Oh deer, what happens when you go hunting?

In some societies, men hunt together and this is probably a part of male bonding. Before you write off the idea of male bonding as facile pop psychology, please step back a moment from the term, which is so overused in mostly cynical contexts that it has probably lost its meaning. Let me try to put some fresh meaning on those old bones.

Men are somewhat obnoxious and hard to be around unless they are purposefully trying to be nice (and that can be worse). Many of the tasks in which men engage, depending on the society, require what we would probably call "training," whereby a complex series of sub-tasks must be carried out fairly accurately, quickly, and often in direct cooperation with other people, without thinking about it. Practicing these tasks ... most of the time together with those whom you will likely carry them out ... may mean the difference between success and failure when the time comes. And, exposing one's own inadequacies (by openly demonstrating that you are not already fully trained up in every way or that you are capable of making a mistake) reduces some of that natural male obnoxiousness and allows men to work together with less distraction.

In many societies, men hunting together, and bonding, in groups may well be entirely for one purpose: Obtaining meat. This is true among certain groups of northern Minnesotans as well as among the Efe Pygmy foragers of the Ituri Forest, Zaire. This is not to say that these folks (all men among the Efe, mostly men and some women among the Minnesotans) do not do other things together, it's just that the act of hunting may be the only regularly engaged high intensity and training-demanding activity that happens to bring a particular group together to do more than sit around the fire eating brats or antelope stew. More to the point: For some groups, hunting is not training for something else, but rather, the point (and of course hunting would then be training for more hunting). Years ago, a student of mine, Sarah, studied a group of Minnesota hunters, and I've studied the Efe hunters, which is why those two examples come to mind (well, that and it is currently deer hunting season in Minnesota), but really, groups like this are myriad.

In other settings, the most critical activity in which men engage in may not be hunting, and the hunting may be the training for it, with the added benefit that you get meat sometimes. The best example of this could actually be found in an unlikely place: among our sister species, common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). It has been propose by Richard Wrangham that chimps engage in cooperative hunting as a means of bonding in preparation for the systematic and regular hunting down and killing of individual chimps from adjoining communities. This killing is something male chimps seem to engage in on a regular basis as a means of maintaining their numerical superiority (or parity) or potentially gaining parity with neighboring groups with whom they compete for resources that now and then (every several years?) become severely limiting. Cooperative hunting among male chimps involves running down a monkey (I use the word "running" metaphorically ... much of this happens up in trees) and killing it. The monkey is hard to catch and a bit dangerous to kill (sharp teeth and all). Lone chimps from neighboring communities are probably easier than monkeys to catch (the chimps are all assumed to be equivalent in locomotory abilities and speed, while the monkeys can leap off the ends of branches too small for the chimps to climb, thus escaping to neighboring trees) but more dangerous to kill (because of their size).

Wrangham tried to determine and document the nutritional or foraging value of hunting by male chimps at Kibale in Uganda and found something surprising at the time. I remember running into Wrangham between field seasons and he was very excited to talk about something remarkable he had just witnessed. I don't remember the numbers, but some X number of male chimps had, in a matter of minutes, literally harvested Y number (like a dozen?) of monkeys, and all the chimps in the community were busy chowing down on this massive amount of meat. More exciting than that observation of carnage and cuisine among the apes was this: The hunt had occurred during a peak in plant food availability. Wrangham and his team had taken to following not just chimps but also trees. They were getting better data on both fruit production by key trees that served as resources for local frugivores (chimps included) but also on what animals came to the trees to feed. This extra information gave them confirmation of the following: Kibale chimps hunt when abundance of fruit is high and competition for fruit is low.

They don't hunt for food. They're busy bonding.

It may be difficult to find similar examples in humans today. In fact, I would argue that at some point in human prehistory weapons were developed that made the kind of "homicide" we see among chimps different ... not impossible, just different. This difference in technology also made hunting of a wider diversity of animals possible. This would have changed the calculus relating hunting as bonding in preparation for killing your neighbor vs hunting for food. It may have opened up the possibility that in some habitats some groups of hominids would have benefited from foregoing the murder of your neighbor part, shifting to hunting alone, as a means of obtaining meat (which may or may not have been for purely nutritional purposes, probably not). This certainly seems to be the case with modern human foragers living in the tropics.

