Checking out The unique ecology of human predators at sciencemag.org, TTAG reader WS stumbled across a scientific truism to tantalize deer hunters: “In natural predator pray situations, predators target the young and old of the prey species they’re hunting.” The study’s co-author Tom Reimchen points out the problem with human hunting patterns: “Whereas predators primarily target the juveniles or ‘reproductive interest’ of populations, humans draw down the ‘reproductive capital’ by exploiting adult prey.” WS explains the implications in non-scientific terms . . .

“If a hunter takes Bambi, Bambi’s mom just loses a fawn, which is easily replaced when she reproduces Bambi 2.0. in the next mating season. If a hunter kills Bambi’s mom, because Bambi is just is juvenile he or she has to wait a long time to reproduce. Bambi has to grow up, avoiding being eaten by other predators and then have twins to bring the deer heard back into balance.” Makes sense to me. You?

66 Responses to Hunters: Kill Bambi, Not Bambi’s Mom [VIDEO May Be Disturbing to Sensitive Viewers]

  1. Then maybe they shouldn’t have written hunting regulations the way they did? Government – “We screw up and then tell you it’s your fault.”

  2. I’m a meat hunter. I prefer to shoot juveniles. I’ll take a spike over a rack. but, at the same time – I was taught to shoot the “First legal deer”. Why? Cause that might be the only one you see.

    • “shoot the first legal deer”
      And right there you see why the original article posted on is wrong. I have the hard rule of never shooting the first legal deer I see, because there will be plenty more, and that one is very likely the immature buck or doe that will bring in the older bucks and does.
      Where you are, there might not be enough deer to justify my wait and see strategy, but were I am it works every time.

      • Ok, so I broke that rule once, but just once. I was climbing into a tree with a stick and string bow I made myself, including my own knapped arrow heads, when an old 8 point buck walked underneath me. I mean, while I was still getting in the tree. It was later in the day that I usually get there, sunrise already apparent, making all sorts of noise, and he still walked right underneath me and started eating acorns from the tree. I sat there a minute debating my “never the first deer” rule, when finally I just shot him, shooting almost straight down at him.

        • ” It was later in the day that I usually get there, sunrise already apparent, making all sorts of noise, and he still walked right underneath me and started eating acorns from the tree.”

          Er, so, in other words that deer ‘was just asking for it’?

          (I’m smiling when I say that, OK?)

        • @jwtaylor: You did a favor to the deer gene pool by killing a stupid deer. However, as the smarter deers breed their offspring will be smarter and therefore harder to stalk and kill, theoretically. 😉

        • It’s more what you’d call “Guidelines” than actual rules. /Barbossa

          Seriously if you’ve got a big buck asking for it like that one did, I think it’s okay to take the shot. 😉

        • My first whitetail buck, at the age of 16 in 1968, really was asking for it. I didn’t go hunting on opening day until mid afternoon. I parked about 100 feet from where I was going to still hunt in a patch of heavy riparian woodland in a river bend. I had no more than set down with my back to a tree, facing into the wind, when I heard a stick crack behind me. Slowly turning, I saw a 4-pointer (WC) standing not 3 feet away, snuffing the air. He had scented and heard me, and come looking for me after I went quite. I slowly raised my borrowed Brit .303, decided to take a head shot – and missed! The deer merely looked around while I worked the bolt, aimed at center body mass and let fly a second time. The buck went down in about 50 feet, shot through the liver.
          Since then, I’ve always wondered if hunters don’t sit on the wrong side of the tree. In heavy cover maybe a guy should face downwind on the assumption the deer will come looking for you. Any thoughts?

      • It varies from year to year. Last couple years they have been pretty sparse. Last year I sat for a full week & a half before I saw my first deer; Which happened to be a legal buck. (barely, young fork-horn.)

        My father did not see any bucks – He saw lots of does, but ultimately went home empty handed.

        Just for info I’m in Northern Minnesota.

        • You can thank the greenies who thought reintroducing wolves would control the deer population only to find out that they ended up destroying the deer population. The theory is that now the wolf population will cyclically decline with the reduced food supply. What really happened is that the wolves migrated and switched to other food sources like dairy cattle. First order thinking at its finest.

