PERSPECTIVE: Wildlife Watching, Not Hunting, Is Better Choice for State Residents and Economy

by Annie Hornish Proponents of HB 5499, expansion of Sunday hunting to include guns on private land, argue that this bill will reduce deer populations, but this is not true.

Deer will produce more fawns and breed at an earlier age after their numbers are reduced. The same pattern repeats: deer are killed by archers in the fall, yet their numbers bounce back by summer.

When doing the math, it is easy to see why HB 5499 won’t reduce the deer population. According to deer harvest figures provided by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), from September 15, 2016 through January 17, 2017 (latest available), Connecticut archers removed 5,088 deer from private land, and 3,729 deer were killed by shotgun/rifle and muzzleloader.

We can assume that a similar number of deer would be killed on a Sunday as on a Saturday with the additional forms of hunting (i.e., shotgun/rifle and muzzleloader). The latest figures for Saturday volume were 1,218 (shotgun/rifle (961) + muzzleloader (257) (2014)). Assuming this number is similar for the 2016-17 deer hunting season, passage of HB 5499 would therefore remove another 1,218 deer.

The last statewide deer population estimate, which was done in 2006, yielded 124,000 deer. If we assume that the deer population has remained the same for the past 8 years, a liberal estimate of this additional “take” would be less than 1% of the deer population. If we assume that the population is higher now than it was 8 years ago (this is the widely-held assumption from proponents of this bill, including DEEP), the additional “take” would drop below 1%.

Factoring in the additional number of deer taken by archers on private land under special landowner hunting provisions allowed per DEEP, the grand total number of deer killed still amounts to only 1% of the deer population or significantly less, depending on the current size of the deer population, and removing an additional 1% of the deer population will not, even in the immediate short term, significantly reduce deer numbers in Connecticut.

Like with deer, trapping of coyotes does not decrease the population, and may make the problem worse. One study found that even when up to 70% of their numbers are removed, coyote populations bounce back quickly. This is because a stable pack has only one alpha pair, and they are the only ones who reproduce. When one or both members of that alpha pair is killed, other pairs form and reproduce (breeding at earlier ages and having larger litters). Also, unstable packs can attract transient coyotes. The solution to conflicts with coyotes is public education on removal of attractants (e.g., accessible garbage, pet food left outside), and hazing to curb undesired coyote behavior.)

Deer problem management programs that focus on site-specific solutions offer successful, long-term solutions to conflicts with deer (e.g., a Michigan-based “Don’t Veer for Deer” program reduced deer-car collisions 25% despite a 34% increase in herd size; PZP immunocontraception programs; public education on deer resistant plantings). These solutions are not only sustainable solutions, but humane solutions.

Per the latest survey by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Commerce, wildlife watchers (defined as observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife) in Connecticut not only outnumber hunters by a margin of 29 to 1, but they also outspend hunters by 7.4 to 1, contributing about $510 million to the economy annually.

Further, the survey also shows the following 10-year trends for Connecticut: a 42% increase in the number of wildlife watchers (from 774,000 to 1,102,000), and a 39% decrease in the number of hunters (from 62,000 to 38,000).

Connecticut should be forging policies that cater to wildlife watchers instead of pouring limited tax dollars into programs catering to a diminishing number of hunters.


Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director of The Humane Society of the United States.