The ecological impact of hunting

Charlie, your comment reminds me that here in Massachusetts, white-tailed deer can have a strong negative impact on vegetation, to the extent that encouraging hunters to hunt an area (by, for example, opening gates only during deer hunting season) can be a legitimate management tool for keeping a landscape healthy and diverse.


Although I’m not a hunter, and as a rural landowner I too often had to deal with the dregs of the hunting community, I support deer hunting because only three things can limit deer populations: predation, disease, and starvation. Inevitably, one of these will limit deer populations. Disease is hard on the whole population. Starvation hurts all the deer plus the plants and other organisms in their environment. Predation hurts mainly the individuals that are killed, leaving the others healthy. (Also those injured by predators, but they’re usually a small fraction of the deer.) And predation by non-humans (including cars!) is too low in eastern North America to come close to limiting deer population. So, we’re left with hunting by humans, if we want surviving deer to be healthy, anyway.


yeah, car ‘predation’ is basically the worst possible outcome, a painful sometimes slow death for the deer, and sometimes death or injury for the human as well.


I believe there is an extremely big distinction to make when it comes to hunting, and there are types of hunting/fishing/what have you that I’m okay with and types that I’m just really not okay with.

Hunting for prey species that are overpopulated due to the lack of predator species? Its necessary. It needs to be done, else the herbivores are going to be wracked with diseases and poor health from overpopulation (IE chronic wasting disease in deer) and are going to strip the woods of vegetation, potentially putting plant species at risk. We’ve removed the predators, and thus we have a responsibility to manage the population.

Of course, traditional hunting rights granted to indigenous populations are also 100% okay in my estimation.

Hunting for species that are closer to the top of the food chain seriously needs to be looked at under a microscope. Especially big, charismatic, iconic predator species that have, historically, come in to conflict with things like farmers or tourism or what have you, and you end up with wolves being killed because they wander a bit outside of their reservation.

For example, there have been serious roadblocks to the reintroduction of red wolves in the southeast United States due to conflicts with coyote hunters (there’s more to it than that, but this video does a great job of summarizing Like seriously, red wolves would be doing great but people just KEEP SHOOTING THEM.

So there are definitely aspects to hunting which can cause serious damage


Scientists warn that wolf numbers not large enough to sustain healthy population


There’s also this article from last year


Yes… when we talk about hunting promoting conservation, the ecological harm caused by deer overpopulation is something to keep in mind. From a hunting perspective, that’s still a positive outcome. From other perspectives, it isn’t.

Overpopulation of deer, though, is in part an ecological impact of hunting—through killing predators* and managing land specifically to favor high deer populations**. So hunters are at both ends of the process—helping to reduce an overpopulation problem that they helped to create.

* Promoting hunting certainly isn’t the only reason people kill predators, but it historically has been, and in parts of the western U.S. continues to be, one of the reasons.

** Though generally forgotten now, rebounding of white-tailed deer from a steep decline was one of the big early success stories of conservation in the U.S. Promoting huntable animals continues to be a focus of public land management—sometimes with net ecological benefits, sometimes the opposite.


Yeah thats how one the other states i think decided to do a annual vehicle pass fee; and then additional hunt license if desired. That would be preferable to now for sure.

I also totally agree hunting here where I am familiar with, is fine ecologically. White tail deer are severely overpopulated to where they are acting invasively. Wild hogs (introduced invasive) is almost open season year round and they reek havoc. There is far from enough turkey or squirrel hunt interest to cause any harmful effect. Other small game are also quite numerous.

The only one i know of here that i struggle with being okay with is some of the bird hunting - as whooping cranes often go with flocks of Sandhills; and Sandhills can be legally hunted. Whooping cranes are legally protected. I believe (but could be wrong i have not double checked - i just heard) there has already been one incidence of mistaken identity and whooping crane was killed.

Predator (wolf, bear, fox etc) hunting I cannot get behind. Its one thing to protect oneself and another to go off hunting them.

(Note: Indigenous people should have full right to carry out their own traditions including hunting and trapping, they didn’t create the problems that exist now).

(But then i also have issue with govt illegally holding stollen land too soooo…but thats a separate topic).


