The following information on deer management comes from the Conclusion of How to Hunt Deer by Edward A. Freeman. How to Hunt Deer is also available to purchase in print.
The present-day deer hunting conditions are the result of the conservation efforts of those who have been interested in the sport in the past. It has been a constant struggle to maintain and improve conditions so that we, and those who follow us, may continue to enjoy the sport. It is the duty of those of us who enjoy this hunting to do all that we can to insure the future of the sport so that the conservation efforts will not be wasted.
It is inevitable that hunting conditions should change with the constantly increasing industrialization of the nation. We cannot fight the inevitable, but we should attempt to preserve our hunting rights in areas which remain suitable to the deer herds. We must watch any and all legislative proposals which affect the sport, and we should support those which are beneficial and oppose those which are detrimental to hunting as we know it today.
Different groups are continually trying to curtail the ownership and use of various types of guns. These groups are not necessarily opposed to hunting; however, their efforts, if not opposed, would certainly hurt the sport. Some states regulate the caliber of guns which may be used, with the idea of preventing the wounding of deer that would not be recovered. This is supposed to be in the interest of conservation. It may, or may not, be justified. In an effort to prevent shooting accidents, Massachusetts prohibits the use of rifles. This state is not considered as a deer hunting state, being largely an industrial area, so this is a sensible restriction. On the other hand, this prohibition should not be permitted to spread to other states where conditions are different.
Whenever any of these proposed gun-restricting laws come before any legislature, all interested hunters should make their views known to their representatives in that body. If we do not take an interest in these proposed laws, we have only ourselves to blame if we find that legislative action has reduced the pleasure of hunting.
There has always been a conflict between the stock-raisers of the west and the hunting fraternity. This also exists to a lesser extent between the hunters and the agriculturists. We hunters must compromise in these cases, because agriculture is a serious business and hunting is only a sport which provides an important means of relaxation. In many cases, these men are right when they claim that there are too many deer in their sections of the country.
At the present time, some of the deer ranges have a serious problem of overpopulation. Deer management officials are finding that there is such a thing as too much conservation. The deer herds are limited by the amount of available food. In most places there is a time of year when the deer must live on a diet which is restricted to a few shrubs and plants and unless there is a sufficient supply of this food during this critical period, the deer will starve. This is especially true in some of the northern areas where deep snow confines the deer to “yards” during the winter.
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are considering the problem of overpopulation. Here in Maine, the deer management officials are aware of the possible danger, but refuse to admit that it is critical until they have time to make a complete survey of the situation. Some of us are hoping that this survey will not in effect be a post mortem for the major part of our herd.
In the past, we have had a very plain example of what this overpopulation problem can do to the deer herd. In the northern part of the state, there were very few deer in the days of the virgin timber. When the land was logged, the appearance of a second growth of seedlings and brush made conditions nearly ideal for the deer. There was very little hunting in the area at that time and the deer multiplied until they overran the country. This was an area of deep snow and the deer were forced to live in the cedar swamps during a large part of the winter. These swamps were not large enough to support the deer indefinitely. One year they failed and thousands of deer died of starvation. It has been some thirty years since that time and the deer have not fully recovered from that setback. It has taken that long for the cedar to produce a new supply of food for the deer and their increase has been limited by this growth.
In other states, where the snow is not so much of a problem, the food supply might support a greater number of deer, but there is a limit. I am sure that the Pennsylvania herd has passed its peak and must decrease in numbers as time goes on. Perhaps there will not be a sudden drop in these numbers, due to starvation, but in many areas of that state, there is insufficient food to maintain the present deer population.
The feeding of starving deer would be expensive and would only delay the inevitable. They cannot be driven or persuaded to move to other areas, as this is against their nature. They prefer to remain on familiar ground until the last bit of food has been consumed, and once this food supply is exhausted, it requires years for a new crop to develop to the point where it will support any large number of deer. There is not much that the individual hunter can do about this situation except to aid the officials in their study of the problem and to support any legislation which will limit the deer herd to the food supply.
One of the most serious threats to hunting, as we know it, is the growing breach in the relations between hunters and landowners. This situation may not be entirely the fault of the hunters, but it can only be healed by the hunters’ action. Each of us should lean over backwards in an effort to establish and maintain friendly relations with these landowners. Otherwise we will find an increase in the private hunting preserves where we are only permitted to hunt for a fee. This is against the American principle of equal rights for all.
Many hunters seem to think that a license issued by the state gives them the right to hunt wherever they wish. This is far from a fact. The license is merely a permit to hunt the state-owned deer on land which is open to hunting. The landowner has complete control of his land and he has the right to forbid hunting if he so desires. The hunter has no right to hunt on private property without the permission of the landowner, direct or implied. The fact that the owner has not posted his land is usually an implied permit to hunt.
We cannot continue to disregard the rights of these owners and expect them to continue to permit hunting on their land. Many of them will overlook an occasional flagrant violation with the thought that such action is not typical of the hunting fraternity as a whole, but when hunter after hunter commits minor acts of vandalism which are a constant irritant to the property owner, he is apt to bar all hunting on his land. The effects of widespread posting of land may be seen in many of the farming sections of the various deer ranges.
We hunters must remember that we are, in effect, the guests of the landowner and should conduct ourselves as guests should, if we expect to be welcome to hunt there at some future time. It costs nothing to ask permission to hunt on private land and the very asking is an acknowledgement of the rights of the owner. Such an acknowledgement should establish a guest-and-host relationship which will imply mutual obligations beneficial to both parties.
There are many other things which we should watch, such as the forest-fire danger that can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the deer range as well as to the property owner, and the possibility of hunting accidents which cause public opposition to all hunting. If we wish to see the sport of deer hunting continued indefinitely, we must be careful in our conduct in the woods and must examine all proposed laws which would restrict the sport. We should be appreciative of the effort of those who have developed and preserved this heritage for our use; and, as sportsmen, we should desire to preserve it, in turn, for those who will wish to hunt in the future. Deer hunting is an American institution which deserves perpetuation until the inevitable advance of civilization demands the use of the last of the deer ranges.
There’s a four-pronged buck a-swinging in the shadow of my cabin,
And it roamed the velvet valley till to-day;
But I tracked it by the river, and I trailed it in the cover,
And I killed it on the mountain miles away.
—Robert W. Service
The Rhyme of the Remittance Man