2016-11-23 / Gardening Tips

The hunters are coming!

by Bob Beyfuss

This year more than 500,000 New York residents will purchase deer hunting licenses with the hope of harvesting a white tail deer. While this number seems impressive, it is significantly less than years past when more than 700,000 licenses were sold annually. Although rural residents purchase the majority of licenses, a significant number are bought in the New York City/Long Island Metro area. Many of these people are whom I refer to as “weekend warriors”. These are people who own a vacation home here and enjoy spending time in our beautiful region, gardening in the summer and deer hunting in the fall. Locals sometimes refer to them as the “invading pumpkins” since their bright orange (blaze) colored outfits with lots of layers of warm clothing underneath do convey an image of pretty round shaped humans. They are an aging group of mostly white men, since the average age of a licensed hunter is now well over 45 and may even be over 50 years old. Like farmers, they are becoming fewer and older every year. They will spend a good amount of money locally in stores, restaurants and the few remaining bars that remain open.

While alcohol and guns are certainly not a healthy combination in general, it is remarkable just how safe hunting is these days. Despite all these heavily armed civilians traipsing through the woods for several weeks each fall, only a total of 23 hunting “incidents” were reported in 2015, statewide, with no fatalities. On average three or four people get killed in deer/car collisions each year in New York. If is safer to hunt deer than to drive in areas they frequent. As I mentioned last week, most car/deer collisions occur in November so please be extra cautious this month.

Sporting Danger

There are many people who oppose hunting for a variety of reasons, but the reason that it is dangerous invites the reply “compared to what?” The mere presence of a firearm is enough to scare many people, but statistically, most high school sports are far more likely to cause injury than shooting sports, especially football, gymnastics and soccer. Even cheerleading is actually far more dangerous than hunting.

Some would argue that there is no “need” to hunt since food is readily available in stores and costs far less than the total cost of a hunting excursion. That is true, but people do lots of things they do not necessarily need to do, for a variety of reasons. No one “needs” to drive an $80,000 sports car, that will go 150 mph, but I respect their right to do so. I would hope that non hunters respect the rights of those who choose to hunt as well.

Hunting is really the only realistic way to manage deer populations since we have eliminated all of the deer’s predators, except the automobile. Deer left on their own will soon devastate their living environment as well as wreaking havoc on the landscapes of those who share the same environment. Overcrowded deer herds develop diseases such as chronic wasting disease, which causes a slow and prolonged death and may possibly be transmitted to humans in a related disease. Forests may fail to regenerate new forests, due to deer browse and important plants, such as ginseng, may be driven to extirpation and even extinction in some locations.

Deerly Damages

Most gardeners in our region have experienced just how much damage deer can do. I have heard of horror stories where deer have gobbled up more than $1,000 worth of spring flowering bulbs in a week or so. The annual landscape damages to trees and shrubs runs into many millions of dollars each year and the 40,000 reported car/deer collisions in New York cost many millions more as well as injuring hundreds of people.

So when you see the smiling “pumpkins” at your local dinner, smile back at them. They are not doing you any harm and may be doing you and your garden a big favor!

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