I set up a trail camera and recorded a coyote mother returning to the den almost every other day with a fawn limp in her jaws to feed her four pups. Consequently, we ultimately hunt coyotes to protect a vast array of wildlife.
The habitat that surrounds food plots is groomed for the sake of the deer to make it the most conducive to thrive. Areas are designated for bedding, staging, travel, crop growth, and a small slice for hunting. On my largest farm, just over 1,000 acres, I have 665 acres dedicated to row crops. When the sun is setting I can often count over 40 deer in one field. The farm is split into 12 crop fields. I'd estimate I'm providing a comfortable living for over 400 deer on just one of six farms.
Deer Related Auto Accidents
I can vividly remember a presentation I took part in with a large landowner who used to forbid hunting on his property. It was his right, but the highway patrol and the department of conservation wanted him to be aware of the two highways that bordered his land and the above-average number of accidents involving deer with far too many resulting in fatalities.
The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) recently conducted a study concerning the increasing dangers of deer-related vehicle accidents. The odds a motorist will hit a deer or other animal are 1 in 116, according to State Farm Insurance. Deer-related car accidents have consistently risen over the years due to increasing deer populations.
- U.S. motorists made more than 1.9 million deer collision claims from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.
- The cost of these accidents results in over $1.33 billion in vehicle damage
- There are around 175-200 fatalities every year and over 10,000 injuries
- The majority of these accidents occur between October and December, but can happen year-round
What Does Hunting do for Conservation?
Hunting achieves two main things for conservation. One, it acts as a funding source for state agencies that help conserve habitat. While this money could come from somewhere else, the reality is that in North America, much of it comes from hunting. Secondly, it helps control prey species (deer, elk, bison) who might otherwise have population explosions due to reduced predator populations.
Hunting Funds Conservation
It's no secret to anyone that even as our overall population is increasing, hunting is on the downhill slide. As hunter numbers decline, and funding for state wildlife agencies are in trouble. Conservation agencies manage wildlife, and they get over 60 percent of their funding to do so from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition, archery equipment, and angling gear. The Pittman-Robertson Act was an initiative pushed by hunters to tax themselves and use that money to support wildlife conservation.
By virtually any standard, the legislation has been tremendously successful. Many wildlife species that were once near extinction are now plentiful. So when you hear "hunting is conservation," it's more than simply a pro-hunting catchphrase. It's a verifiable fact. Without hunters footing the bulk of the conservation bills in this country, there would be far fewer animals populating it. That's why the decline in hunter numbers has wildlife agencies worried.
The North American Wildlife Conservation Model
- Wildlife as a Public Trust - Essentially, no individual owns the wildlife of the land. Instead, it’s owned collectively by the public and managed by the national and state governments as a resource for everyone. In other words, if you own land, you don’t own the wildlife on it.
- You Can’t Sell Native Animals - By making it illegal to sell and trade North American wildlife, this ensures that a market is not created that might otherwise reduce numbers of native species. This includes wild game meat, bird feathers, and native species in the pet trade. It’s why hunters don’t sell their deer meat.
- Allocation of Wildlife By Law (Not Free Market) - In other words, animals are protected and managed by governmental laws, not by market principles, public status (elites), or land ownership.
- Hunting Opportunity for All - Every citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States and Canada. This makes sure we don’t get a ruling class that decides it’s going to have the exclusive right to hunt. It’s also in part why in-state hunting tags are inexpensive.
- Wildlife Use Must Have Purpose - This means we should not kill wildlife for frivolous purposes. Every reasonable effort should be made to use all aspects of wildlife, including food and fur. This principle essentially shuns trophy hunting just for the horns, heads, or skins.
- International Resources - Because birds and other game migrate across international boundaries, several international treaties have established that wildlife is an international resource as well. Thus, the management of these species is regulated by the cooperation of management agencies across borders as well as through international treaties.
- Scientific Management - Wildlife should be managed via sound science. It’s important to study and understand the population dynamics, behavior, and habitats of wildlife so that decisions come from that research instead of interests solely based on hunting, stocking, and culling predators.
In short, these seven basic principles act as guidelines for the government to manage fish and wildlife populations at optimum levels for eternity. It also makes sure that decisions are based on science. It also essentially states that part of the goal is that everyone can keep hunting. That means these guidelines include hunting in their definition of conservation.
What would life be like if nobody hunted? Would the world become a better place? I don’t think it would. Animals and plants might find an equilibrium. Deer would eat a lot more of our farmer's crops, predators would eat more of our pets and there would be more animal-borne diseases to deal with. We would also probably see a lot more animals in our urban neighborhoods eating out of flowerbeds and jumping in front of our vehicles.
There are many more reasons why I hunt, but the most important one would be the time I get to spend with my family and friends who now share this passion away from the gaming systems, asphalt, and bright city lights. Fresh air, vivid star-filled nights, and the sounds of nature have given me a level of appreciation for the very wildlife I nourish, protect, and put on the table. The folks that feel sorry for those defenseless animals who take the time to hear why I hunt are always invited to my table if they’d like to taste one of my final reasons for hunting the healthy, protein-rich, hormone-free, organic, deer with which I feed my family.