God said “Let there be light”... So we may ethically harvest the renewable resources in which he has blessed us!
Genesis 1:26 (KJV)
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”.
Why do we hunt? Why should we hunt? How does hunting benefit hunters, non hunters, the environment, and the wildlife in which we pursue? These are all questions that would appear to have straight forward answers, but for some, the ability to understand why we hunt, and how it benefits all of the moving parts, eludes the grasp of those individuals. I am not trying to sway the readers one way or the other, and I am open to everyone’s point of view and appreciate those views, but I am going to dive into the thoughts I have developed in my time as a hunter and what I have learned to this point in my life as a wildlife biologist.
I would say the easiest way to state why we hunt, is it is in God’s word, as we can see in Genesis 1:26, we are to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” This says it all, if it was in God’s plan from the beginning, for us to have dominion over all animals, then hunting, like domesticating cattle, horses, and pigs, is a form of dominance over animals. Hunting is a tool used for control of a species, not only to minimize the damage that one may cause, but to minimize the impact the species will have on itself as a population, as we will talk about later.
Another reason we hunt is to be in the presence of God at a time when most people are not even awake yet. We get out of the cities and towns to escape the rat race of life and to spend some time in solitude and silence. The most at peace one may experience is at the first sight of a sunrise, as the sun creeps slowly, at its own pace, over the ridge opposite your stand, the birds begin to chirp, and off in the distance you hear the morning clucks of the wild turkey leaving the roost. The dew begins to lift off of the grass that surrounds the ground below you, the air warms until you can no longer see your breath, then the footsteps you want to hear echoes through your ears like a live concert. As the steps get closer and closer, your heart begins to race, it gets difficult to breath and then you realize, it is the smallest, yet loudest animal in the woods, the squirrel. Another animal, that had you slept in, you wouldn’t be accustomed to their morning routine in the woods. About thirty or forty-five minutes after sunrise, the most beautiful and majestic animal steps out of the edge of the woods and into the field in which you are sitting. At that moment you realize God is real, and he has blessed us with animals, large and small, to not only have dominion over, but gave us the ability to enjoy their very presence, without being overwhelmed in the office, or the factory, or where ever you call work. We, as hunters, find peace.
We are working our way from the simplest answers to the questions above, to the more scientific responses one may find when asked why we hunt. This one may not come off as if I am being serious, but I absolutely am. Believe it or not, hunting is not illegal; it is in fact a very legal activity for those that would like to take part in the recreation of hunting. There is no law that states we cannot hunt, as long as we abide by the regulations and limits set forth by the state or province in which we hunt. Now, like other legal activities such as having drinks with friends, and then getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, there are individuals that do not abide by the regulations given to us, and it reflects negatively on the entire community. We will stand by the next statement, the individuals that are the poachers, and illegal trade participants, are NOT welcome in the hunting community. We love and appreciate every animal we have the ability to pursue and potentially harvest. As hunters, we are in sync with the laws and regulations that help support a healthy population and ecosystem. This allows them to thrive and reproduce which gives us a renewable resource in which we, as hunters, are trying to conserve for the generations of hunters to follow.
Now we are going to get more scientific and discuss why hunting is good for the environment, the species population, and for humans from a monetary standpoint. The hunting community spent roughly $25 billion dollars in 2017; a large majority of that money spent goes into the habitat management practices used to maintain an environment that can sustain viable wildlife populations. We care deeply about the quality of habitat that is available for the species in which we hunt. We, as hunters, spend more time and money to improve the habitat for our chosen species, than actually hunting it seems.
It begins in the spring with food plots and mineral sites, this enhances the available forage as Does are about to give birth to their fawns, Bucks are starting to grow their antlers from the year before, and regain much needed weight from the winter. The addition of food plots allows for wildlife to have a bounty of forage available, it controls invasive vegetation and weeds, and it provides additional feeding sites so the population does not overeat native vegetation, that will potentially lead to invasive species taking over, and over competition, that may lead to a long and terrible death by starvation during the winter months.