Also, humans may have shifted their homicidal strategies towards sexual competition and away from foraging competition. Increased ability to obtain resources (through technology) would have had two effects: 1) Increase demand for child care thus co-opting males into that role more often than previously, if only for providing nutritionally critical meat for growing brains; and 2) lowered demand for risky behaviors (homicide is risky) to preserve large foraging territories. The first factor would have made male paternity more important. Modern chimp males address sexual competition with promiscuity and male philopatry ("Junior" may not be your offspring, but at least it's your brother's offspring), modern human males with monogamy enforced with a certain degree of fierceness. Day to day, homicide in humans has shifted from something you do to your nameless faceless neighbor to something you do to males you know but are not that closely related to and that live in your community. Under these conditions, hunting could still play the role of male bonding and training because homicide is still a valid (yet icky) strategy. (And, I suppose, the occasional hunting accident could be ... convenient ...)

Since it is hunting season in Minnesota, let's talk about this and other effects hunting may have.

The aforementioned Minnesota hunters are typical of many, but not most hunters in this state. They are farmers who work the land, grow the crops, and cut from the woodlot throughout the year as the wild deer mate, calve, and the fawns eventually transform into DRE's (deer ready to eat). When hunting season arrives, they do everything they can to maximize the number of legal deer they can take. Multiple families ascend on one farmstead. Every member of the extended family old enough to use a weapon gets a license. Guns are systematically maintained and adjusted for accuracy ("sighing in"). Trailers used the rest of the year to cart around crops and manure and such are loaded with bales of hay which will later be sold or used for livestock feed. These will form mobile hunting blinds.

The hunters gather at the farm, some residents, some neighbors, some from father away, but all relatives (both consanguinal and affinal). The jobs of making the coffee, preparing the meals, working with the firearms and blinds, carting around the deer, butchering and processing the meat, etc. can all be done by any member of the group (as is typical for hunters) but are normally divided up with a modest degree of specialty by individuals who tend to do the same things every year. The deer have been doing whatever they do under the watchful eyes of landowners. No one is sure how many deer there are and one can never be sure where they will show up, but given a number of hunters, a number of blinds, a number of weapons, and the current weather conditions (including that affecting ground cover and wind) it is a fairly easy matter ... if you know what you are doing ... to develop a strategy of ambush hunting from carefully located blinds followed by flushing the now wary deer from the woods. The whole thing is done over the first weekend of deer hunting season. It is rare for the group to not meet the quota, and in case you were wondering, care is taken to make sure that every deer is legally taken. The permit process allows for plenty and there is no sense in getting caught poaching. (I do not vouch for Minnesotans or farmers in general ... I have no idea how much poaching happens here, there are indications there is some, but not among the families Sarah studied.)

The meat is all processed and divided up. This is the source of a large percentage of the meat meals for the next several months for these families. Bonding has happened. And usually without anything going wrong, especially among these experienced hunters.

But guns are dangerous. During the last few weeks in Minnesota, since hunting season started, there have been a dozen or so notable accidents. I strongly suspect most of the accidents are by inexperienced hunters and especially hunters from urban areas and not these experienced farm based families.

During the first weekend of this year's rifle hunt, a 24 year old was shot by hunters from another party who were trying to hit a passing deer. Luckily the first shot of three fired in rapid succession was a ricochet and knocked him to the ground, or the two subsequent shots would have likely done him in. No deer were harmed during the shooting of this hunter. Most of the other accidents involved firearms discharging unexpectedly, apparently in most cases because the safety was not engaged. In at least two cases a dad shot his son. In one such instance, the weapon discharged while being handled behind the pickup truck and the bullet penetrated the wall of the box and the back of the cab, slowing down enough to not do serious harm to Junior who was sitting in the passenger seat. A bit later in the season a young boy was shot by his father after having been sent into the brush to flush out deer, which he did.

We don't know exactly which day or hour over last weekend Corey Meyer stumbled while climbing through dense bush, with his safety apparently off, discharging the gun into his head (the body was found earlier this week). He had just shot his deer, who was found, also shot to death, nearby.

