In case you missed it, a rather lengthy story from a national outdoors media outlet appeared this week on the internet, basically sounding the doomsday alarm for deer and deer hunting as we know it in North America. In short, some biologists are predicting our whitetail herds are going to plummet dramatically and, as a result, hunters will turn in their bows, rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders for good. Biologists further predicted that hunters wouldn’t return to the activity, instead opting to take up golf or other such pursuits. If you haven’t seen it, just type in “Whitetail Depression” in your search engine.
Had such claims been made by folks without day jobs as deer managers, I probably would have been reduced to spitting coffee through my nose and having a good chuckle. However, because the claims were made by some bona fide deer biologists, I had to take pause and wonder if their comments were taken out of context.
The claims include:
•Our deer herds will "crash" by 10 to 25 percent during the next couple of years.
•Up to 50 percent of all deer hunters will stop hunting.
•Predator populations have increased to the point where they will forever affect how many deer we have on the landscape.
Good grief. Please. I don’t even know where to start, and I’m apparently not alone. Several certified wildlife biologists that have worked with us through the years at Deer & Deer Hunting have contacted me and expressed the same incredulousness. To prevent a he-said, she-said situation among these peers — and perhaps create consternation within their professional ranks — I won’t mention their names.
When asked what he thought of the doomsday predictions, a prominent head deer biologist for one of the nation’s leading whitetail states said, "I was thinking that News of the World folded? That is the closest thing to fiction that I’ve ever read."
Another longtime deer research biologist said, "There are some truths interwoven with the (cow feces); the most dangerous type of writing, or political rhetoric."
Let’s examine the claims:
1. “Our deer herds are going to crash.”
Webster’s defines a crash as “a sudden and violent falling to ruin.” I’m sorry, but a 10 percent dip in already overpopulated deer herds is not even a burp. A 25 percent reduction might be classified as a correction and nothing more. We will we see herd reductions by up to 25 percent in some areas, but these are areas where densities already exceed the land’s carrying capacity. The science of deer densities is complicated. However, in short, if your area has more than 35 deer per square mile, you probably have too many. In fact, some regions cannot support densities more than 15 dpsm.
2. “If the deer herds decline, we will lose 50 percent of our hunters.”
Are hunters fickle? Sometimes. Do they get upset when they don’t see deer? Certainly. Do they quit? Not exactly. We have 11 million active whitetail hunters in North America and more than 2 million “inactive” hunters. Inactives are those casual hunters who might buy a license every other year. They are the guys and gals who might tag along to deer camp and hunt for a day or two. Those figures have remained nearly flat for the past 17 years. Some researchers believe we will lose some of our older demographic within the next decade, but it won’t be a mass exodus, and it will have more to do with their age and physical limitations than how many deer are in the woods.
Could we lose 10 percent? Possibly. But that’s a far cry from half.
To postulate that our community will be whittled down to 5.5 million participants within “a couple of years” is pure fantasy.
3. “Predator populations are poised to explode from Maine to Florida.”
Yeah, so? As another biologist reminded me, “In the Midwest, we’ve been living with coyotes for decades. They kill deer … current research suggests they kill a lot more deer than wolves do. Deer in good habitat respond by increasing the birth rate. I could go on and on about the biology.”
The comments I’ve listed in this blog post are from four different sources — guys who have spent their careers managing deer herds for entire states and regions. Their underlying point is this: Deer populations most certainly do decline as the habitat matures, but it also rebounds when the habitat is good. Deer adjust to coyotes. The wild card is us hunters. We are the ones who have the power to right the ship.
We need to unite around a singlular cause — what is best for deer and deer hunting — and not get in line to buy "Apocalypse Now" T-shirts.