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Hunting Is Not The Cure But The Cause
Overpopulation And Starvation
From Peter Muller
To see exactly how hunting is destructive to an ecosystem,
let’s look at a specific game animal. Probably the most widely hunted animal in
North America is one of the common species of deer (white-tailed, mule deer, or
black-tailed with an aggregate of about 50 subspecies)
Let’s consider a naturally segmented area has sufficient browse to feed a deer
herd of 400 animals. Wildlife biologists would describe this by saying that the
biological carrying capacity of the area for deer is 400. A territory has
associated with it a carrying capacity for each species that has naturally
evolved there. Nature has mechanisms in place to ensure that the carrying
capacity that is appropriate for that species is not exceeded. What would happen
if the deer population increased to substantially over 400 in one year?
Let’s say that with all normal control mechanisms in place (including natural
predators) the herd size reaches 500 healthy individuals. At the start of the
next rut, several mechanisms would kick in to ensure a smaller amount of fawns
the following year. If deer are hungry (not starving, but not well fed either),
the sex drive of the bucks declines and the does stop ovulating or become
receptive less frequently than they would if plenty of browse is available.
Since the browse is now insufficient to feed all 500 animals, a portion of the
deer population would not reproduce during that season. With the normal die-off
during the winter and the smaller than normal birth during the spring, the total
population would be reduced to less that 500.
Within a few seasons the populations would again stabilize around the capacity
of the territory. If the herd size dropped substantially below the carrying
capacity (say to 300), other natural mechanisms would kick in (for example, does
who have lots of browse during the rut are more likely to have twins or
triplets) to bring the population back up to the normal carrying capacity of
400. Many other mechanisms, some simple and some fairly involved and not yet
completely understood, are used by nature to maintain the population at the
These mechanisms with which the species have evolved have, built into them,
assumptions that have been true for millions of years. Human hunting totally
destroys some of these assumptions
Normally, left to their own devices, the sex ratio of male to female animals is
about 50-50. Deer are born about evenly male and female. Most “sport” or
“trophy” hunters prefer to take bucks rather than does. Almost state game
agencies mandate that during the regular hunting only bucks (antlered deer) and
no does are shot. Under certain extreme conditions, where a deer population has
totally mismanaged for years “doe permits” are issued in addition to the regular
deer tags in a desperate attempt to mitigate the mess that the agencies have
created over the years. This policy of shooting out bucks distorts the gender
ratio of the population.
Let see what happens when that ratio changes from 50-50 ratio to 80-20 –leaving
four times as many does as bucks This is not at all uncommon. In Texas and the
Southwest, in general, years of mismanagement have pushed the doe to buck ratio
as high as 10:1 in some areas.
Let’s look at two herds – one unhunted with the gender ratio intact at 50/50 and
one hunted and one hunted with the gender ration skewed to 80/20. Otherwise
everything is the same both herds live in an area where there is sufficient
browse for 400 animals. Nature’s mechanisms that adjust the population to the
browse will now miscalculate and cause an overpopulation for the hunted herd but
leave the unhunted herd stable at 400 animals.
Based on 50-50 ratio, a herd of 400 will consist of 200 bucks and 200 does.
Normal browse conditions signal to each doe to give birth to a single fawn.
Assuming a winter die-off of 100 deer. The surviving herd would consist of
150-buck and 150 does. Each of the 150 does would give birth to 150 fawns. The
herd sized, including the new 150 fawns is now 450. Fawns have about a 2/3
chance of surviving until the next fall because they are subject to more
predation than adult deer; for example, coyotes will predate on fawns but rarely
on fully grown deer. Other mortality rates are also higher for fawns that adult
deer. At the next rut the herd is back to 400.
Based on an 80/20 gender ratio, a 100 animal winter die-off, and normal browse
conditions there will 240 does and 60 bucks in the surviving herd. The 240 does
will give birth to 240 fawns of which 160 will survive. At the next rut the herd
size is now 460 instead of 400. That’s a 15% increase over the normal her size.