In the summer, we are providing a constant supply of water, whether it is through water troughs, lakes or ponds, or springs that are located on our properties. Drought can cause serious devastation on a deer herd, especially through the spread of disease. During a time in which water is a limiting factor, as water dries up, and there being a small amount available for all wildlife, this will bring animals closer together, and if one is sick, then the spread of disease becomes easier within a population as the individuals are not dispersed throughout the landscape.
In late summer/early fall, we plant our winter food plot. These food plots will be used as an attractant for wildlife and a food source to assist in the survival of the local population during harsh winters. This in turn minimizes the potential for starvation, allows for a healthier herd, and reduces the potential for predators to take down a healthy individual that is within our breeding population. In all, we are improving the carrying capacity, which is the ability for the land to support a certain density of a species, year round with the activities in which we partake in, in order to attract and hold certain species on our properties that we hunt.
Referring back to the carrying capacity in the previous paragraph, hunting helps the species population, simply by keeping the population at a number that is beneficial to them and the land in which they reside. A lot of individuals view hunting as barbaric, inhumane, and unethical. Let me give you this scenario: Whitetail Deer populations can explode quickly if given great habitat that is providing plenty of food, water, and cover. Usually, does will give birth to twins if all of these conditions exist and are in great condition. In year one, we have a 10 does that are going to mate with one buck a piece giving us 20 adult deer in an area with perfect conditions. Now the does give birth to twins, so our population doubles to 40 total deer. Year two, we now have 40 deer that are able to breed. Once doe fawns reach about 70 pounds they become receptive and can be bred, so let us split year one’s fawn crop in half (10 does and 10 ducks), and now we have 20 total does and 20 total bucks all breeding with exactly one animal. Now due to the additional animals to feed, half of our does give birth to only one fawn due to a lack of available resources. We are now at 50 total deer in our area that once had an abundance of food, water and cover. The population in two seasons has gone from twenty deer to fifty deer a 150% increase in our population. With the increase in individuals in our system we now have a decrease in the amount of food available, cover to protect themselves from predators, and water becomes an issue as well. But what we haven’t mentioned yet is spread of disease, or the increased opportunity for human wildlife interaction such as vehicle accidents, crop damage and with the increased populations of a prey source (fawns), our predator populations increase as well. With a population that is growing exponentially, and there being weaker individuals because of the lack of food and water, all it takes is one outbreak of disease, such as EHD, to decimate the population. I personally believe that an ethical shot on an animal is much more humane than letting one suffer through disease, starvation, or being hit by a vehicle and left to die on the side of your local highway.
Then we have the increased opportunity for more negative interaction between people and wildlife, simply because there are higher numbers of animals. The amount of damage in which wildlife causes is in the hundreds of millions each year, this can be from accidents, crops being damaged, or even the ornamental flowers you have planted in the front flower beds being eaten, because we all know deer love those roses and figs you have in the front yard. This part speaks for itself, as we all know, the easiest way to get through to people it seems, is to talk dollars and cents, so think of the hundreds of millions of dollars in damage that wildlife cause each year, due to increased animal populations and human expansion into different parts of the wildlife world.
The last item we will bring to your attention is the Hunters for the Hungry program. If you are unaware, this is a program where hunters can harvest an animal, donate the animal at a processing center, and the animal is given to families in need. This program, and other like it in your state, donates upwards of 2.5 billion pounds of meat each year. Hunters care about others, it is not always about a trophy, or going and “killing” something.
In closing, hunting goes beyond just “killing” animals because we are ruthless, blood-thirsty barbarians, it’s about the conservation of wildlife and the environment in order to pass on the renewable resource in which God has given us. We understand some people may not like, nor agree, with what we do, but we ask that you remain open minded and respect that hunting brings us closer to our God, brings us peace, and helps all parties involved directly or indirectly. From the deer feeding in the field, the men and women making a living as truck drivers always on the road, to the less fortunate families enjoying an all natural meal harvested ethically by a hunter.
Written by: Robbie McQueen, Wildlife Biologist