Every year a handful of innocent bystanders are done in or seriously wounded somewhere in the US. No one was killed around here this year, but Heather Peterson of Montgomery, Minnesota, a new mom at home, was shot in the shoulder, in her own kitchen while caring for her children. It seems likely that the shot came from a hunter across the road more interested in getting his deer than not shooting into people's houses. She was knocked to the floor and her shoulder dislocated from the force of the bullet, he was issued a citation.

All these accidents would have been avoided had hunters routinely followed standard procedure. Standard procedure is best implemented with lots of training. And bonding. It would be interesting to know (rather than just guess) of the experience level of the various individuals involved.

In the meantime, during weekend opener, Minnesota hunters shot and killed 85,163 deer (it is expected that by the end of the hunt about 200,000 deer will be taken). One must assume that several more shots were fired than deer killed, and in some (perhaps many) cases hunters were out in the woods with their firearms and never got a shot at all. One might well conclude that hunting is safer than one might expect given that only six accidents occurred that weekend.

I hasten to add that for every incident we know about because it involved someone actually being shot there is a much larger number of incidents in which there was a close call (or the bullet graze was simply not reported). I've never hunted in North America with firearms (though I've been along on hunts) but even working as an archaeologist during hunting season I've had projectiles whiz uncomfortably close by on many occasions. I would guess that for every known case of an accidental contact between bullet and human during hunting season there are tens, possibly scores, of close calls.

During the last couple of weeks some other things happened in Minnesota that may or may not have been linked to hunting. Well, some cases were surely linked, other may have just been people wandering around in the woods during hunting season, which is not recommended. Two or three bodies were found, one for certain by hunters. A dead cougar was found. A trapper found a wolf in a coyote trap, way outside of wolf range. The fact that during this time a combine ran over a black bear may not seem related to hunting but it likely is. When the humans show up and kill a couple hundred thousand large mammals, critters do things ... like run away from their home ranges.

And, of course, when the deer are running for their lives you are more likely to run into them with your car. I find this interesting: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has just come out with a recommendation that if you are going to hit a deer, don't try to veer around it. People tend to run off the road or into other cars and get killed or seriously wounded, but if you hit the brakes, then the deer, you may damage your car but your car is designed to keep you alive (restraints, airbags, etc.).

But one has to wonder what was going through the mind of 52 year old Joel Erickson from Oak Grove Minnesota who, about eight miles north of were I sit now, came upon a deer while driving down the road. Erickson didn't veer, like the DNR said. The deer seems to have passed entirely though the windshield, striking Erickson at high speed. The deer then exited through the rear window of the pickup. The truck then drove off the road and hit a utility pole, then a fence, and then a tree. The deer, now on the road, was hit by a second vehicle. Erickson was dead on the scene, the occupants of the second vehicle were uninjured.

The deer did not survive.

All of the news items referred to above are to be found here.

Sarah's thesis is on file with the University of Minnesota department of anthropology.

Wrangham's research on humans, chimps, and homicide is best accessed here: Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence


More like this

All human hunter-gatherer groups that have been studied incorporate meat in their diets. Studies have shown that the total dietary contribution of meat varies a great deal, and seems to increase with latitude so that foragers in subarctic and arctic regions eat a lot of meat while those living near…
The Great Human Race is a new production of National Geographic, in three parts. I recently viewed the first episode, "Dawn" which comes with this description: All people can trace their roots to the savanna of East Africa, the home of one of the first members of the human species -- Homo habilis…
"Better to hunt in fields for health unbought than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught. The wise for cure on exercise depend." -John Dryden I have never been on a deer hunt but I care for a lot of patients who are avid hunters. Missouri, as you may or may not know, is blessed with a plentiful…
There was a time--in the 1960s and 1970s--when the phrase "Man the Hunter" enjoyed a lot of popularity. Some researchers claimed that the evolution of hunting played a key role in the origin of our lineage. That's what we made tools for, and that's how we got all the extra energy to fuel our big…

According to David Sedaris the blind are legally allowed to hunt in both Texas and Michigan. He goes on to explain that while Texas requires the seeing impaired to have a sighted companion, in my own home state they are permitted to go it alone. Well it's something to fall back on if the auto-industry doesn't rebound.

