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Hunters Make Bigger Deer Populations, Smaller Deer

Newsweek’s Lily Huang recently had a great story about how hunting is having the effect of de-evolution: “the survival of the weak and scrawny.”

The basic idea has been floating around for a while: if hunters take out the biggest animals with the flashiest antlers, then they are getting rid of the biggest and strongest of the population. They are effectively reversing evolution, giving advantage to animals with smaller antlers.

Biologists have now been able to measure how this kind of hunting has reduced the average size of some animals. One population of bighorn sheep in Canada has had horns shrink by one-quarter over 30 years. The red kangaroo has gotten smaller. More elephants are born without tusks because those who have them don’t survive.

The article didn’t get into it, but I think those who survive are certainly different mentally, too. They are probably smarter, better at evading detection, shier around people. That’s a real problem for those of us who just want to see them. And an ever worse problem for those whose business is taking us animal tourists to see them.

The other impact of hunting–and managing wildlife populations–for trophy antlers is that it actually increases the population overall. When wildlife biologists want to decrease a population, they target females. Many hunters want no part of that. But if you just kill the males, the next year the same number of does have the same number of fawns. First year does tend to have one fawn, but after that they have two usually, three or four occasionally. So for every male you hunt, you probably get two fawns the next year.

This–along with wildlife management policies specifically aimed at increasing deer populations for hunters–is why the deer population has gone up so much. I also think this is why deer have gotten smaller along with their antlers. Deer antlers do not, as many people think, correspond to the number of years lived. Instead it’s a measure of nutrition. So hunters aren’t necessarily taking out the oldest, but the best at finding food.

It’s ironic that the practice of trophy hunting has made these wildlife trophies rare.

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2 comments to Hunters Make Bigger Deer Populations, Smaller Deer

  • lolian

    But still animal can adaption to the enviroment less than million of years.

  • Anonymous

    absolute B.S. Not the way most hunters think. If we are given a doe tag we will shoot a doe. In most states doe tags are few and far between. trophy hunting is a selective sport and the older deer 5-7 years have the biggest antlers and then body size and antler size diminishes after 6-7 years along with reproductivity. The 3-4 year old deer are more fertile and produce more offspring and have not reached full antler size. Get your head out of your @#& and get the facts straight. Mature bucks 5-7 years are what we are after and they are approaching the end of there reproductive prime. We rid the lands of consumers who do not contribute reproductively and have probably sired 20-30 bucks with there genes in there lifetime. Besides, evolution takes tens of thousands to millions of years to notice species variation and change. Homo Sapien sapien has not even been around long enough to observe these changes!