      • Never pass up on the first day, what you’d shoot on the last day.
        I made that mistake on my kudu. Never saw another one the whole trip.

  3. Deer “management” is a subject of great controversy, even among deer hunters.

    As a general rule of thumb, one ‘targets’ reproducing does if the population is too high (above carrying capacity) and needs to be reduced. One leaves the does alone if the population is well below carrying capacity and can ‘safely’ be increased.

    This “advice” reads like one is ALWAYS wanting numbers to increase. That’s a fallacy; it’s all about population in relation to carrying capacity.

    • Further, it’s rather stupid to assert that animal predators of deer target the young and very old for any reason other than that’s what they catch.

      I’d bet that if you chained down a 200 lb whitetail buck and a 40 lb fawn near each other, a cougar or wolf would not make moralistic distinctions.

      That is, I don’t think predators generally “target” a specific age animal so much as that is the result of what they can catch…they catch what they can and that just happens to be the very young and the old/sick/whatever.

      We tend to over-anthropomorphize the animal kingdom and random processes such as evolution. That is to say, any anthropomorphization is over done…

      • +1 Game Management is usually not structured with the same goals in mind as that of animal predators which is to gain the greatest amount of nutrition expending the least amount of energy. The biggest threat to the deer herd in my area is lack of habitat due to constant human encroachment. As a result there are plenty of reproducing deer in locations where you cannot practically or legally hunt them. Whether we agree with them or not, hunting regulations are geared toward reducing those populations in those areas where you can’t hunt them. Yeah, makes no sense however you look at it.

      • The issue isn’t moral. It’s more in the sense of resource limited predators culling the easiest prey, which does a reasonable stand in for the “weakest” prey, hence keeping the prey population healthy. The biggest buck has proven his “health” by fighting it out for eons. Hence, he should get to breed as much as possible. Although the total population may not immediately shrink because he is killed, since some runt may then get to screw one of hie does, substituting the genes of a big buck for those of a weakly runt, will skew the genetic health of the population weaker over time.

        If closely mimicking non human predators’ prey selection was the goal, as this article hints it should be; rifle, slug, black powder and bow season should all be replaced with year around knife season.

      • “I’d bet that if you chained down a 200 lb whitetail buck and a 40 lb fawn near each other, a cougar or wolf would not make moralistic distinctions.”

        I think it depends on the particular animals experiences, because it can learn obviously, by perfecting their predatory skills.

        Cougars roam around their vast territories and look for anything stupid enough to be trespassing, at least that is how they act when their populations explode from killing trophy elk and deer off.

        I had a scrawny Tom stalk me off of a deer kill. I voluntarily backed away from the deer as an offering for the cat’s supper, but it chose to come after me until his mind was changed for him.

  4. The fastest way to reduce population in any species is to remove the females of breeding age. One male can breed multiple females so taking out one or many males makes no real difference in overall numbers of the herd or the ability to recover.

  5. Don’t hunters also target the oldest, who have the best trophy heads? The oldest ain’t necessarily the fittest for reproductive purposes, and removing alpha males makes room for promoting one of the beta males.

    (IANAH and may just be talking out of my hat.)

    • In principle that might be correct. In practice, it’s far more complicated than that.

      It seems to me (and there is a lot of contradictory stuff on this out there) that most serious contemporary studies show that the age structure of local whitetail populations is way out of whack.

      It seems that most bucks removed from the pool are 2.5 to about 3.5 years old…that’s a guess based on my recollection.

      So…it would SEEM (sorry for the weasel words, but I’m trying to emphasize how little is actually KNOWN about this stuff for wild herds) that many/most hunters might THINK they are targeting older, larger racked bucks but are actually kiling pretty young animals.

      I have seen some recent stuff online where hunters, avid hunters, are asked to guess the age of whitetail bucks based on pictures…and the guesses are all over the map and vary wildly from post-kill aging analyses based on multiple methods.

      The point is that the data SEEM (again, sorry) to suggest that most whitetail buck are shot as the “first buck seen” and these tend to be the younger ones…regardless of rack size.