You shoot someone in their own house and all you get is a citation? How about, oh, I don't know, mandatory hunter and safety training, a large fine, loss of hunting privileges, jail time, any or all of the above, you know, like most civilized countries?

What sort of backward unbalanced barbaric country do you live in? Shoot someone in their own home during hunting season and just get a citation. Wonder how many people waited till hunting season to kill their neighbour--certainly isn't any risk in that. "It was a hunting accident! Oh no, for the love of God...don't give me a citation! Anything but a citation!!"

What do they give you if you actually kill someone NOT in their own home, but wandering around outside? "Sorry Hank, I told you at the last one, if you killed another person I'll have to 'tut-tut' you again".

Asinine rules.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

Here on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus the "hunters" have hand-reared Chukars (partridge species), a few hares and thousands of migrating, small song-birds to shoot. Well, there were thousands of song-birds before they were shot. Oh, and they also, in a very macho, male-bonding way, use mist nets and lime-sticks to catch any passing bird.
Luckily, every year, a few of these brave men kill each other, but nowhere near fast enough.

They're (chimps) not hunting for food, and the reasoning is that there's other food too? How about they're hunting for food, and because fruits are easily available monkeys are both fatter (and that's good) and easier to get (partly because they're fatter, partly because they're concentrated in certain spots and busy eating, so it's a good time -- better than others -- to hunt those monkeys.

I think Wrangham, over the past decade especially, has been making a few too many leaps in his thinking.

How often do the Efe mistake eachother for gazelle?

A 'hunter' firing more than one shot at the prey? Obviously fucking clueless - what next, hunting with a RPG? Too many idiots with guns and no proper training. That's as bad as Cheney's style of 'hunting' - getting drunk, sitting in the back of a pickup truck, and blasting people in the face with a shotgun. "His nose looked like a duck's beak." Well, that's what I'd imagine - but things turned out differently. The guy who was shot was apologizing for getting in the way! For a second I was wondering if I were in Calabria and some grunt got in the way of the Principale's shotgun.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

I'd like to see some of these studies performed here in Oklahoma. For one, the hunting style is completely different in an area with much fewer trees. It would seem like there would be a lot fewer in-the-field accidents around here. Nobody drives deer if they have any sense in there head.

Wonder how many people waited till hunting season to kill their neighbour--certainly isn't any risk in that. "It was a hunting accident! Oh no, for the love of God...don't give me a citation! Anything but a citation!!"


Clam: What is a lime stick?????

Anthroscience guy: Good questions.

Monkeys and chimps have non-overlapping diets so the correlation is certainly not as strong. The monkeys would be well fed other times of the year a well (they eat unripe fruit). But, also, monkeys don't really fatten up. There is no evidence that they are easier to get at that time.

To be fair to Wrangham, you need to be critiquing the peer reviewed papers and not my secondary comments on his hallway comments! Richard is pretty careful in making the "leaps" by using carefully examined stepping stones. But any alternative explanations or criticisms of the research are, I'm sure more than welcome!

Mad Scientist: Never. There are no Gazelle in the Ituri Forest. How often do they shoot each other by accident while hunting? See Dan's comments above, only when necessary!!! But seriously, I don't know of any such accident having happened, but there are occasionally accidents.

The multiple shots could have been multiple hunters, I suppose. But yeah, this may have been boys with their toys in the woods rather than a real hunter.

CJ the driving in this case makes sense: The ambush hunting ruins subsequent ambush hunting for at least several days. All the hungers are on hand and once the basic morning shooting is done, there is only transport (via tractor/pickup) and butchery (mainly done by a subset of the hunters). And they know the landscape well, so driving a few deer out of the woods across the field for one more shot is worth it.

IIRC, however, those deer are actually rarely shot. There are only a couple of trigger pullers (you don't want to overfill the permits) and the deer are moving. It is not a good first round strategy but it is an excellent cleanup strategy.

I have no idea how this would work in Oklahoma. Do you even have trees?

A lime stick is a slender piece of wood coated with a strong adhesive. It is placed so as to form a natural perch among tree or bush branches. The warbler, or golden oriole or robin lands on the "branch" where it remains, fluttering, until the "hunter" tears it off ,many hours later and throws it into his bag. Many thousands of birds are killed here in this way.