A few successive seasons like that and the herd approaches conditions where
massive, catastrophic starvation and die-offs are inevitable.
Hunting is not the cure but the cause of overpopulation and starvation. Luke
Dommer, the founder of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, has proposed to
several times to various state wildlife agencies that if they are serious about
using hunting as a population control tool in areas where the sex ratio is
already badly distorted, they should institute a doe-only season. (Taking no
bucks but only does until the ratio is again stabilized at 50:50). All agencies
have rejected that proposal – thereby giving up any pretense of ecologically
motivated sound wildlife management. They quite consciously and openly state
that they are in business to provide the maximum number of live targets to
hunters each year.
The state agencies encourage the destruction of the naturally evolved ecosystem
by encouraging human hunting that balloons the population of the game species at
the expense of the non-game species. Management techniques, in addition to
sex-ratio distortion, include removal of natural predators (e.g. wolves,
coyotes, panthers, bears) altering the natural habitat to provide additional
browse for game species and destroying the habitat of non-game species (e.g.
clear-cutting and/or burning areas and sowing them with oats for deer at the
expense of rabbits, voles, various reptiles and amphibians – and many other
Things sometimes go totally haywire if a species is introduced into an ecosystem
where it didn’t evolve. Biologists call such an organism an “exotic” animal or
plant. If the exotic animal is a prey species, it may have no defenses against a
local predator and be totally wiped out in a very short time. On the other hand,
it may not have any local predators and consequently proliferate beyond the
carrying capacity of the territory, causing catastrophic die-off through
If an exotic predator is introduced, the exotic species itself may die out if
there is no suitable local prey. Or, it may cause the extinction of local prey
species who have no defenses against the exotic predator. Or, it may cause the
extinction of local predators if it is more successful and out-competes the
local predator species in taking the prey.
Numerous examples of the consequence of introduction of exotic organisms within
environments where they have not evolved can be cited: The introduction of
snakes into Guam during World War II to control the rat population nearly wiped
out several indigenous bird species; introducing trout for sport fishing into
Lake Titicaca in Peru in the 1930s wiped out about 25 species of local fish.
Those fish were not found anywhere else in the world. There are hundreds of
examples where the introduction of an exotic species had a deleterious effect on
The wildlife management agencies defy sound procedure by such practices as
introducing exotic game species into areas and then distorting the habitat to
favor their survival at the expense of native species that have evolved in the
area. e.g. stocking an area with pheasants –an Asian bird—and cutting tall
timber trees needed by native raptors for perches.
The activity of human hunting is not and never has been a sustainable, mutually
beneficial, predator, prey relationship. Human hunting techniques, even the most
primitive ones, are far too efficient to meet the conditions required of a
natural predator-prey relationship. In modern times, with new technology, the
efficiency becomes totally lopsided so as to cause instant habitat degeneration.
Add to this the conscious mismanagement of habitat to further degrade and
obviate all natural corrective measures.
Using techniques such as sex-ratio distortion, habitat manipulation, the removal
of natural predators and the introduction of exotic game species destroys
biodiversity. The goal is to maximize the number of targets for human hunting,
thereby destroying the naturally evolved ecosystems and putting them at the
brink of total collapse.
The number of animals of game species (native and exotic) is maximized at the
expense of all others. The naturally evolved mechanisms that insure biodiversity
The only way that these ecosystems can recover is to prohibit human hunting and
all other forms of non-sustainable consumptive uses of these animals. We should
allow for the unfettered reintroduction and re-immigration of predators (which
is occurring naturally). Stop “managing” the environment of those areas. When it
comes to managing the environment, our knowledge is inadequate to do an even
passable job. Even given an ethically sound motivation, which the state agencies
now lack, we simply don’t know enough to do a better job than nature.
Rather than playing God, we ‘re acting more like the three stooges, when it
comes to managing ecosystems. For the sake of life on earth, we must not allow
the hunting and gun-manufacturing lobbies to continue to dictate wildlife