Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Hunter’s Dilemma

By Tony Hoyt, Hellgate Hunters & Anglers Board Member

Can you love a species of wildlife so much that you won’t  hunt it anymore?

Since I came to Montana in 1962, I have loved the way Mule Deer look, with their big ears and the way they stolt when disturbed. I especially love the country they live in. And of course, I love to hunt and eat them.

I usually justify my hunting by looking at the animals as a species and not as individuals. This is how the professional wildlife biologists view mule deer when determining how many animals can be harvested in a sustainable manner.

For the last 55 years, I have viewed mule deer, and the other animals I hunted, as a species, rather than as individuals with complex social interactions in their herd. My long-time hunting ethics was shaken by the PBS nature program Touching the Wild. Its storyteller and author Joe Hutto lived in the midst of mule deer winter range in the step country east of the wind river range in Wyoming.

 Hutto is an Ethologist. “Ethology in its pure and most honest form is primarily an exercise in revealing the magnitude of how little we know about living things---but it could be logically inferred that every living thing should be regarded with at least a modicum of respect or who it is.” He spent every day for years living with those mule deer. He was accepted as one of the herd. A pregnant mule deer doe would lay down next to him and let him feel the fawns kicking in her belly. By the time they were born, the fawns knew him from hearing his voice.

These profoundly intelligent deer had a complex social life. When one mule deer doe’s fawn was killed the doe was freaked out for two weeks, running around and obviously distressed. When a fawn lost her mom to a mountain lion, the fawn did the same thing. It was especially tough during hunting season when animals he had known since birth went down.

Mule deer are not  “a resilient species like elk, pronghorn and white tailed deer, which seem to readily recover from drastic fluctuation in population in the past caused by habitat destruction, catastrophic weather event, disease or overhunting… with every hunter carrying a rifle and scope capable of killing or at least crippling at one half-mile in this open terrain, it is a rare deer that survives three hunting seasons.” I learned so much from Joe Hutto’s experience that made me love and respect mule deer even more than I had before.

This is my dilemma. Come fall, my favorite time of year mostly because of hunting season, it’s going to be hard to forget about Joe Hutto’s experience with these smart and social animals. If I kill a doe will it upset the entire herd for weeks?

It is always a solemn thing to kill an animal. I try to honor them and show respect. I understand the important role of predators on the landscape, be they two legged or four. Hunters have empathy for their prey while lions, bears and wolves do not. That’s why we aim to dispatch our prey in the most humane way possible.

This spring and summer I will enjoy watching them with all that I have learned, but come fall I don’t know how it will turn out if I have a shot at a mule deer.

1 comment:

  1. Wow it fantastic post, I love that. I would also like to do hunting and find some deer hunt seasons for making that possible. Would you have any idea about that..?
    Thanks for this.