It's hard to underestimate the social effect of hunting in Wisconsin. Almost twice as many deer are taken than in Minnesota, between 300 and 400K gun. (A bit less lately, we actually had some winters.)

The Dept. Natural Resources is despised as wolf lovers when even they are (indirectly) calling for actual wolf hunts again and will be loudly with the incoming Republican administration. Hundreds of millions of dollars, high level networking. Hundreds of thousands of people in the woods. Millions for the DNR in licenses. (It is not a partisan thing in any way - everybody yells at the DNR from one side or another ... )

Gun Deer hunt here starts next weekend. Bow hunting has been on for some time - that has greatly increased in my life. Quadrupled in past 30 years and still growing to close to a fifth of the kill.

Wisconsin would be denuded without hunting and the agricultural issues would be immense, actually they are now with the huge cull. I find it fascinating because it is where the average Joe (or Jane) really feels an ecological issue, sees landscape changes, see weather effects of wildlife.

A lot of Minnesotans from the Twin Cities hunt in "Remote areas of Northern Wisconsin" which is just east of here a few miles.

"All these accidents would have been avoided had hunters routinely followed standard procedure."

Or just used common sense. Just north of me here in MI a man died the first morning of gun season. He had climbed to his tree stand and was pulling his shotgun to him with a rope he'd tied around the barrel. The gun was loaded, the trigger guard hooked on a branch, he apparently tugged to free it and shot himself in the head. He was, according to the news story, "an experienced hunter and familiar with guns". It's sad, but guns are often not tolerant of lapses in judgement by those who own them.

A couple of (unintentionally?) amusing typos in the OP:

Guns are systematically maintained and adjusted for accuracy ("sighing in").


The hunters gather at the farm, some residents, some neighbors, some from father away, but all relatives (both consanguinal and affinal).

Heh -- so that's what Father does when he's away.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

One of the only comprehensive studies I know of analyzing hunting accidents was done by the National Wild Turkey Federation (available here, under safety task force report; http://www.nwtf.org/for_hunters/hunting_tactics.html)
It was interesting that about half of the incidents were people who had been through safety training and the average age of those involved was about 40. It supports the anecdote by dean above. Sometimes "experienced" hunters get careless, and a minor lapse in attention or a little carelessness can result in a fatal outcome when firearms are involved.

DVMKurmes, it is worth noting that deer hunting and turkey hunting are somewhat different propositions, particularly when it comes to accidents involving multiple people. Turkeys have great visual acuity, which means the hunters are working as hard as they can to look like the surrounding vegetation--just like the turkeys are. It's a bit harder for a deer hunter to say, "Oh, I was sure what I saw was a deer." Anybody looking at those stats should keep that in mind.

Yeah, and though a hunter in a deer blind hopes the deer will come to him/her, they are really just passing by (unless you've baited them, which is a no no). With turkeys you are trying to get them to come to you, in fact, to detect you and find you and to totally know where you are, but to think you are a turkey.

Of course you can do all those things with deer but it is not required. And this could happen:


He should have just given up and tried the special evening with candlelight and a nice vintage of dried grass option.

Turkeys have great visual acuity, which means the hunters are working as hard as they can to look like the surrounding vegetation--just like the turkeys are. It's a bit harder for a deer hunter to say, "Oh, I was sure what I saw was a deer." Anybody looking at those stats should keep that in mind.

Unlike turkeys, deer are color blind [1]. There's no excuse for going deer hunting in human-vision disrupting camo, and I've been told that in fact the Minnesota practice is to wear sensible (i.e. brightly colored, even if camo for the color-blind) clothing.

Unlike in Arizona, where the common practice is to work very hard to be as hard as possible for other hunters to spot. One of my most WTF reactions is to people who go out with kids in tow -- with the kids wearing camo. Are they trying to lose them?

[1] Actually, avian color vision is enough different from human color vision that it should be possible to make bird-disruptive clothing that's still at least somewhat more human-visible. For one thing, they don't do the rods/cones thing.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

There are certainly significant differences between deer and turkey hunting,and I did not mean to equate the two. I just thought it was interesting that a significant proportion of the incidents/accidents involved experienced hunters who had taken safety courses. Another difference is that most turkey hunters are using shotguns shooting small shot, which is less likely to carry as far and injure or kill people inside buildings, which is not the case with deer rifles.