      Lotta ifs, seems, maybes – precisely because the science is not as (ahem) mature as many folks think it is.

        • a study was done where the older bucks, tend to breed fewer does than the mid aged bucks. similar in number to the younger spikes.

          Older bucks don’t always have the best rack thats true.

        • “Older bucks don’t always have the best rack thats true.”

          Another excellent point.

          “Rack size” is depending on MANY factors, and the interrelationships between the various factors is not well understood. Genetics, diet, general health, etc…

          And, antler size has been observed to max out (around 5-6 years old) then actually decrease as the deer ages further…observations on deer on refuge property where yearly observations of the same deer can be done.

          So, older bucks always = larger rack is certainly a myth. As is often the case…it depends.

  6. I don’t know about other areas but deer in my area(Southern IN, Northern KY) seem to have 2-3 offspring at a time. The population is also dense enough to be a problem for farmers and motorists. They recently opened up lottery hunts in some state parks to help REDUCE the population…. That doesn’t seem(to me) like something they would do if the population was low.

    • Exactly.

      “Advising” hunters to target non-reproducing does makes a gross assumption that one is trying to GROW the population, not reduce it.

      That’s the kind of assumption a pseudo-conservationist would make.

      • Most hunters I know in my area(very rural) will limit their hunting on gut instinct when populations seem lower. In the rural areas people seem more aware of animal populations because of the long drives and constant outdoor activities. When you see larger herds of healthy(large) deer in the fields or your own backyard on a daily basis you can get a sense of how high or low the population is though it may not always be correct.

        Quite a few people I know see the deer that will end up in the freezer grow up on their own property over time.

        • Excellent Point.

          It’s also self-regulating in a different way to a degree. The more scarce game becomes, the more skill it requires to find/harvest them. Fewer hunters are successful, or are willing to chance not being successful, etc.

          Like with so many other group labels, “hunters” is not a monodisperse population. It is my observation that some give up rather easily if the huntin’ ain’t “easy with a high chance of success.”

          Or, at least they complain about it a lot on the Internet. {grin} Same with fishing, too…

  7. I’m just going to parrot JR_in_NC above. There is not a one size fits all hunting strategy. Here in central Texas, the parks and wildlife department highly encourages the taking of adult does, and that’s knowing that most of them will be pregnant when killed.
    As a man who hunts almost every day, all over the state, from September to March, I can tell you there is a huge difference between the size and health of the deer in locations that hunt does and the ones that don’t, to the very obvious detriment of the ones that don’t.

    • It’s interesting how hunting customs change. I come from a family of back-country Appalachian subsistence hunters. When I was first learning about hunting, my father’s first rule was Never Take A Doe. This was communicated in such a way to let me know that taking a doe was slightly immoral. These were folkloric rules, derived from an oral tradition that existed long before laws and game wardens.

  8. Here in the NorthEast there is a plethora of deer and a dearth of natural predators. The area I live in has a lot of suburbs with big lots (0.5 to 10 acres) and tons of small woodlots. The deer thrive in this area, and cannot be hunted since they are in incorporated towns. Time to legalize bow hunting in towns.

  9. It does makes sense…. in a world were the deer population is actually IN “balance” – which seems to be the base assumption here.

  10. I’m not big on taking a doe. I’d rather take a buck. The PGC has allowed over hunting for years and the deer population is dropping. I certainly don’t take any doe on my property. I like having a health producing herd here. Now a buck, yeah, he’s getting dropped.

    • It’s interesting how hunting customs change. I come from a family of back-country Appalachian subsistence hunters. When I was first learning about hunting, my father’s first rule was Never Take A Doe. This was communicated in such a way to let me know that taking a doe was slightly immoral. These were folkloric rules, derived from an oral tradition that existed long before laws and game wardens.

      • When you’re hunting an unmanaged population for food, it makes sense to take only what would make the least impact: young non-trophy bucks. Things change with managed populations when you have to worry about farming impact and highway injuries and residential nuisance deer, in that case harvesting does has to be an available tool to reduce the herd’s breeding capacity.

