The most commonly hunted animal in America is the whitetail deer.
For generations, the way we’ve hunted deer in most parts of the country is to go after the bucks. The bucks are the males, and they have antlers.
Typically, if you get a big-game license, it will have a tag to shoot a buck. That is true in most of the country, and is the way it’s done in my home state, New York.
You can also apply for a permit to shoot a doe – the female deer – but you may not get it.
What that means is that every hunter in the woods is looking for a buck. What that means is that there is a lot of pressure on the buck population.
A lady deer walks by, she walks by. A guy deer walks by, he gets shot.
That has had an interesting impact on the composition of the deer herd. Namely, bucks don’t live very long.
More precisely, they don’t live to get very old. They all die as immature adolescents.
When a buck deer grows antlers, he attracts bullets. And inasmuch as he grows antlers in the first autumn of his life, it’s a rare buck that lives past the second autumn of his life.
Even rarer to make it through his third autumn.
The problem with that is that the male whitetail deer doesn’t become mature until he’s at least 3 or 3 and a half. A buck doesn’t gain its full physical stature, or the true spread of its antlers, until it’s 3 or older.
That means that a very small percentage of the male whitetail deer in America get out of adolescence.
Many people, including many hunters, have never seen a fully mature whitetail buck.
And that’s too bad.
Because they are beautiful animals, massive in both physical size and the stunning size of their mature antlers, and they are an aspect of nature that even the most ardent of outdoorspeople may simply never get to see.
And which the most ardent of hunters may never get a chance to stalk.
Who knows the impact of this phenomenon on whitetail genetics and social structure. But its impact on people is clear – it’s no good.
So here’s a solution.
A very small solution for a very small place.
But a solution nonetheless.
Just west of the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York is Letchworth State Park. Named for the rich man who left it to the state, the long, narrow park runs on both sides of a deep and winding gorge of the Genesee River. It is a popular site with visitors because of the scenic gorge, hiking and snowmobile trails, and spectacular fall foliage.
Letchworth also allows deer hunting.
Hunters may, each fall, get permits from the park office to take deer. There is plenty of need for it, as even the most casual of observers can see that the park is over browsed by deer, with little if anything growing lower than a deer’s upturned head can reach.
The state has even brought in professional hunters to thin the herd.
So there are plenty of deer.
What I propose is that hunting for does be allowed to continue as it is allowed now. Perhaps even more permits could be issued, for does.
But for bucks, I propose that hunting be forbidden, except in years ending in 5 or 0.
That would allow a buck season every five years. That means the years in between would be years of refuge for bucks. That would allow about half the bucks to grow to full, awesome maturity.
That would diversify the buck age in the herd, and provide park visitors with a chance to see and, twice a decade, hunt mature whitetail bucks.
It would allow park visitors to see the whitetail as Native Americans saw it, and as nature intended it.
The difference in the size of the animal and the size of its antlers would be stunning and educational.
It would, in effect, be nature.
And the thousands who stream through Letchworth to see the fall foliage, already accustomed to deer grazing along the grassy fields, would be treated to a sight available in very few other places.
Which is the second benefit.
If Letchworth managed its buck herd in this fashion, the state would have an asset unique in the country.
That could have financial benefit for the state, the park and its surrounding communities.
It serves nature, it serves people, it serves government.
It seems like a good idea.
And it needs support.
Assemblyman Bill Nojay is going to talk it up in Albany, but New York’s regulatory system seeks and samples public input, and popular support is needed to make this happen.
So think about it.
And maybe you can one day see what very few alive today have ever seen – a mature whitetail buck roaming wild in the woods of New York.