D: Oh, I agree. I think your point was very interesting.

I also think deer hunters drink beer and turkey hunters drink single malt. Or at least, the ones I know. My impression is that deer is to bass what turkey is to trout. If you get my drift. They are two very different (but overlapping) cultures. I'm not sure how that relates to the accidents rates.

There must be good data on deer hunting accident rates somewhere.

When I was high school age, I would take my 22 out in the pasture. I would sneak up on a deer and heart shoot him. I thought that was real hunting, interesting and challenging to do. (Illegal to shoot deer with a 22 in Texas, but that was many years ago.) As my father's bad knee got worse, we converted an outdoor toilet to a feed storage house/deer blind. Put out some corn (legal in Texas) and harvested deer. Shooting a deer from a baited stand is harvesting, not hunting. Nothing wrong with harvesting, but we should keep the semantics straight.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

I grew up hunting. Hunting for meat specifically. It was a great time bonding with my family and friends. I do miss those days.

I gave up hunting when it became obvious that I wasn't going to find a single acre where the hunters didn't outnumber the deer/elk. I think the only way I would ever think about hunting regularly again is if I owned a private ranch.

By Revyloution (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Over probably four hunting seasons, I killed two bucks. To survive on deer, I would have to have spent a lot more time out in the pasture, or learned to be much sneakier. I had no luck hunting for turkeys. First turkey I killed, Daddy and I had just left the house on the way to town. There was a flock of turkeys by the lane fence. I got out of the pickup and shot a gobbler.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

I was the rare one in my family who didn't turn out to be a hunter. My father only took me deer hunting once, when I was 13. We went on land belonging to a relative, north of cadillac, mi. I'd never been there. My father's instructions: "Stay in this region, stay alert. If you happen to get lost, sit down. Fire a shot into the air every half-hour: we'll come find you."

Guess which rookie got lost? I followed his instructions: sat down, and about every half-hour fired a shot into the air. I started to get worried I'd run out of arrows before they found me.

Thank you, thank you, I'm here all season.

Disclaimer: I am the only one in my family who never got the hunting bug. My father didn't mind, but he did make sure that I knew enough about the guns in the house to not do anything stupid with them, and never take them for granted. In all the years since I've never stopped being amazed at the dumb things people who supposedly know better do with their guns.

The widespread use of LIME STICKS and other traditional methods to trap songbirds for bush-meat, European style, has recently prompted the resurrection of Rachel Carson's tragic appellation "Silent Spring," as the Mediterranean and much of the rest of Europe grows ever more silent.

The writer Jonathan Franzen has an excellent article on this conservation nightmare in today's on-line issue of THE TELEGRAPH:


Annoying fact of life for hikers and horseback riders in California:

Hunters in hunting season are required to wear blaze orange vests ... so as to not get shot by other hunters.

But hikers and horseback riders are NOT required to wear blaze orange (at least not when I lived there). Neither are they cautioned not to go hiking or riding during hunting season.

The reason is obvious: Such constant warnings would create negative PR for hunting. So safety of innocent bystanders comes in a distant second place to the "safety" of the hunting industry.

Regarding which, a friend of mine out riding her buckskin horse one fall day got shot at TWICE. Fortunately, the jackass firing at her missed both her and her horse, but unfortunately GOT TO KEEP HIS HUNTING LICENSE.

On one of the model airplane forums, it was posted that members of a particular radio control club were recommended to wear orange, as there was deer hunting in the general area.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

I hunt deer every year with my brother. It isn't for bonding, its for meat. Now, the meat may cost about 10x what beef does, but its deer meat and I killed it myself.

Who knows - maybe chimps are into bonding, or maybe they want some variety, even if fruit is cheaper.

Its great fun to make hunter look like idiots. Regardless, there are idiots doing idiotic things all the time. Like drivers who kill pedestrians, thus proving all drivers are idiots. I'm curious as to how many people are are wounded or killed by hunters vs. urban kids who come across loaded handguns storred in night tables.

This comment stands out:
"And, of course, when the deer are running for their lives you are more likely to run into them with your car."