        So in short and in the context of subsistence hunting, your father is completely right.

        • It also makes a difference if the natural predators are still around, so humans aren’t the only top predator. When you’re effectively competing with natural predators for your food, you want to let that food source reproduce as much as possible.

  11. Well when they can get cars to only hit the juvenile deer then I’ll start worrying about what hunters are taking. Take a look at the number of deer vs motor vehicle accident, and then look at the harvest numbers for deer by hunters.

  12. It is a very flawed argument. Removing a doe vs. juvenile deer reduces the herd population by one. That is a true statement. But does are not the typical target for hunting. Those are bucks. Does are targets, per conservation regulations that almost all hunters embrace, only when the overall population is large enough that breeding needs to be slowed down.

    Shoot a doe, the population drops by 1 and there is a delay before the breeding capacity of the population recovers. Shoot a buck, and there is always another buck to take it’s place in the breeding cycle. Population drops by 1 with no impact on the breeding population.

    The flaw the writer makes is that humans hunt to simply be predators, like a coyote, which cares not one whit about the survival of the population. A human hunter, on the other hand, is deeply invested in the survival and health of the population. A non-human predator does not.

  13. “Bambi has to grow up, avoiding being eaten by other predators”

    That’s why it’s referred to as “The Survival Of The Fittest!”

    What is this bozo doing in a scientific community. Their is no ‘science’ in his reasoning.

    Have him do an article on why deer are not extinct today. In the middle ’60s ‘science’ was telling us that deer would be extinct by 1980 because of urban sprawl…

  14. Yummmm…Bambi. Tender vittles…is that anything like VEAL? Not a hunter-the giant rats are all the place in Cook co,IL and ya’ can’t shoot ’em or poison ’em(or root for the occasional errant coyote)…

  15. This paper is just as bad as many of the anti-gun ‘studies.’ It’s filled with sweeping generalizations, inaccurate comparisons, half-truths, and flat out lies.

    Let me get this straight, when deer were nearly extinct at the turn of the century, but since we instituted the modern day management and hunting practices this paper decries, and we now have more deer and other game animals than ever before, it’s unsustainable? Wtf?

    Then there’s the same disconnect between the paper and reality when it comes to predators. Coyotes are hunted quite heavily yet are showing no signs of being hunted unsustainable. Then apex predator wise, practices at the turn of the century pushed them to extinction but anyone who has been paying attention has seen that they are rebounding amazingly, some to the point we now have sustainably huntable populations.

    Same thing goes when it comes to the sport fishery practices….

    Of course there are commercial ocean fisheries that are in danger, but it has nothing to do with what they are complaining about. Those problems can rest squarely on the shoulders of tragedy of the commons and out of sight-out of mind, but that doesn’t help this paper idiotically decry sport hunting and fishing practices, presumably timely presented due to the stupid lion.

    • “And then we’ll kill that fvcking Mouse.”

      Sylvester is *not* gonna like that…

      (Sufferi’in Succotash and all…)

  16. Of course gun grabbers want to kill the baby. Its like they have no concept of the purpose of controlled harvesting, which is population control. Killing the baby has very little affect on the population since its a crap shoot whether it will grow up anyways. But of course they can’t actually advocate killing the adults can they? Cause then the parallel gets drawn to what they really want to do. And no, I am not talking about deer.

  17. I shoot Bambi’s mom because she has more meat. Say you shoot a 45lb deer, you might get 25 lbs of meat off of that vs shooting a 90lb doe and getting 50+ lbs of meat depending on your butchering skills…

    Besides, who’s to say that Bambi’s mom wont get taken out by predators or by a vehicle? Maybe I saved someones live by taking that particular deer out?

  18. That theory totally ignores the practice of population management, which is why it’s harder to get an antlerless tag than an antlered one. There’s always more bucks than are needed, but does harvested directly impacts the population. This is all factored in when you request your tags, and is the POINT when you’re taking from nuisance herds.

    TL:DR current practices are fine, and have been proven to be effective and sustainable. Carry on.

    • ” which is why it’s harder to get an antlerless tag than an antlered one. There’s always more bucks than are needed, “

      Wait. Huh?

