For the past 32 years, the country's top deer biologists have met at the annual Southeast Deer Study Group meeting. This year, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hosted the event in Roanoke, Virginia. Among the numerous papers presented, one by Kip Adams, Quality Deer Management Association's (QDMA) Director of Education and Outreach (North), stood out.
This informative report presents a snapshot of various topics of concern for the deer world -- harvest trends, antler restrictions, lead in venison, suburban deer hunting, economics of deer hunting, culling, aging of deer on the hoof, and much more.
Whenever I speak at sports shows, I commonly hear the same question: "Is there a book or comprehensive report that covers deer hunting, based on hard facts and not someone trying to sell me on their opinion?" Well, as a bona fide deer geek, I can tell you the QDMA's latest report is about as close as you'll get. The 68-page publication shares the "threats, concerns, successes, and challenges that will shape the whitetail's immediate and long-term future, and that of the entire hunting industry."
Without a doubt, whitetail deer are the most studied animals in North America. Deer and deer hunting form the foundation for hunting in North America. To give you a taste of the facts in this report, I hereby present a summary of the QDMA's 2009 Whitetail Report.
Lead in Venison
If you haven't been following this topic, let me summarize: The morons at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are calling for a ban on all lead ammunition. This has come about because a North Dakota physician/hunter detected the presence of metal in 53 of 95 packages of ground venison. Although no illnesses have been linked to lead in venison, the North Dakota Department of Health teamed up with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate.
A CDC study showed that the average lead levels for hunters was actually lower than among Americans as a whole. In the CDC study, hunters had a mean lead blood level of 1.27 parts per billion (ppb), whereas Americans as a whole had a mean level of 3.0 ppb.
Both levels are well below the 10 ppb the CDC considers unsafe for children.
In another study, the North Dakota Department of Health and the CDC tested 738 North Dakota volunteers for the presence of lead in their blood. This study revealed insignificant differences between North Dakota hunters who ate wild game harvested with lead ammunition compared to nonhunters in North Dakota. The numbers were 1.27 ppb for hunters, 0.84 ppb for nonhunters. Despite the insignificant difference between the two groups, a press release from the Peregrine Fund read: "â€¦the CDC shows that people who ate wild game shot with lead bullets appear to have higher levels of lead in their blood than people who don't."
Yes, this quote holds some truth, but antihunting wordsmiths have distorted the meaning to make the situation appear much worse than it is. The fact is, the levels for both groups fall far below the threshold of 10 ppb declared to be safe by the CDC. Predictably, the HSUS ignored this last fact and used the press release to call for a ban on all lead ammunition.
The take-away message from the CDC study is that hunters should continue to eat and donate venison. Additionally, children in the study who ate venison had less than half the national average of lead the CDC considers to be of concern.
Hunter Numbers and the Economy
Current data indicate that five percent of Americans over the age of 16 hunt. Average age for deer hunters in the U.S is 43 years, average yearly income $60,000. Nearly 20 percent have four or more years of college education. These folks hunt an average of 13 days per year. About 81 percent of all U.S. hunters hunt deer. Of all hunters in 2006, 28 percent (3.5 million) hunted with archery tackle. What might surprise some hunters is that roughly 73 percent of all U.S. citizens support hunting, while only three percent believe in the animal-rights philosophy.
Hunters spend over $23 billion annually on their favorite pastime. To put this in perspective, this figure surpasses the total revenues of McDonald's. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, only exercise equipment generates higher sales revenues than hunting and shooting related equipment. The hunting industry pumps $66 billion into the U.S. economy on a yearly basis. And believe it or not, deer hunters spend nearly $3.2 million per year in taxidermy services alone. Given an average of $400 for a deer mount, that computes to over 8,000 new deer heads on den walls every year!
In 2006, the average deer hunter spent $1,238 pursuing deer. Because archers spend more recreational days afield than the average hunter, this number is most likely very conservative for bowhunters.
Without a doubt, deer hunting drives our North American wildlife model. Deer hunting is nearly four times more popular than turkey hunting and almost five times more popular than hunting for squirrels, rabbits, upland game birds, or waterfowl.
Is Deer Hunting Safe?
Biologists and hunters have failed to educate the general public about hunting's outstanding safety record. The fact is, hunting is a very safe outdoor activity. The very fact that hunting injuries and deaths are rare makes them newsworthy. Thus, the media portray hunting as dangerous.
The facts say otherwise, however. For example, in 2001, hunters over age 16 logged over 228 million recreational days afield, and during that year, state wildlife agencies recorded 800 accidents, of which about 10 percent were fatal. This equates to about one death for every 165,000 hunters. To put it another way, hunters were eight times more likely to die in car accidents while driving to their hunting areas (1 in 18,585) than to die in hunting incidents.
Contributing less than one percent of all sports-related injuries, hunting ranks as one of the safest recreational activities in the U.S. People participating in golf, tennis, or jogging face a higher chance of being injured or killed than those in hunting. Obviously, the hunting industry has done a poor job of educating the public about the safety record in hunting.
Interestingly, younger hunters routinely have better safety records than older hunters.
Perhaps mandatory hunter education and bowhunter education classes have contributed to this trend. Whatever the cause, hunting accidents decreased by 30 percent from 1992 to 2002.
On a related subject, did you know that 10 states do not require blaze-orange clothing during gun seasons? They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. If these states mandated hunter-orange, maybe these numbers would be even lower
Additional facts from the QDMA's 2009 Whitetail Report:
- Eighty-two percent of fetal growth in deer occurs within the last trimester of pregnancy, the time of green-up for many northern herds.
- Does will use scrapes during the breeding season, and some visit them throughout the year.
- Eighty-five percent of activity at scrapes occurs at night. (This certainly could make you question the value of hunting over scrapes.)
- Fawns have about 300 spots. Fawns will nurse two to four times a day for the first month of their lives.
- Fawns are not scentless. In fact, does locate their fawns by scent.
- Deer sleep in short bouts, alternating between dozing and full alertness. They can sleep with their eyes open or shut and with their heads raised or flat on the ground.
- An adult deer can consume one ton of food per year. (That's a lot of oak seedlings, corn, and azaleas.)
- Mature bucks make 85 percent more scrapes and 50 percent more rubs than yearlings.
- Deer antlers are the fastest growing natural tissue on earth, growing up to an inch per day. Photoperiod-controlled experiments showed that deer can grow up to three sets of antlers per year. Conversely, these studies showed that deer can retain their antlers for more than one year.
Because all hunters have a responsibility to help promote bowhunting, I hope you use the facts in this column to educate the nonhunting public about the value and safety of hunting. Without any doubt, hunters are the true conservationists. To obtain the QDMA's 2009 Whitetail Report, and to join the QDMA, call 1-800-209-DEER or visit www.qdma.com.