Really? I've hit four deer with various vehicles and none of those was in hunting season. Deer just run across the road like racoons and squirrels. When they are under threat deer run to cover, not away from it, crossing a road is not a typical flight path. The real danger from deer is a statisical one: more deer means more road crossing means higher probability of hitting one. Ask anybody in deer country.

In much of the US corn (in particular) mono-culture means a 24 hour buffet for deer. Extermination of natural predators and destruction of their habitat means exploding deer populations. The only remaining mechanism to keep the population down is hunting.

I've killed about 30 deer in my life. I always feel bad when I do, but they taste good so it passes. I've also worked on a farm.

Deer don't retire to Fliroda when they get old. There isn't a lot of dying in their sleep. They usually die because they get sick or starve during a tough winter and a predator rips their guts out and starts eating them while they are still alive. It ain't pretty. So, if I had a choice between living life as a cow on a typical farm (a prisoner), or being a deer (free) I'd take being a deer any day. If I were a deer and my choice was being shot (dead in a few seconds) or having my guts ripped out and eaten alive, I'd pick being shot.

Of course, those of you who think meat comes in a nice plastic wrapped package might disagree.

Minger, where do you see anyone saying all hunters are idiots? There's definitely a condemnation of a gun culture that doesn't fully appreciate how dangerous guns are, even when they're being used to kill, but I'm not seeing anything that justifies the defensiveness I'm reading in your comment.

Minger, you seem to have taken my post as an anti-hunting post, which it is not. The fact that I note that considering the number of deer shot (reflecting the large number of hunters out there) that this may be very few accidents, would mitigate against your main concern, I would think.

As to whether deer hit the roads more or less during hunting season, that depends on the region. You are right that in some cases they may hunker down a lot more and move a lot less. I've seen deer moving across roads in large numbers over several days from regions with lots of hunters into areas with very few. There are deer near our cabin that move as soon as hunting starts, right into town and they do a fair amount of standing around in the road.

The fact that you've run into so many deer does not give me great faith in your understanding of what they are doing when it comes to crossing the road! In any event, the main point I was making had more to do with wolves and bears moving about this time of year.

Oh, and yea, the idiot who fired his rifle into the home of the woman taking care of her two kids ... was an idiot. I assume your intention is not to defend him. Or is this an all or nothing thing? Assume all hunters are excellent at what they do and all hunting practices are just great vs. be anti hunting and anti hunter? Sorry, but if you want polarized unthoughtful opinions about hunting or about gun use or about politics or anything, you've come to the wrong place. More importantly, the truth is that I value your opinion, and you have made some good points, but please read the post more carefully and, possibly, avoid presuming the intent before you discover it.

I owe you an appology, then.

Yes, there are idiot hunters. Too many of them. I've moved into a 'natural blind' and found empty beer bottles. I've heard semi-automatic weapons fire (pow pow pow) which couldn't have been aimed but had to have been sprayed: for us, one shot is all it takes. And I could go on and on.

However, whatever gets written about hunting always seems to mention the idiots, not the vast majority of hunters who care deeply about the environment - usually far more so than the urbanites who read about it in books. It makes me crazy.

I've run into a lot of deer because I've been driving over 30 years and most of that in deer country. All but one I've hit at night - you are zooming along some country road and a deer decides to cross. Most of the time you miss (don't swerve or you'll get killed). Sometimes you hit. Many times these were crossing from one open field to another. Maybe there was an unseen predator, but, like I said, all critters seem to do this, hence the large number of roadkill of all species (racoon, rabbit, skunk, porcupine, opossum, turkey, you name it). It may be that they flee predation, but I think they are mostly just going from one place to another and get confused by cars, especially when there are headlights.

Anyway, sorry I misread the post. Whenever I read about stupid hunters - which do exist - my brain goes nuts and I want to point out that the overwhelming majority of us probably would prefer the guy who shot the housewife, or his son, etc., be stripped of hunting rights and, if possible, thrown in jail for criminal stupidity.

