Dear Umbra,

My husband kills deer every fall for the “sport” of it. I’m completely disgusted with him and we have bitter arguments. His justification for killing deer is that they will starve over the cold winter and that he is thinning the population so more will survive. My argument is that nature will do the job on its own and that he is killing the largest, healthiest deer who have a chance to survive and that it’s the old and weak that will die naturally over the winter — not the healthy ones. I think he’s an idiot. Who is right?

Nancy
East Syracuse, N.Y.

Dearest Nancy,

You are both fairly wrong. Nature stopped being on her own long ago as far as large land mammals are concerned. His hunting is useful in deer herd management — not because more will survive, but simply to keep a herd’s growth in check. However, if you really think he’s an idiot (and if the obscenity we deleted reflects your true feelings about him), you are beyond my help and must seek a professional of another sort.

Doe, a deer, a female deer.

Save humans and diseases, deer no longer have many predators, because we’ve killed most of them through habitat loss and fragmentation as well as hunting. Meanwhile, white-tailed and mule deer have readily adapted to suburban and rural communities. Without human interference, deer would keep reproducing and stay healthy as long as food and space were plentiful. As the herd outgrew the carrying capacity of the landscape, they would begin to starve, sicken, and slow their reproduction. (Unlike Adina from Oak Park, deer are naturally able to control their fertility.) The population would drastically decrease. As a result, the food source would again become sufficient for the remaining deer, does would all have twins, and the cycle would recommence. That’s how nature works. In other words, if the deer herd near you were allowed to flourish undisturbed, you might wake up one morning, look around the barren tundra that once was your garden, and go dig up that gun.

Hunting is used by state fish and wildlife agencies to manage deer herds for the benefit of forests. The regulations your husband follows, from the length of the season to the size, age, and sex of the deer he can take, are all geared toward management of the herd. Am I in favor of hunting? Hunting for food by people who can use the meat, yes. Hunting for fun to help “manage deer herds”? Well, you are certainly against it, and you’re the one who has to live with your husband. But sport hunting is in many ways a necessary outcome of the artificial habitat in which deer now roam. Wildlife managers are looking into sterilization as an alternative in communities where hunting is impossible (dense suburbia) or has been voted out of existence. (No words yet on deer condoms.)

If your husband eats venison, he should be aware that a variant of Spongiform Encephalopathy is spreading in wild deer herds: Chronic Wasting Disease. Hunters are advised to proceed with caution, particularly in dressing and eating their kill. I’ve read some fairly amusing advice: Don’t shoot and eat deer that have “a blank facial expression” or “look nervous.” Maybe next time you fight with your husband, you could insist that to avoid the potential spread of CWD and the remote chance of getting Mad Deer Disease, he should only shoot thoughtful, confident-looking deer.

Bambily,
Umbra