Photo courtesy of Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
The phone rang early on a Monday morning. The woman’s voice was measured and businesslike. I sensed a touch of urbane refinement tinged with the shadow of indignation.
She asked to speak with Mr. Garth.
“This is Gary Garth.”
“Are you the person who writes deer hunting stories for the Louisville newspaper?”
“I do sometimes, yes. To whom am I speaking, please?”
She replied with her name and address, including the street and city.
“Thank you. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
“I don’t approve of deer hunting, and I don’t think it should be promoted by the media.”
I asked what she specifically disapproved of.
Speaking in an even tone that might have been rehearsed, she explained that, in her opinion, hunting deer is a barbaric, senseless activity. For someone to go into the woods and intentionally kill a deer simply made no sense to her.
“I’m not against hunting per se, really, although I could never do it and never would do it,” she said. “My father hunted ducks and one of my sons has hunted. And I understand that hunting helps some people provide [food] for their families. But deer are such beautiful, graceful creatures. Sometimes I see them playing behind my house. I just don’t understand how anyone could wish to kill one.”
Kentucky’s 136-day-long whitetail deer season opens in early September for archers and includes crossbow hunters in October, along with special weekend hunts for youngsters and muzzleloader-style gun enthusiasts. It then peaks in November with the modern-gun season before winding down with two more months of archery action. It is the linchpin of all state hunting activity.
How best to respond to this person?
I could say yes, hunting does involve killing, and hunters will probably kill around 80,000 deer during the November modern-gun hunt and about 120,000 total from September through January. But I also would need to explain that killing is hardly the totality of the hunting experience, a concept many non-hunters understandably have a difficult time grasping. I could say that most of Kentucky’s 230,000 or so deer hunters will not fire a shot or release an arrow this season; that many will simply watch deer in the field but opt not to shoot. Many others will spend hours perched in their stands and not see a deer. But all will have enjoyed their hunting experience.
I could say that some of us hunt because it keeps us in touch with where we came from and who we are.
I could tell her about the tens of thousands of dollars hunters spend each year and how some of that money circulates through parts of the state that are badly in need of cash. I could say how deer-hunting dollars make cash registers ring in back-road eateries and gas stations and motels where hand-lettered “Deer hunters welcome” signs often are displayed.
I could explain that the deer she enjoys watching behind her house aren’t there for her entertainment, but are grazing on the manicured, leafy suburban shrubbery. And that more than half of the state’s 120 counties—including Jefferson, the one in which she resides—are bulging with deer.
I could tell her that Kentucky is home to about 1 million whitetail deer, a number state wildlife managers say is near the state’s “social carrying capacity,” meaning that is about all most people will tolerate. And I could add that, thanks partly to a well-managed deer-hunting program, Kentucky’s whitetail herd is healthy and well balanced and the envy of several other southeastern states, where deer numbers have outgrown the habitat.
I could say that according to state deer research biologist David Yancy, hunting is the only management tool available to control the size of the herd. I could tell her that a deer herd that is not hunted will double about every three years. I could explain that if deer hunting were stopped the results would disastrous: Deer would become emaciated. Disease would be rampant. The number of automobile and deer collisions would spike. Habitat and crop damage would be extreme and widespread.
I could tell her that thousands of hunters across Kentucky and beyond donate tons of venison each fall through Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry and similar organizations, providing meat to food banks and other charities that serve it to folks in need.
I decided to share as much as she was willing to hear.
“Thank you for calling and for your opinion. We obviously disagree but …”
“Obviously,” she interrupted. “Goodbye.”