A buck strapped to a car used to be a source of pride, and in many cases was mandated by law. But those days are fading fast. Several states are dropping decades-old rules that require hunters to transport deer open to view, preferring instead that they keep their bag under wraps. And for the most part, that suits sportsmen fine.
“It’s something hunters want, and something we think is important, especially as more hunting occurs in developed areas,” says Howard Kilpatrick, deer biologist for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, which has proposed dropping its open-to-view law. “We hear about hunters driving with a deer on their car, and an anti comes up behind them, slams on the horn, and starts cursing them. Hunters don’t need that, and at the same time, we want to minimize exposure to people who don’t necessarily oppose hunting, but who dislike the sight of a bloody deer draped over a hood.”
In some states, officials actually instruct hunters to transport deer out of sight. The Colorado Division of Wildlife asserts that “hunters should avoid openly displaying carcasses of harvested animals.” The Pennsylvania Game Commission states: “Please don’t display deer on a roof-rack or in the bed of a pickup with the tailgate down.” Hunters, they say, must be more aware of the image they present and the effect it can have on nonhunters.
The problem lies not so much with thoughtless hunters, according to Maryland deer biologist Doug Hotton, as it does with a society that is increasingly disconnected from the resources that sustain it. “The same people who are bothered by a deer carcass don’t comprehend that the hamburger they ate the night before was once in the same situation,” Hotton says. “But perception is reality, and when we talk to hunters, we do ask that they be conscious of how they transport deer.”
In fact, not unduly displaying dead game is now widely considered a part of ethical hunting. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association recently presented its ethical hunter award to a man who dragged a deer he killed behind his house the long way home to avoid offending his neighbors.
However, the idea that bagged game should be transported covertly does not sit well with all hunters and wildlife managers, who worry about the message it sends young hunters. “If you eat meat, you’re either a predator or a scavenger,” says Wisconsin biologist Keith McCaffrey. “People who buy meat killed by others are scavengers. Hunters are predators. We shouldn’t flaunt it, but we shouldn’t act like we’re ashamed, either.”