Don't get this wrong, we're just speculating; but is America experiencing a deer shortage? Or is it the other way around?
It's trade show season, which means lots of new deer hunting products on display, big news from every corner of the industry, and plentiful opportunities for us hunting fanatics to gather and swap stories.
But this year, the stories being swapped at hunting industry shows haven't been as much about big buck sightings, fortuitous hunting seasons, unbelievable hunting adventure stories, or other fun-filled tales perfect when told over a plate of venison and a pint of beer. No, this year, the stories are dark, gloomy, and foreboding, and they indicate what could become a major problem in the deer hunting world over the next few years.
More Deer in the News
Quite simply, whitetail numbers seem to be in decline. Reports from all over the country indicate that 2013's autumnal hunting season wasn't graced by filled tags or packed freezers as usual, but by limited deer sightings and a depressing and worrisome dearth of big bucks. And keep in mind that most of the people at these trade shows - industry events like the Archery Trade Association Show and the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade Show - either hunt for a living or make their living off of hunting products and services. These guys are professionals. If they had a rough deer season, then how bad could things have been this year for the amateurs among us?
The toughest deer sighting shortages seemed to - as usual - hit the Midwest, with states like Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Iowa bearing the brunt of the crisis. But the bad news even extended as far east as Pennsylvania and as far south as Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky. Clearly there is something going on, and whatever it is, it's not good.
It's not just that the deer have learned to evade us while we're hunting either. Unfilled tags were certainly a big topic of discussion at both ATA and SHOT Show, but so were trail cameras that had failed to capture much, if any, movement. It seems as if some of the deer just picked up and left over night.
So what's the problem? Where have the deer gone? There are numerous theories that could explain the newfound shortages. Some of the more accusatory hunters are quick to put blame on deer management efforts and state departments of natural resources, citing liberal doe hunting policies as issues that may have finally taken a toll on deer reproduction habits and population numbers.
Sure, the doe hunting policies may have had their overall desired effect of reducing deer-related car accidents and farm-related crop destruction, but they have also apparently created a major scarcity problem. Could overhunting have plunged Midwestern deer populations into relative endangerment?
While there is little doubt that overhunting in these regions has caused at least part of the problem, it is unlikely that it is the sole explanation for the deer shortage.
At the same time, communities across the nation are dealing with over-population of deer herds, employing culling programs and dealing with vehicle-deer collisions. They are experiencing another sort of problem; too many deer. Even TIME reported on "America's Pest Problem" a couple months ago.
So, that tells us that, possibly, deer are getting smarter. The deer that survive season after season are those who aren't in what are known as prime hunting locations, but instead those that are closer to urban or suburban areas, likely well-fed and comfortable without the stress of, well, being shot at every fall.
If those deer really are developing a tendency of staying away from hunters, then they are probably passing it on to their offspring. Survival of the fittest, the smartest and the best adapted, right?
There needs to be a balance found somewhere in our relationship with deer in this country. Hunting them, eating them and hanging them on our walls is great. But running into them with our cars or having them ruin a spring garden is not.
So then, there are two problems here, both of which completely contradict the other. Does that mean there isn't a problem? Is nature's course the only solution? Are we interfering with nature too much?
Whatever the case, the Quality Deer Management Association will hope to find some answers this spring at the Whitetail Summit, where hunters and wildlife conservation scientists will convene to discuss the problem. Here's hoping there is an educated resolve of some sort.
What do you think about the deer problem? Is there one? Leave you thoughts below.