Friday, December 13, 2013

Thoughts on deer hunting: Part I

As most of my readers know, I am still an undergraduate college student studying Wildlife Management at SUNY Cobleskill (but my semester JUST ended, and I only have 1 left!). I’ve always been an outdoorsy kid, and loved animals, and gotten dirty, and been interested in macro level biology. Since I started college back up in 2010 at Finger Lakes Community College, I’ve been inundated by hunters, trappers, fisher(wo)men, rednecks, hippies, tree-huggers, animal-lovers, scientists, nerds (you name it!) as my classmates, friends, and professors. These are labels, sometimes fair and sometimes not, used to describe people in my “field” of work and study.

My first time shooting a firearm: Remington 870, 
at a moving target during my USFWS orientation in Alaska.
What do I identify with?

I’m a young woman who has never hunted, brought up almost in an anti-hunting home, fished when made to, had every pet imaginable, went camping every summer, never wore shoes in the summer… I’m not a “hippie”, I’m not a “redneck”, I’m kind of a blend I think.

This entry isn’t meant to be about labels and categorizing those I learn, work, and play with… but lately I’ve been thinking about “who” I am in this field. Initially, the thought of working with wildlife sounded AWESOME because who doesn’t want to hold a bear cub?

Holding a black bear cub at a 
DEC-chaperoned den visit. 
Almond, NY (March 2013). 
Photo credit: Alicia Walker
That was a dream come true earlier this year. Who doesn’t want to work outdoors (well, only if the weather is fair) and see beautiful landscapes, smell pine-scented air, and get a tan? I’ve learned since beginning my studies, that these things don’t always occur. And sometimes you’re picking up deer poop and putting it into hundreds of vials in a freezing rain storm, so that the DNA can be examined. And sometimes after a particularly fun night out, you have to stand on a boat the whole next day tracking fish. And sometimes, you have to learn how to “sex” geese, and they bite you in rude places and poop in your face!

It ain’t all glamorous and photo-worthy, but I really do enjoy living and working in this field of wildlife management and conservation.

So back to hunting: I am in the Wildlife Management degree program, and I’m interning at the DEC within the Game Management Unit. We talk A LOT about hunting for deer, turkey, bear, ducks, geese, rabbits, squirrels, grouse, you name it. My friends disappear into the woods around mid-November, and reappear mid-December bearded, and happy because their freezers are full of wild game. Hunting is not just a hobby or sport, it’s a way to actively participate in wildlife management, and to provide good, wholesome protein to your family.

I’ve also been very queasy about blood and gore. Maybe that’s why I always put hunting out of my mind as a hobby to get into. The thought of watching an animal die, almost literally feels like heartache. But, I must stop myself, and stop allowing myself to consider every animal to be my pet bunny, kitty, or puppy. These are wild animals, that live rough lives of hunger, sometimes starvation, sickness, competition, and fear. Our species is spreading to every reach of this planet, and in turn are displacing whatever wild being lived there first, which we now refer to as a “nuisance”. We have removed all apex predators from the northeast. Long gone are mountain lions and wolves. So, who controls the deer herd now?

Did you know that if you purchase a NYS fishing or hunting license, firearms, ammo, hunting gear, etc…a portion of that (called the Pittman–Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (11% tax)), comes back to the state which helps provide resources to the state for wildlife management efforts? In a way, hunters are paying the salaries of those of us tasked with making decisions about wildlife. As a state, we “own” our wildlife, which goes back to how land was ruled and governed in our Mother Land, England. What’s on this land, is ours! Which is ironic, because early colonists left and revolted against England to get away from that way of thinking, yet here we are hundreds of years later, still “owning” the wildlife.

I read Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” as a freshman at FLCC. Leopold introduced new ways of thinking about the land and it’s resources, including wildlife. All of these things aren’t here for us to just kill, mine, burn, cut, harvest, and eat at will. We must define our personal land ethic, and strive to CONSERVE and PRESERVE, or there will not be any wild anything left for our children. Leopold wrote of a wolf hunt trip he was on (to eradicate all large predators):

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” 

This is a very emotional passage for me. Could I watch an animal die? Could I be responsible for the death of another living being? I may be criticized for being too sensitive or emotional, OR criticized for even considering hunting at all. The fact is, human beings are omnivorous beings, created by whomever with teeth and dietary needs for protein best derived from animal flesh. If I hunt, it won’t be for a huge buck. It will be for meat, and so that I can participate in the circle of life. Hamburger doesn’t come from Price Chopper or Wegmans or Hannafords. It comes from an animal, likely who had lived a not-so-pleasant life, unless I splurge and by free-range, grass-fed beef/chicken/pork. But, I’m a college student. If I buy a steak, it’s the cheapest cut. I rarely eat red meat (unless it’s venison given to me by a hunter-friend!) because it’s so expensive. I respect your choice to be vegetarian or vegan, please respect mine to eat and ENJOY meat, and to want to understand the whole process of harvest.

Coming up, a review of deer hunting this past bow and regular season! I have great picture submissions from around New York State.


  1. Hi!
    Just a Swedish female hunter Reading your interesting post.
    Its a way of living for me. My Dad did hunt so its natural for me.
    But its not that important to Always shot a roe or a moose. To be outdoor with hunting friends and your dogs is more important.

  2. Sounds like you and I have more in common. I was always against hunting. I think that's my father's fault. But over the years I've come to realize that as long as it's done correctly it's necessary and healthy (I still have issues with 'sports' hunting, but for subsistence hunting). I don't think I've come to a place where I would be able to participate. But, as long as people are eating the meat (or giving it to me; game meat is so much healthier and better for the animal), and are respectful, I'm for it.


Thank you for reading and wishing to leave a comment! Unfortunately, due to a high number of spam comments being left under the "Anonymous" heading, I had to disable that feature. You may still leave a comment with a Gmail account, or under the OpenID option! I welcome comments, suggestions, stories, and tall tales!