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Hunting Facts

by Merritt Clifton

Is Hunting Necessary?

Hunters claim there would be too many deer if deer were not hunted. But in fact, it is hunting that causes a deer surplus. In nature, without hunting, deer live an average of three years (some more, many less). There are the same number of bucks and does. Not all of them manage to mate, and those who do mate tend to be older. On average, they have one fawn per year for every three adult deer--which means the number of deer who are born each year equals the number who die. The number of deer who can live in a particular place (habitat) is called the carrying capacity. If the carrying capacity of a habitat is 60, and 30 are bucks while 30 are does, they will have 20 fawns each year, 20 deer will die in an average year, and the population will stay at 60.

Because hunters want more deer to kill, they kill mainly bucks--from 65% to 95% of the buck population, depending on the state. As a result, there are now at least three does for every buck left in most states, and more than 20 for every buck left in Michigan and Pennsylvania. This means the bucks don't have to spend as much time defending their territory against other bucks, and can spend more time actually mating. Because so many bucks are killed, instead of going into each winter with 60 deer--the carrying capacity of your habitat--you may have only 50, or even fewer. That leaves more food for the does when they are pregnant, which also means they are much more likely to have twins. If instead of 30 bucks and 30 does, you have 15 bucks and 45 does in your habitat, you still have 20 deer dying in an average year plus the ones who are hunted, but you also have an average of 60 fawns being born each spring, creating a "surplus" of as many as 40 deer in the fall.

The more bucks are shot (as long as any survive), the faster the deer population will grow.

Is Hunting Cruel?

Hunters say that even if some of the deer they shoot at are only injured, not killed quickly, the deer would suffer more if instead of being shot, they starved to death during the winter.

How many deer are wounded by hunters but not killed? The state wildlife agencies of Texas (1985) and Illinois (1988) have done the most investigation of this problem. Each state found that bowhunters leave one deer wounded for every deer they kill and retrieve. Most of the wounded deer eventually die after suffering for days or weeks from internal bleeding or infections. (By the way, the rates of wounding by hunters using modern compound bows and old-fashioned recurve bows are just about the same--hunters using compound bows hit deer more often, but still only about half of their arrows actually hit a spot that will kill a deer soon.) Each state also found that rifle hunters leave one or two deer wounded for every 18 or 19 deer they kill and retrieve. This means that in Vermont alone, an average of 3,000 deer per year are wounded and not retrieved by bowhunters, along with 500 to 1,000 deer who are wounded and not retrieved by rifle hunters, for a total of up to 4,000 deer left to suffer.

How many deer starve to death? Vermont, Maine, and Texas are among the only states which have ever documented significant deer starvation--and these three states combined haven't had as many as 4,000 deer starve to death in any of the last 15 years. At one time, from roughly 1965 until circa 1977, Vermont did have deer starving to death. But this was only because hunters killed only bucks from 1920 until 1961, while the deer population grew to 200,000, far more than the carrying capacity, which was then believed to be 120,000 and is now known to be about 100,000.

These days, deer who starve are usually sick or injured, and unable to eat--not unable to find food.

Is Hunting Safe?

By far the most dangerous thing most of us do is ride in a car. Car crashes cause 45,500 deaths per year--53% of all accidental deaths in the United States. Hunting accidents caused 210 deaths in 1987, 177 deaths in 1989, and just 130 in 1992. But there are 165 million drivers in the U.S., who drive an average of once a day, who come within either stopping distance or one car length of hundreds of other human beings every trip. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were about 18 million hunters in 1987, 17 million in 1989, and 14 million in 1992, who hunted an average of only 17 days per year, and were within the range of their weapons of only a handful of other people. Relative just to the number of people who drive and the number of people who hunt, hunting is still 27% safer than driving--but relative to the opportunity to have a fatal accident, driving is in the ballpark of 20 times safer. And driving is still the most dangerous thing that most Americans do.

