January 02, 2014
Time Magazine Cover Story Should Challenge Deer Hunters
By Scott Bestul
I'm accustomed to seeing deer on magazine covers, but I snapped-to a couple weeks ago in the grocery-stole aisle when I spotted a whitetail doe on the cover of Time, with the headline: "America's Pest Problem: Why the rules of hunting are about to change." I tossed the magazine in my cart and read it as soon as I got home.
If hunting usually takes it on the chin in the mainstream media, the Time feature was a notable exception. Fairly and thoroughly reported, the story took a nation-wide view of wildlife populations, particularly in suburban areas. Author David Von Drehle interviewed biologists, community leaders, and citizens and came to the conclusion that, in most cases, hunting is indeed the most effective, cheap, and humane method for dealing with critters when they become pests.
This is old news to us, of course. We've been explaining to the non-hunting public that we are the game managers for a very long time. But when the same argument is made in a non-hunting magazine as widely read as Time, it's bound to have more traction with the non-hunting public. And that's good. Von Drehle points to exploding populations of deer, bear, wild hogs, and other species across the country. He then gives vivid proof of the need for effective, long-term control of these species, citing damage to ecosystems, tick-borne diseases, vehicular accidents and deaths, and attacks on humans. While Von Drehle doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the devastation of unregulated hunting, he emphasizes, "The legacy of indiscriminate 19th century slaughter is not a burden for today's hunters to carry. Instead, they are an important part of the ecosystem America has successfully nursed back from the brink."
It's not often that a news magazine holds up hunters as a solution to a problem, and it's important that we see this as a call to action. Hunters can help control populations of any wildlife species, of course, but this is a blog about whitetail deer, so let's talk about them. Whitetail hunters are currently enjoying a huge population boom, which allows us to get happily distracted by side issues like record books, debates over hunting techniques and ethics, and fine-tuning management strategies like antler point restrictions. Nothing wrong with any of those things, of course. But one of our most fundamental responsibilities is to manage populations.
The big question is: Will we? Will you? If your suburb were struggling with a deer problem, would you volunteer for an organized hunt to reduce deer numbers? Would you take the mandatory course required to participate in such a hunt? Shoot doe after doe, ignoring a monster buck while you do so? Forego some hunts at your personal honey hole to prove that, yes, hunters are the ones to handle this problem and you are ready to help?
Finally, at long last, America may be increasingly seeing us as we see ourselves: as game managers. We need to hold up our end of the bargain, especially in the suburbs where in many cases we are not doing enough. If we don't, we risk losing our credibility with non-hunters, the damage from which would be far worse than what any anti-hunters could inflict.