If you’re a hunter, you’ve likely already had people ask you if the deer population would get out of control without hunters. Actually, this is a common thought among both hunters and non-hunters alike. And when you think about it, it makes sense.
If people stopped hunting, it seems only natural that the deer population would explode, given how many deer are killed each year. In fact, there are six million deer killed in the United States every year by hunters with another 1.5 million being killed by cars.
But would deer overpopulate without hunting? Would it really make that much of a difference in the total number of deer on the planet? Some of the answers may surprise you.
A Little Bit of History
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at some statistics. In the U.S., the deer population was fairly low in the 1800s; by the 1920s, deer were almost extinct in numerous places. However, the deer population has exploded in the past 100 years, totaling 30 million deer in the year 2015.
Even though six million deer are killed by hunters each year, the end of hunting season usually sees about 12 million new fawns being born. This means that the number of deer killed each year is essentially replaced by new deer with some to spare. That being said, does this mean that the deer population is exploding and that we should somehow encourage people to hunt deer? Not necessarily.
Is There Really an Overabundance of Deer?
First, let’s take a look at the word “overabundance.” The term is not an official or scientifically recognized word that refers to any specific numbers or anything else for that matter. It is used mostly by hunters and state wildlife management agencies, mostly to convince the general population that deer have to be hunted.
Biologically, deer are not overpopulated; in fact, the deer population is being kept artificially inflated. How? Most states clear-cut various forests so that deer can have the habitat they love as well as pay certain farmers to grow crops preferred by deer, all in an attempt to increase the number of deer in the area.
And why do they do this? It’s really simple. State wildlife management agencies make a lot of money from the selling of deer-hunting licenses so they do things to encourage hunters to go out there and hunt. It’s not a bad idea, really, but it does keep the deer population high enough so that hunters can increase the odds of killing a deer.
If people stopped hunting altogether, state wildlife management agencies would simply stop executing measures that increase the deer population, which would decrease the number somewhat. However, by most accounts, the deer population would still get bigger overall, although not by as much as what many people think.
Would Deer Overpopulate Without Hunting?
If you’re wondering about the real effects of reduced deer-hunting, it really isn’t as bad as you might think regardless of which side of the issue you’re on. First of all, if deer did start to overpopulate, things such as starvation, disease, and lower fertility levels would eliminate a lot of them. They wouldn’t just start to take over the planet and wreak havoc on people’s lives.
In other words, evolution and survival of the fittest would occur to naturally reduce the deer population. The strong would survive and the rest of them would perish. That’s just how nature works.
That being said, the small increase in the deer population wouldn’t mean that humans wouldn’t feel the effect. For one thing, remember those 1.5 million deer killed by cars each year? That number would likely increase; unfortunately, some humans would be killed as well since that’s what occasionally happens.
Over-grazing could also be a problem with just a few more deer added to the population. Deer would fight over the foods and farm land, forests, and even gardens would therefore feel the effects. There would be less food getting to humans or farmers and food manufacturers would have to step up their efforts to bring more food to people’s table.
More Sickness Might Occur
Furthermore, humans may suffer with more illnesses if the deer population was allowed to get much bigger. Deer are carriers of the tick that brings Lyme disease and more deer would likely equal more Lyme disease victims. The number may not increase by a lot but even one more case of Lyme disease is unpleasant for the people who get it.
Then, of course, you have to think about the economic impact of reduced hunting. Lots of local businesses would be affected, especially businesses such as sporting goods stores and even the state wildlife management services. After all, hunting brings a lot of money into the local and state economy and if you stopped people from hunting, their numbers would suffer.
Some Final Thoughts
So what does all this mean in practical terms? Would deer really run amok everywhere if people stopped hunting them? The answer is both yes and no. There is little doubt that the deer population would increase, yet there is no way for even the experts to tell by how much they would increase.
A few things are certain, though. First of all, the deer population would increase enough for humans to suffer a bit more in areas such as food production, diseases such as Lyme disease, and the inconvenience of hitting deer with our cars and possibly even getting hurt ourselves.
How much would those things increase? No one knows for sure but they would indeed increase. But in most cases, it likely wouldn’t be enough to make a huge difference in most people’s lives.
If you take these things and put them together with the fact that the increase in deer would likely be minimal because of disease and starvation, it is likely that the number of extra deer isn’t even worth worrying about for most of the population.