At the turn of the 20th century, there were about 350,000 deer left in America. Unregulated market hunting for hides and venison had decimated the herds, and while it seems unthinkable today, the whitetail was on the way to extirpation.
In the early 1900s, the first forward-thinking wildlife managers saw it coming, and so they established state game laws and banned the sale of venison. Their vision saved the whitetail, and is our #1 conservation achievement. We have an estimated 35 to 40 million whitetails in the U.S. today.
NOTE HERE: In recent blogs I have spoken to reduced deer numbers and harvests in some regions, especially across the upper Midwest, as a result of EHD, predators, hard winters and doe bag limits that got too liberal as the herds exploded over the years. But I have always pointed out that the deer depression is not occurring everywhere. Conversely, in many suburban areas in the East, from New Jersey and Connecticut to D.C. to Atlanta, there are way too many deer living in peoples’ backyards, and that is sparking an entirely different debate.
Last October The Wildlife Society, a conservation group of 10,000 scientists, wildlife managers and academics, floated the idea allowing the sale of wild venison in the overpopulated areas as an “incentive” to reduce the deer numbers and the extensive damage they can cause.
This is not some cockamamie scheme. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the idea came from a peer-reviewed article–“Regulated Commercial Harvest to Manage Overabundant White-Tailed Deer”–An Idea to Consider?” written by 7 respected wildlife ecologists and published in the Society’s scientific quarterly.
“the new incentive would involve targeting overabundant whitetails in neighborhoods, parks, townships…by specially qualified shooters. Hired sharpshooters already perform this task in many places, at taxpayer expense. The difference is that, instead of being donated to food pantries or sent to landfills, the venison and byproducts could be sold, perhaps as a locavore delicacy, to recoup some costs.”
When the Wildlife Society floated the idea, they figured most people would be against it. Some are. But turns out many professionals and fed-up suburbanites with too many deer living around their homes and causing trouble seem willing to at least look at the idea of opening up the sale of wild venison again.
One wildlife ecologist said the commercial harvest of deer “would simply add another tool to our toolbox” but not affect our sport hunting. Proponents note that trapping and selling wild fur-bearers is allowed, as is catching and selling both freshwater and saltwater fish.
And a recent poll in New Jersey asked the question: Would you favor the commercial hunting of deer in New Jersey? While 51% said no, a surprising 45% answered yes.
While this idea has been out there for a couple of years, most people doubted whether a state government would be willing to step up and try it.
But in March New Jersey Republican Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande said she will be introducing a bill that directs the state Division of Fish and Wildlife to develop and establish requirements for the commercial harvesting of deer. “This will be controversial but the Wall Street Journal had an article that said 85 percent of the venison sold in restaurants and at meat counters is imported from farms in New Zealand. It’s insane we’re importing it from New Zealand. Meanwhile, we’re overrun with deer… I hold my breath every time I get on the road. Instances of Lyme disease are a major problem.’’
Could this actually happen? Maybe. For the last 30 years people living in Eastern suburbs have been trying to deal with too many deer that destroy their plants and trees, overgraze state parks, cause car wrecks, carry tick disease, etc. Fences, repellants, birth-control experiments and special bow seasons have not controlled the herds. People are fed up. If selling venison to restaurants in nearby cities will offset the cost of bringing in shooters to kill more deer, many people might want to try it, especially since the meat would not be wasted.
I have lived and hunted in the northern Virginia suburbs, and have seen first-hand the damage caused by too many deer. But I am against this.
Many people would say that deer hunting is already way too commercial. Imagine putting more money and profits into the transport, butchering and sale of deer meat. Who would regulate the shooters, the sellers, the meat markets, the restaurants? Another government program with fraud and waste? Would the FDA get involved? Could poachers infiltrate the system and randomly kill and sell deer?
The professionals say that limited commercial hunting would supplement and not affect the sport hunting opportunities of the locals in an area, but how can they know that? Seems logical to me that a DNR might have to tweak the hunting season and bag limits in an area where the commercial shooting of deer would be going on.
Besides, the last best thing we have in hunting is going out into the woods on a chilly fall day, killing a deer, gutting it, dragging it home and feeding our family with wonderful, deep-red venison…or donating that meat to a food bank for the less fortunate to enjoy. Do we want to exploit that? We start putting money and profit in it, we change the game.
What do you think about commercial hunting and the sale of venison?