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SCOTT SHALAWAY More does need to be hunted



Published: Sun, November 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



I got my deer early this year. With my car. It was shortly before midnight, I was just a few miles from home, and I was vigilant. I know that deer have their minds on other deer and procreation during the fall rut. Bucks chase does, and often they dash suddenly across roads. When one appears, several more often follow. I know all this. And still I nailed one.

I wasn't speeding. I was even thinking, & quot;Be careful. It's late. Watch for deer. & quot; I'd already seen a few along the road a few miles earlier. Then, in an instant, a doe bounded right in front of me. I never even hit the brakes. Luckily, the car suffered only minor damage. The deer was not so lucky.

Similar tales: Unfortunately many people can tell similar tales. There are too many deer. So we hunt them. Reduce the population to reduce the carnage. That reasoning works only if we kill lots of does.

Historically, hunters have preferred shooting bucks. The bigger the rack the better. And wildlife agency personnel managed deer herds to provide lots of bucks. That seemed reasonable because hunters' license fees funded the agencies.

But as the deer population exploded out of control over the last 20 years, its impact bled into agricultural, suburban, and urban areas. Auto insurance rates began to increase, farmers suffered serious crop damage, gardeners lost truck patches, and homeowners experience significant damage to expensive trees, shrubs, and flower beds.

Biologists were slow to respond because, after all, hunters pay for the privilege to hunt deer. But in many states, wildlife agencies have finally liberalized the doe harvest by extending the season and/or increasing the number of does a hunter can take.

That's the first step to controlling a deer herd. The second step is more important and more difficult to implement. Step two requires that hunters actually kill more does. That may be easier said than done.

Tradition dictates that deer hunters kill bucks. Gotta get those antlers (not horns, but that's another column) on the wall. Many feel it's wimpy to kill does. Or heartless and cruel. Does, after all, are the & quot;mommies, & quot; and we shouldn't kill mommies, right?.

Herds will shrink: Wrong. To control a deer herd, we must kill does. They have the babies. They make the population grow. Deer are polygynous -- one male mates with many females. We could kill 60 or 70 percent of the bucks in a herd, and still it would grow because the remaining males could service all the females. But when we kill does, we make a dent in the population because there are fewer females left to breed. The more does we kill, the faster the herd will shrink.

The results of changing deer management policies remain to be seen. If hunters accept their responsibility and kill more does, deer populations will decrease and so will the problems we associate with deer. If, on the other hand, hunters insist on killing big bucks and protecting does despite new regulations, the deer population and its problems will continue to grow.

Thus far, I've depicted deer in a negative light, and I don't want to leave that impression. White-tailed deer are magnificent animals. I enjoy every opportunity to watch and appreciate them. They help themselves to the food I put out for birds. A deer can curl its long, sticky tongue into the ports of tube feeders to pull out sunflower seeds. I've even watched them stand on their hind legs to reach feeders that are otherwise out of reach.

Studies the deer: When they stand just outside my office window, I study them closely. Perhaps they've come to know me -- the guy who fills the feeders. They won't flee until I shout or clap my hands. But with a snort and stamping hooves, they always have the last word.

Landowners everywhere can help ease the deer problem by allowing hunters access to their land. But only allow those who ask permission to hunt your property; run trespassers off. Responsible hunters ask permission -- and it is the law to do so in most states -- beforehand and say thanks when they're through. And the smart ones share the harvest.

shalaway@aol.com.




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