I'm not sure what I think about the connection between deer opener and animals abandoning their home ranges. Wolf dispersal peaks in autumn to late winter and they can travel very long distances. In contrast, bears disperse in the spring and by the time deer opener hits, they are getting ready to den and probably not biologically up for a long journey and finding a new den (at least in northern MN). Bear hunting starts in early Sept, which might give them more motivation to move than deer hunting (although there is no doubt more people in the woods during deer season). I did a little looking into the bear and combine incident, and at least one news article said there were reports of bears in the area earlier in the year. Also, even deer migrate between summer and winter ranges around this time, though hunting may give them motivation to move. I'm not saying deer hunting can't be the case for the examples you gave, but there are other factors as well.

Also, if you are interested in poaching in Minnesota at all, there are some pretty disturbing stories in "Poachers Caught!" by Tom Chapin.

There were two combine-bear encounters, by the way.

Combine-large mammal encounters are common, though it's usually deer (with humans second?) Two bears in one year may be a bit high, as I don't think it's usual to run over bears.

Of course, I've also heard that one of the two bears may not actually have exactly been run over by the combine, but there's been no reporting on this. Just rumors.

I've hunted in heavily forest environment and more of the open expanses similar to Oklahoma and a common problem I'm seeing that is causing these accidents and near misses are too many folks hunting on leases. This issue typically arises at buffer of two deer leases where hunters are almost camped out opposite of one another and accidentally trade volleys or they are set up in an L shape and fields of fire close on somebody. After having some close calls myself, I try to stay deep in the middle of a lease and will usually carry an air horn or pop smoke if we have one of these close calls with another hunter that wanders onto our lease.

Growing up in Mississippi, we were always forbidden from going out into the woods when there were deer hunters around. We also got the impression, which seems to come through here, that deer hunters tended to be less well-trained than the bird hunters (or at least that there were more of them, so the training had a greater variability).

Greg -- I had heard speculation that the two bear-combine incidents may actually have been the same bear; the bear in the first incident survived, and it was a nearby field. I may have misread the story, but I thought I read in the Strib that the guy who first encountered a bear with his combine went to his neighbor's field to warn him about it, ended up riding along in the combine for an hour (farmers do like to gab) and then they ended up running over the bear, which appeared to be in the process of digging a den. (Picked a bad spot, but sometimes wild animals make bad choices too.) That's my recollection of the story, but I may be misremembering.

My dad used to spend time at a northern ER, and the injuries he'd have to treat varied with the season. In November, there were a lot of broken bones. Turns out, most deer hunting accidents aren't gunshot wounds. People fall out of their deer stands. Alcohol was involved on many of these cases, and some even occurred before the opener; the amateur hunters were setting up their tree stands the day before, climbing up into them, and having a few beers while they contemplated what lay ahead.

I'm not a great hunter myself (though I have hunted pheasant in the past) but I think it's important to keep that connection to our roots. It helps you understand where meat comes from, and how difficult it was for our forebears. It's also helpful for keeping the populations in check; with fewer wolves and cougars, the deer are getting out of control. But it saddens me to see more and more hunters getting into it for the wrong reasons. They do it because it's a manly thing to do, and believing that if they are manly, they will be able to do it easily -- so, the wrong motivation combined with a profound disinclination to demonstrate any need for training. So we get idiots getting drunk in their tree stands and falling down. And, once in a while, a really tragic accident.

I took a gun safety class years ago, and part of it included a series of videos to illustrate the dangers. One clip showed what appeared to be a prize buck slowly moving through the woods -- but which proved to actually be a prize buck which had been killed and dressed, and was now being hauled out on the back of an idiot wearing camo. There were two lessons in that one: wear blaze orange, and be very VERY sure of what you're shooting at.

It's facile to blame video games, but part of me does wonder whether the lack of repercussions in those games doesn't encourage this sort of "shoot first" behavior, if a person is already of a careless mindset.

Tonight, I go to dine on venison that a relative took up in northern Minnesota. It may not be a turkey, but we can give thanks for it all the same. ;-)

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 24 Nov 2010 #permalink

And to not carry, but rather, drag, your dear out of the woods. It is helpful to put a few feet of orange flagging tape on the antlers as well.

When I was a kid we had neighbors who would put out a fake deer at their cabin in the fall, and after deer season we'd go out and count the fresh bullet/shot holes. The fake deer was on a patio.