Standing in a tree for hours on end leads to musing. On a particularly pleasant autumn afternoon hypocrisy was the topic, because a deer highway passed under my stand with so much whitetail traffic during the evening rush it had three lanes. The deer thoroughfares led over an ancient stone wall and into an apple orchard behind me, but it was where the trails came from that screamed hypocrisy.
The trail wound west through meadow grass and down an oak ridge to whitetail bedding areas safely situated between trophy homes surrounded by “no trespassing” signs. I knew the homes were packed with metropolitan New Yorkers who mostly don’t approve of hunting, because when I asked for permission to hunt they sneered, “We protect the deer on our property.” Yet these same people gleefully flocked to local farm stands in late summer and fall to buy this farmer’s fruit.
Posted: This land gives deer a sanctuary so at night they can raid local farms, run in front of autos, spread tick-born diseases and browse away my neighbor’s petunias.
As I pondered the homeowners’ sanctimonious duplicity, the sun dipped west and added rouge to red maples and oaks as they shed bright leaves over the meadow, and then rush hour started. The first of the evening’s traffic was a group of four does. They came up the left lane like cattle coming to water. As I watched from 20 feet up an oak, I pivoted, drew my bow and shot the lead doe as she slightly quartered away. The three others bounded back into the draw as she ran and died in the first row of Macintosh. It felt good to do something for the environment and to get some venison besides. And it was hardly the end of my season, as the farmer had a stack of depredation permits.
I’d also done just what a New York biologist recommended. He’d come to do a herd estimate the winter before and said the local deer population had to be reduced, as they were doing more than eating apples, they were over-browsing their own forest and thereby causing an ecological disaster in their woodlot safe havens. So much so that natural fauna, such as grouse, rabbits, and even some songbirds, were disappearing.
The farmer was skeptical. Oh, he knew his apples, pears and peaches were hit hard, and worse, that in winter the starving deer destroyed his young trees, but he let on every hunter who asked and most of them didn’t see a thing after opening day of the firearm season. The biologist shrugged when told this and pointed off the hill where the apples grew to a power line right-of-way running down and through small woodlots in the valley between houses: "That’s where the deer go when you pressure them. And most of that land is closed to hunting, even bowhunting."
The farmer furled his brow—that he didn’t know.
A Natural Alliance
Non-hunters who post their land were seriously harming this farmer’s livelihood. When the firearm season opened in late November, hunters would come in and kill some deer, but they’d drive most of the whitetails off the property to places where hunters don’t have access. Then, at night, the deer would just march back to the farmer’s fields to gorge. It’s the same all over the country, especially where suburbs meet farms—where environmental values of a misguided populace are juxtaposed alongside people who have to deal with the natural world rationally to stay in business.
The hypocrisy runs deep. Vegetarians like to buy local produce, especially if it’s “organic.” And vegetarians like to post their land and declare it a sanctuary for wildlife. It just makes them feel so good; yet the truth would make them run out, sit in their Prius hybrid and listen to NPR as they hyperventilate, because in reality they’re seriously harming the environment and hurting local “organic” farmers.
In the United States deer damage alone costs farmers nearly $4.5 billion annually.
After all, the small, family farms are the ones that need hunters most. Without hunters, the only farms that could stay profitable are the corporate agri-businesses that can afford deer-proof fences or that can handle the expense of losing a growing percentage of their crops to deer and other wildlife. Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for the label “organic” don’t mention hunting, they explain that to raise and sell certified organic produce, such farms cannot use pesticides or other chemical products, even those used to deter insects, disease, deer or bird damage. If you can’t use chemicals to dissuade geese, deer and other wildlife from binging on your zucchini, then you need someone to control the deer population.