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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

A Deer Management Lesson for Non-Hunters

Here's a bottom line for you: DEER MUST BE KILLED. Yes, those beautiful, gentle, athletic, graceful, intelligent, lovable, animals are a threat to themselves, to other animals, and to their habitat. And we must not let all of them live.

If we did allow them to live, we would create massive suffering. Not only would deer suffer, but many animals that share the places where deer live and compete for habitat resources would be affected negatively.

The subtitle of this week's column might be, "Why Deer Must Die," or Why Do We Need to Kill Deer? It tells a story most people (especially non-hunters) don't know. Wildlife in North America doesn't exist to the degree that we leave it alone. Wildlife exists because we don't leave it alone!

If you know someone who doesn't understand why hunting is a good thing, invite them to read my September 4 column in the Jamestown Gazette titled, “A Deer Management Lesson for Non-Hunters."

Photo Caption: If none of these deer die in the next two years, and the three does (the ones on the left) each bear two fawns each year, these four can become 28 deer and will have an enormous negative impact on their habitat. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.


A Deer Management Lesson for Non-Hunters

Steve Sorensen

“Why do we need to kill deer?” is a question many hunters seldom think about, and a question most non-hunters can’t answer.

Growing up in a hunting family, I remember being told that if we don’t kill deer, we’ll end up with too many and it will lead to mass starvation. I was only a kid, and that’s the answer I repeated more than once.

That answer was true, but vastly oversimplified. In those days we were only a couple of decades removed from the early “deer wars” when Aldo Leopold warned of overpopulation in Wisconsin, and a decade from Roger Latham’s similar warning in Pennsylvania. Advocating for higher deer harvests, both men paid a heavy price.

Today, we have plenty of deer, but they are limited to much less habitat than they were 50 or 60 years ago. A person would need to be an idiot not to see that, because back then, lots of properties we hunted became today’s commercial, industrial, or residential developments.

“Why do we need to kill deer?” Some hunters might answer, “Because I’m built to kill deer.” Certainly, doing what we’re made to do brings fulfillment, but we’re “built” to do lots of things, so people find fulfillment lots of ways. Others might say, “I need to feed my family.” An honorable desire for sure, but in normal times any motivated and creative person can find many ways to feed those he loves. Such answers might be sufficient for some hunters, but not for the non-hunter, because the focus of those answers is on the hunter.

What if we turn the question around, focus on the deer, and ask, “Why do deer need to be killed?” That’s the right question, because we don’t need to kill deer as much as deer need us to kill them.

Yes, that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. Deer must die, and in large numbers. If they don’t, they will make trouble. They won’t roam around in gangs with AR-15 rifles, stealing cars and dealing drugs, but they will create a different kind of havoc.

Most animals can be broadly classified as either predator or prey. Foxes and fishers (predators) eat plenty of mice (prey). Easy to understand—and who cares about mice? But deer are also prey animals, and in most places today they have few predators. In southern New York and northern Pennsylvania, coyotes and black bears prey on white-tailed deer, but if that was the only way white-tailed deer died, not enough would die. So we need another predator to prey on deer. It’s a bi-ped with a high degree of intelligence who plays a critical role. And no, I’m not talking about Bigfoot.

If man does not trim the deer population back every year, they will indeed overpopulate, but what does overpopulation actually mean? It means much more than starvation. As deer overpopulate, they will eat more and more of the growing things they and other animals depend on. The average deer will be underweight—decreasing from perhaps 140 pounds as a healthy adult doe to 120, or 110, 100, or less. Lower body weight means they’ll bear smaller fawns. Those fawns in turn will be malnourished, take longer to mature, and in their first winter some of them will starve.

As the population continues to rise, deer will devour the best plant nutrition the habitat offers until it’s gone. Then they’ll eat less nourishing plants, whatever they can reach, until the landscape is bare of any edible vegetation from ground level to about six feet. Songbirds will become scarce because deer have eaten all the shrubs—the part of the habitat where many songbirds nest.

Sooner or later a few deer will become diseased, and with the density of the population at an unnatural high, the disease will spread from deer to deer until many of them die from it. The population will crash.

This scenario is real. Every area where deer live can support only a limited number of deer. Trouble comes when that limit is exceeded. It will take years for the plants, the songbirds, and the deer to return.

The predatory role hunters play is a service to deer and to society. It does not add suffering; it reduces suffering. Hunters use bullets and arrows for quick, merciful deaths, but Mother Nature uses hunger, malnutrition, disease, starvation, and predatory animals which often eat their prey alive. Mother Nature acts more like Cruella de Vil than a caring, nurturing mother.

And that’s why deer need to be killed.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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