      No sir. That’s a GROSS overgeneralization.

      At least not it’s not true HERE. Doe to buck ratios are (in some locations) WAY out of “ideal” proportions.

      And anterless tags are harder to get? Again, depends where you are.

      Here in the eastern region of NC (NC has different buck limits and different doe regs in different parts of the State…as it should be), I get six tags annually. In my region, 2 are for antlered and four are labeled for antlerless. Two of the four antlerless tags CAN be used on antlered deer in my area!

      But, here’s the other thing: I can buy AS MANY additional anterless tags as I want for $10 each (still adhering to possession limits and all that). So, anterless tags are NOT harder to get.

      In some parts of the state, out west, for example, there’s a two buck limit and ZERO antlerless days in season. There, anterless deer harvest is “harvest” in that it’s not legal…or maybe 1 or 2 days (depending on where).

      Even out in Montana, the area where I hunted had OTC whitetail anterless tags…and an absolute limit on one buck tag (used for mulie OR whitetail). Again, anterless tags were not HARDER to get at all.

      In fact, any comment on deer management and what hunting regulations “should be” is by definition an over-generalization. Even just in this one state, for example, what’s good for the western mountains would be TERRIBLE here in the east and vice versa.

      • Must be a lot different in NC vs what I got used to in IL. You’d get one antlered tag, and maybe a second tag for antlerless if you applied and got lucky in the lottery. No extras, though you can repeat for handgun and bow seasons.

        Whitetail hunting in Illinois is huge though, state produces some of the biggest bucks.

        • Yep; that’s the entire point of my objection to this “article.”

          There is no “one size fits all” management plan that is right for every location.

          You have a population that is more in balance (in regard to carrying capacity)..AND “higher quality” bucks in the trophy sense. “Harder” anterless harvest makes sense in your area.

          We have (in the Eastern part of the state…central and west are different again) overpopulation, very small deer, generally low “trophy quality.” Deer decimate farm lands and cause other problems, so anterless tags and hunting are ‘favored’ to try to re-balance things.

          This guy’s article reads like there is only one answer: to increase numbers, always. That’s not only short-sighted, it’s outright wrong. For something claiming to be “science,” one would have hoped local habitat carrying capacity would have played a larger role in not only his conclusions but also his recommendations.

  19. I read the original article and I do get the author’s point, but it’s unrealistically narrow. Through technology and hunting techniques, humans are supposedly super predators whose success threatens the stability and sustainability of entire ecosystems. Well.

    If the problem had been that we were super predators, then the solution is to become super duper predators. That is, quit hunting in the wild altogether and start hunting at the leisure our intellect allows. In a word: domestication.

    Nobody writes articles about cows, pigs, and chickens on the brink of extinction, after all. We put our productive efforts into managing these resources systematically and scientifically in controlled environments, and the supply is balanced quite nicely with demand.

    Now, as to preying on animals in the wild, from recreational hunting to commercial fishing, the issue isn’t so much some slanted advantage affair favoring we reckless super predators. It’s not even primarily a matter of ecology. The quiddities are all economic. It’s a tragedy of the commons.

    There are no property rights in public resources. It’s owned by everyone, so it’s owned by no one. Each hunter, fisherman, etc. therefore overharvests the natural resource. He has no incentive to conserve or regulate. He enjoys all of the benefits of overharvesting, but none of the benefits of conserving. In fact, if he limits himself, he only spares the resource for a moment, as someone else, whom he has no right to exclude, comes right in and harvests what he forfeited.

    In fact, each man has greater incentive to overharvest now, knowing that the next guy with the same incentive could be the one to deplete the common resource for good; depriving the first man of future opportunities. It therefore becomes a race to the bottom.

    Compare this outcome to privately owned farms, ranches, fisheries, etc., where privacy of property links present to future via exclusivity and the profit motive. Populations flourish. Want to spare the spotted owl? Save the white rhino? Stimulate demand for them as mainstream meats.

    • There are significant problems with farming deer. Not saying those problems cannot be overcome, but deer are not cattle or horses.