People would (probably) argue that there are some smaller predators (like coyotes) that need to be hunting because their population is too high or… something IDK. I don’t necessarily want to strawman coyote hunters, of course, but like, coyote hunts don’t even work for population control. When they’re killed, it stimulates them into breeding more

Also what the hell you can hunt sandhill cranes? Like sure they’re not endangered but even a quick wikipedia search shows that their subspecies aren’t common.

And yeah, it is definitely illegal to hunt Whooping Cranes - though apparently like 20% of the dead cranes they find have been shot, so you know, there’s always going to be people who don’t give a shit.

No reasons I am aware of. Scientists can get access (drive in, on the roads beyond gates) other parts of the year. But not general public (unless you walk in - you can park before the gate but the gates are closed to moterised traffic outside of hunt season). If anything, if its a road maitenance issue; hunt season is our rainy season when the roads collapse the worst so it would make road maitenance sense to flip when they are open!

There is some land that is closed during parts of year for migrating birds, or all year for endangered plants or such, but those off limit sections apply to all and does not affect hunting anymore that it would a hiker during non hunt season.

Newish for Alabama (two years ago maybe, I think?), certain counties, to quite a few folks dismay:
“The season dates are December 3, 2022 – January 8, 2023, and January 16, 2023 - January 31, 2023. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset. The daily bag, season bag, and possession limit for sandhill cranes is three (3). Permits and tags are non-transferable.“

Split this into a new topic from this original topic. Tried to do the best I could but there are some weird remnants in both topics now.

The dicussion has been good so far, and it’s an interesting topic, but I know hunting can bring up strong emotions so please stay civil and don’t make sweeping judgements.


Thanks to synchronicity a link to this article recently showed up on the local biodiversity Facebook page I follow. Posts on the page get a lot (given its very small size) of attention until it comes to discussion of deer over population, hunting, predator reintroduction, or anything that isn’t ‘pretty’. The impact of no/low hunting and no predation seems clear.

Well, hunting white tail seems to be one of the things that we really do need to hunt. I wish I had taken a picture, but there is a small chunk of old growth forest in Allegheny National Forest in PA that has park info signs about deer overbrowsing. Basically the entire understory (in areas where there’s enough light penatrating the canopy, at least,) is just a giant swath of hay-scented fern.

What happens in these areas is that the deer browse literally everything but the ferns, and then the ferns just absolutely take over and prevent tree saplings from germinating in enough abundance to outcompete the deer… which means the canopy trees don’t get replaced when they fall down, which leads to more ferns, etc. Its a seriously vicious cycle, I really should try to get some pics of just the giant clearings full of these ferns next time I’m out in Allegheny



The same thing applies here. I live on a small island with no predators capable a taking a deer. The only predators are a very few hunters, most of them hunting unlawfully, vehicles, and stray dogs. Everything is over browsed. The whole island is in danger of looking like some English lord’s deer park.

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Considering that coyotes are in the southeast, in part, because of the efforts of coyote hunters…

In the United States, thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act, funding for wildlife conservation (including nongame species) comes primarily from the sale of hunting/fishing licenses and an excise tax on hunting/fishing equipment.

The Teaming with Wildlife Act tried to extend the excise tax for items sold to non-consumptive outdoor recreationists (sleeping bags, binoculars, etc.). However, this was not passed, thanks in large part to the major companies selling this gear.

The recent Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would have opened up additional funding if it had been passed :unamused:.


I didn’t know that, really interesting!

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There’s also duck stamps, which kind of pull double duty as a hunting license and also as a collectible

As a person that camps a lot, I sure as hell wouldn’t mind paying a little more on big one-time purchases like sleeping bags if it was going to conservation. That’s unfortunate that it didn’t pass - though understandable, given the power of lobbyists.


Yes, they’re a great way to support land conservation! I’m not a hunter but I buy one every year.

“98 percent of the purchase prices goes directly to help acquire and protect wetland habitat and purchase conservation easements for the National Wildlife Refuge System”

Maybe not everyone knows this, but they also get you into the few National Wildlife Refuges that charge for free as well!