Why do we allow controlled deer hunting in the Berkshires?
Photo by Jim Cumming
White-tailed deer are among the most beloved animals of the Berkshire forests, and some people deplore the annual hunt of these gentle forest denizens. Still, various hunts are allowed annually for a total of 57 days. And the season is upon us: youth deer hunt October 1; paraplegic hunt November 3-5; archery October 17-26; shotgun November 28-December 10, and primitive firearms December 12-31. (Hunting is not allowed on Sundays, and there is no rifle hunting deer season in Massachusetts because of the population density.)
Authorities estimate that 10,000 of the state’s deer population of 85,000 to 95,000 will be “harvested” in 2016.
What would happen if Massachusetts outlawed hunting? According to state wildlife biologist David Stainbrook, overpopulation, starvation, and serious damage to forests would occur. Stainbrook says that hunting was unrestricted until about 100 years ago, when it became clear that the deer herd needed protection. Since then, the state has regulated who can hunt, where it occurs, and which weapons can be used. The claim that nature would find its own balance fails to consider that most natural predators of deer have disappeared.
Animal-rights activists say there are humane ways of controlling the population such as immunocontraception. Hunters counter that their sport has a strong tradition, that it is a bonding experience and sometimes part of family food sources, little different from raising domesticated animals for food. Public opinion may be on their side, as various polls show that a solid majority of Americans, between 74 and 85 percent, support hunting.