      They simply do not domesticate well for a variety of reasons.

      Likewise, there are some big problems becoming apparent with farming seafood. Maybe those issues are technological and policy (and moral integrity) related and can be fixed; but then again, there are a LOT of problems that would seem to require better policy/management and moral integrity that don’t get fixed, so I would not hold my breath.

      • The main problem with farming deer is that the Guv still claims ownership of them. They still call it a game animal and all the game laws apply, even if it’s farm raised. Look how they railroaded Wainright on it… His own farm-raised deer. Felony charges, doing over 2 years for it… Because he raised his own deer and dared to move a few from farm A to farm B. The King’s Deer even though he bred and raised them…

        Screw deer anyway. I like small game. Squirrel, Rabbit and Hog…

        • I live in a very rural area in Indiana. I have property and have run across abandoned/orphaned fawns before as have a few locals I know but when I checked into the laws I found out that raising them could get me jail time….

          It doesn’t make sense to me that in a “free” country I can’t raise an abandoned/orphaned deer without a “wildlife rehabilitation” license.

      • I sometimes wonder why some species became livestock and others didn’t. Probably a lot of different reasons and like you say, some just don’t take. One thing seems certain, though, you want to make sure you’re cute. Pigs, cows, chickens? They’re what’s for dinner. Dolphins, seals, dogs? They’re Disney movies.

  20. Something I realized back when Cecil was all the rage: the notion that human hunting which prioritizes the biggest trophy animal is reverse selection is utter nonsense, for the very simple reason that there is no such thing as “reverse” selection. There’s only selection, which says that if big antlers are a liability to survival by making them attractive to trophy hunters, the species should then select for smaller antlers. At the same time, any animal that has grown large enough to have large antlers would have also lived long enough to have spread its genes many times over.

  21. Hunting is supposed to be about population and game management. It is appropriate to shoot adult does or bucks depending upon the totality of the circumstances. From what I’ve seen of the WI DNR, they have a pretty good handle on game management.

    Overpopulation results in starvation, habitat destruction and disease.

    Trophy hunting, however, is about taking a specific game animal at the height (or close to) of its maximum reproductive potential. Even trophy hunting can be intelligently managed via high fees which add value and protection to surviving animals.

    Human hunters are different than “fangbangers,” but can still be highly effective predators and ecosystem managers.

  22. Actually, mature bucks, and probably males of other species with highly competitive mating systems, are targeted by predators. Dominate males that have been run down, whipped out, and half starved during the rut are relatively easy prey. I know that mountain lions in the Rockies focus on post-rut muley bucks.

  23. This also assumes that the breeding “Bambi’s Mom” also survives to the next season…

    …and that they reach sexual maturity a lot faster than that… Not to mention, plenty of places are wildly overpopulated with Deer. In Floriduh, the FWC refuses to admit they’ve grossly mismanaged the situation and it’s only getting worse… Deer are almost as bad as Hogs now. Drive through North TX at around 9pm to 2am and see if your car comes out alive… Same goes for my part of Floriduh. I’ve had two cars totaled by deer in 4 years. No way I could have avoided them. I would have, I really liked those cars…

    I’m a lot less concerned by this guy’s math about how things are going forward, than I am about the history of how we got to a very bad overpopulation where plenty of deer are starving and becoming a driving hazard… We could stand a little decrease in population. The FWC says it’s “Chronic Wasting Disease.” Not much different from “The Vapors.” Funny how it’s not Chronic Wasting Disease two steps over the border into GA… It’s as if the disease knows exactly where the invisible line is and doesn’t ever cross over it…

    They’re just starving…

  24. Probably more deer are picked off by cars and trucks than guns and bows anyway. I know some of my more successful hunts were done with an Olds Intrigue, a Ford Focus, and a Mazda 3. Yeah, real selection by predators on those escapades.

  25. Harder to get antler less tags? Not where I hunt , between bow , gun , second round tags, the farms extra dmaps which they can give two to each hunter and signed over tags, I believe I can get somewhere from 9-11 doe tags .

    1 either sex for bow and 1 buck tag for gun.

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