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Archive for Sunday, November 27, 2005

Commentary: Why go deer hunting? Let’s count the reasons

November 27, 2005

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During a radio interview the other day, a newswoman asked me, "What is the big attraction about deer hunting? Why do so many people do it? Why is it such a big thing in Michigan?"

All legitimate questions if you're not one of the roughly 800,000 people who hunt deer with a modern firearm, bow and arrow or muzzle-loader, or maybe all three, as I do.

I started trying to explain, but after a few seconds I realized it was fruitless - no, impossible - and just said that it's something you have to experience to understand.

Explaining deer hunting to nonhunters is like trying to tell a deaf person what it's like to listen to Handel's "Messiah" each Christmas, or telling a blind person what a coral reef teeming with fish looks like.

It's not something you do, it's something you experience with your body, your conscious mind and probably some senses passed down through genes we aren't even aware we have.

But if a nonhunter ever challenges the value of deer hunting, or says it isn't important, hit the skeptic with this fact:

Last year in Michigan, there were 62,707 reported collisions between cars and deer. They killed three people, injured 1,647 and resulted in $106.6 million in damages.

That was with a deer herd of about 1.6 million. So then ask the nonhunter how he or she would like to drive on roads in a place where the deer herd was two or three times that size, which would be a reality if deer weren't hunted.

The three human deaths in car-deer collisions were on the low side. The average is more like four to five a year. In 2001 and 2003, when there were about 1.9 million deer in the state, 11 people died each year in 65,000 to 67,000 car-deer crashes that caused $110 million to $114 million in damages.

The University of Wisconsin has been keeping car-deer collision statistics for a region that includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.

Herds in Wisconsin and Minnesota are roughly the size of those in Michigan, but those states have far fewer deer-car crashes - 19,846 for Wisconsin in 2004 with 11 people dead and 689 injuries, and 4,900 crashes in Minnesota with eight dead and 489 injuries.

The higher crash rate in Michigan is in part the result of our bigger population, at 10 million just about double each of the other two states. But it also illustrates differences in deer distribution.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the bulk of the deer are in woodland areas with relatively small human populations (less so in Wisconsin, which is reflected in that state's higher crash numbers).

In Michigan, more than half of our deer now live in the rich farmlands of the southern part of the state, which is also where about 80 percent of our people live.

The animal rights people often argue that the state could control the deer herd by sterilizing the does. It's an argument that flies in the face of reason.

Each doe would have to be shot with a dart containing a birth control chemical, and each doe would have to be injected twice in a period of six months.

Then there's cost. The small-scale sterilization experiments done so far have run to about $1,500 per deer.

It's much better to keep the present system in which hunters pay to control deer numbers.

And if nonhunters ever get a chance to try a nicely done venison steak or roast, maybe they'll want to do a little controlling themselves.

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