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Becker County Sportsman - Do we have too many deer in The United States?

DETROIT LAKES - Farmland, and woodland America supports a lot of whitetail deer. Our farmers are producing grain crops in order to fight worldwide famine, and all available acreage is in use. America's farms feed the world's hungry and agriculture continues to be the most important of human endeavors. As a result of this abundance of food, the whitetail deer comes into the picture.

The fertile fields of Minnesota and a host of other locations have given rise to an unbelievable number of wild deer. In many locations, their numbers have given concern. Are there too many? Problems have developed, as deer are successfully managed by state conservation units, in order to provide a base for hunting. Minnesota's major problem is the numbers of deer, which are in or near the metro areas of the Twin Cities. Our DNR has taken steps toward control, often to hear objections of those who want no hunting at all.

Deer-automobile collisions are all too common, and they're dangerous. We have our share of accidents right here in Becker County, where some farming is involved with dense woodlands that support deer.

How many is "Too Many?"

There is some validity to the argument that the State game departments sometimes keep deer levels at maintainable highs in order to provide deer, and regulate the harvest with laws and conditions. There hasn't been a need in Minnesota for any drastic steps in order to control our whitetail numbers.

Hunter success is pretty good here, and except for the deer-automobile collisions, we've been pretty much on the plus side.

A few years ago on a trip to Oregon, we'd scarcely passed into Montana, when a state trooper signaled us to stop. We were traveling on I-94 and the trooper told us of a dangerous sixty miles or so where deer-car impacts were all too common. On this stretch of Interstate, where 100 mph speeds are not unlawful, the trooper suggested that we keep our speed down to 40 mph, until nightfall. It was early evening, so we heeded the suggestion. We did see a number of cars that had collided with deer -- two of these obviously serious with emergency vehicles on the scene.

New Jersey is another location where deer impacts are common. This is "the garden state" with millions of acres planted to zucchini, squash, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and berries; just about any fruit or vegetable crop. The result has been hungry deer invading the fields, and spilling out over roads. Untimely occurrences are commonplace there, and the state has taken measures to curb the problem. Organized shooting with archery and small caliber guns, often the .223 Remington has resulted as a measure of control. As one would expect, the anti-hunting and anti-gun elements are vocal in the state, and in measure, have stymied the authorities seeking solutions. New Jersey embarked on a program to put up deer-proof fences -- fencing more than a thousand miles of Interstate highways that connect to such urban sites as New York, Philadelphia, Trenton and other densely populated cities. Amongst all this are the vast fields growing everything that the deer invade.

The Governor of New Jersey, over the objection of many, hired a professional hunting group to cull the deer. The group was well trained, incidents did occur, but the deer reduction did occur and there was a noticeable improvement.

But does do breed every year, and the trouble and expense recurred every year, so the solutions were not permanent. The Humane Society Of The United States, a powerful and well-funded anti-hunting group, took the lead and was partly successful in opposing the state game departments' efforts. A law was passed that granted immunity from any damages, to all landowners who did provide access to the professional hunters, during the all too brief periods that the program was running.

Kansas and Nebraska are states that are working on similar laws and similar solutions. There are a lot of whitetail deer, wild in nature, on these two Midwestern states, and they have problems with the deer invading suburbia.

The numbers

When settlers came to the northeastern corner of Colonial America, the deer were hunted by primitive methods by the Indians. They were not very plentiful. It wasn't until the colonists spread westward from such states as Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, that the agricultural areas increased to the extent that the foods in the fields gave rise to a large number of deer.

In 1900 there was an estimated half million deer in all of the then populated areas. Now there are more than 35 million deer in the lower 48 states.

Control of the does

Biologists from many state game departments are beginning to advocate the increased harvest of does, leaving the bucks, both big and small, in order to get deer numbers into manageable numbers. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, probably other places are listening to farmers who complain of crop damages. Does drop fawns but once a year, so hunting the ladies seems to be the key to controlling deer numbers. Does do not make very good wall mounts, but the venison provides is as tasty and nutritious -- probably more so -- that the trophy buck that so many seek. With this in mind, New Jersey has passed a law with some shooting zones allowing taking two does. Only when this has been accomplished may a hunter apply for a license, which allows a third deer, perhaps a buck.

Quality deer management is a tough matter and a difficult strategy. Minnesota has the problem only in certain locations, usually in metro areas. Our DNR has hunters in our state were slow in accepting the DNR scheme for taking does in a more liberal manner. The result has been acceptance to the zones, permits, and special situations and conditions, which has taken some getting used to. But we do have an acceptable kill rate state-wide, and we had another season that turned out to be the fourth highest on record. The total take was 260,000 and the previous season was almost that number. We probably will not sustain that level over the next decade, but Minnesota deer hunting is bound to be very good in the future. We probably don't have too many whitetails in Minnesota. We don't have the problems of many other locations. During the month of March, the DNR will hold meetings across the state, inviting hunters for their opinions.

Among the proposals will be a reduction of the zones. The use of center-fire cartridges of .22 caliber is being considered. Next Thursday, Mar. 13, such a meeting will be held in Park Rapids, in the Century School's cafeteria. Now is the time to attend to see what's being proposed for Minnesota's deer hunting in the future.