By the way, there were also a record 130 deaths caused by animal/car collisions in 1992, of which 118, also a record, were caused by deer. Running into a deer could kill you--but you are just as likely to be shot by mistake by a hunter, and the chances that a hunter will kill someone by accident are 279.5 times greater than the chances a driver or passenger in a car will be killed in a deer/car collision.

Please be careful, both on the road and in the woods.

What is the Effect of Hunting on Children?

New York state crime records reveal that children in counties with above-average hunting participation are from four to seven times more likely to be molested than children in the crime-ridden Bronx. Psychological research sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified a set of values and attitudes called dominionism, which most people have to some degree, but which hunters tend to have at close to twice the degree of nonhunters. Dominionism is essentially the idea that dominating another person or animal is fun. It also surfaces as a primary motive in studies of convicted sex offenders.

To see if there is in fact a relationship between rates of hunting and rates of molesting, ANIMAL PEOPLE recently compared the official New York state county crime rates with the county rates of hunting license sales.

Twenty-two comparisons were possible between rural counties of equal population density. In 20 of the 22, the county with the most hunters also had the most molestation. The exceptions involved Washington County, which had fewer hunters than two other counties of similar population density, but more molestation. However, the other counties in that comparison also had rates of molestation that run from three to four times higher than the statewide average.

Of the 50 counties with above-average rates of molestation, 47 had above-average hunting participation when New York City was excluded from the statistics; with NYC included, all 50 had above-average hunting participation. Only four of the 32 counties with the highest rates of molestation were below the median hunting density--and only one of the 21 counties with the highest rates of molestation.

What is the Effect of Hunting on Families?

The same study found that 19 of the 20 New York counties ranking in the top 20 for incidence of sex crimes other than rape and prostitution were above the median hunting density; all 20 were above the average hunting density. Of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density, 14 were among the 20 with the highest incidence of "other" sex crime; 19 were above the statewide average rate of "other" sex crime with New York City excluded, and all 20 were above the average with New York City included.

10 of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density were above the statewide average rape rate, and nine of the remaining 10 were among the 11 least populated counties, with the least opportunity for rape to be committed and the least assistance available to rape victims. Of the 10 rural counties ranking among the 20 counties with the highest rape rate, all 10 were above the average hunting density and eight were above the median hunting density (which was three times as high as the average.) 13 of the 20 counties with the highest hunting density were at or above the median rate of reported wife-beating; three of the remaining seven counties were among the 10 least populous.

  • All 10 of the rural counties that ranked among the 20 with the most reported wife-beating were above the median hunting density.

  • Nine of the 11 rural counties ranking among the 20 counties with the most family violence were also above the median hunting density.

  • 11 of the 12 rural counties with the most reported child abuse were above the median hunting density; 6 were among the 20 rural counties with the most hunters per capita.
Comparable findings have now emerged from a study of hunting participation and child abuse in Ohio.

The complete data is available on request

How Much Does Hunting Help Fund Conservation?

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunting license and duck stamp sales raised $335 million for conservation in 1992, while taxes on hunting and fishing gear raised $355 million, for a total of $690 million. More than 90% of this (as much as 98.9% in some states) was spent on administration of hunting-related programs. The federal government alone spent more than $3.55 billion for conservation of wildlife and habitat in 1992. (The National Park Service budget was $1.6 billion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget was $1.2 billion, and the U.S. Forest Service budget was also $1.2 billion--and this doesn't include conservation-related spending by the USDA, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, and other agencies which run major conservation projects.)

If all state governments among them spent only half as much on conservation as just the three major federal conservation agencies, the maximum contribution of hunting to conservation--other than administration of hunting-related programs--would be about 1.5%.

Another way to look at this is that U.S. hunters annually kill about 220 million animals (mostly birds and "small game.") Their lives are "sold" purportedly for their own benefit for an average of $3.10 apiece.

Compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE.
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