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Published on October 12th, 2010 | by Rachel Shulman

8

The Deer Dilemma: Is Wild Venison a Sustainable Meat?

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I have a confession to make. Ready? Here we go. My husband hunts deer, and I eat venison. There, I said it.

Why the hesitancy to admit such a thing, you might ask?

Well, when I wrote about venison last year, it stirred up some controversy, especially amongst our vegan readers.

Let me start out by explaining that, although I eat a plant-based, vegan diet about 90% of the time, I classify myself as an omnivore. But I think I’m a pretty conscientious one.

I only eat meat maybe two or three times a month, and that meat comes from animals my husband killed or my farmer friends raised. I also completely avoid industrial eggs or dairy. I eat eggs from happy, pasture raised chickens and I buy cheese from the farmers market.

I was a vegetarian for fifteen years, but I’ve found that my current plant-based, omnivorous diet best suits my personal health and wellness needs.

Okay, back to the whole deer thing.

For the past three years, I’ve been considering wild venison a “sustainable meat.” After all, deer numbers are at historic highs due to reductions in natural predators and improved food sources (namely agriculture, home gardens, and lawns).

Large deer populations wreak havoc on ecosystems by stripping forests of their native vegetation, eliminating niches for other wildlife, and spreading disease. So I figured eating venison might actually help the environment.

But now I’m starting to question just how sustainable wild venison is.

Although many experts consider sport hunting to be the best hope of controlling deer numbers, in some areas hunting can actually increase deer populations.

For example, here in Missouri, many conservation areas plant vast feed plots to boost deer herds. By supplementing the deer’s diet, land managers can keep deer populations way above the size that the forest ecosystem could support. Large deer populations make hunters happy, and happy hunters generate lots of revenue for the state by purchasing deer permits.

This deer-centric approach to managing ecosystems often deflects resources from more pressing ecological concerns such as biological diversity, water quality, and invasive species.

In addition, many conservation areas’ hunting regulations still favor shooting bucks, even though the best way to control deer populations is to kill does, or females. Hunting regulations that focus on killing bucks keep deer numbers high.

When land managers try to change regulations to emphasize hunting does, hunters often protest because they favor “trophy-hunting” for bucks.

So if the deer hunting system is set up in such a way where increased popularity of hunting means more deer, and more deer mean more damage to forest ecosystems, is wild venison a sustainable meat?

The answer, I think, depends on where you’re hunting. Hunting in places where the land managers’ primary goal is to amplify deer numbers via food plots or hunting restrictions is likely less sustainable than getting your meat from areas where land managers want to reduce deer numbers.

Since my husband hunts at a nature preserve where the goal of the annual deer hunt is to restore the health of the forest ecosystem, I think I can eat my venison guilt-free.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of law_keven via a Creative Commons license.



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About the Author

I'm an ecologist turned journalist turned farmer-in-training. I'm currently working on an organic farm and creamery in Illinois. Follow me on twitter (http://twitter.com/rachelshulman), friend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=3105709), or follow me on StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/RachelShulman/).



  • http://Web Angela

    First, stop apologizing for what you eat. Frankly, it’s no one’s place to criticize you about YOUR personal decisions.

    Now, about the deer. I can see your point about the way it’s handled in MO, but overall, it’s a good thing to thin the herds. And let’s talk about how healthy venison is! Practically zero fat and oh so tasty!

    So, I think that hunting deer is good for people and the environment.

    • Rachel Shulman

      I think it’s fine to talk about people’s personal eating decisions, as long as everyone keeps an open mind. :)

  • http://Web organicivy

    Frankly, it’s no one’s place to criticize you about YOUR personal decisions.

    If eating meat only affected the person in question then I would agree with the above statement. But eating meat affects the animal that had to be killed to provide that meat. That animal was sentient (as all are) and we through our personal whim (not need) choose to take its life. I think there’s nothing qrong in calling into question practices which are not right. If your neighbour was beating his dog, wouldn’t you feel the need to say something?

  • http://www.gregboggs.com Greg

    The only reason eating deer is sustainable is because no one eats it. As long as the rest of the country thinks you’re gross for doing it, you get a sustainable resource.

    As for the health of deer meat, most people overdose on the protien and end up with cancer, heart disease, a stroke, or sexual dysfunction. How manly is that eh?

    A new born can double his bodyweight on 1% protien breast milk, yet so many of us still fall victim to the “you need your low-fat protien” argument that got debunked as far back as the 80’s.

    • http://www.thecasualvegan.com Greg

      As often as I’m asked where I get my protein, you’d think I’d learn to spell protein.

    • Rachel Shulman

      Do you know what percentage of people eat wild venison?

  • http://Web Travis

    you said
    “In addition, many conservation areas’ hunting regulations still favor shooting bucks, even though the best way to control deer populations is to kill does, or females. Hunting regulations that focus on killing bucks keep deer numbers high.”
    could you please give a example of a single regulation on any conservation area in the state that does this?
    also, you mentioned food plots. most of those are for doves, not deer, although the deer will nibble some on the sunflower plants, it is tree nuts that increase deer densities. in state parks, where there are no food plots and very little hunting, the deer numbers are much higher than most conservation areas.
    so we have these options:
    A. state parks, no hunting (some poaching) and no food plots. ~45 deer per sq. mile in central mo
    B. conservation areas, some with food plots, allows hunting, ~20 per sq. mile in central mo
    which is better?
    i chose central mo because of a larger number of rural folks who hunt as well as the fact that i have the deer density numbers for that area.

    ultimately, it is more sustainable to eat deer meat than to eat almost any other red meat. as greg said though in the first comment, if everyone did it, we would have a problem.

  • http://mathew5-7.blogspot.com/ Carolyn99

    Please read and watch the video it’s very important because Venison eaters is going to die in the years to come.
    http://mathew5-7.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-government-isnt-telling-you-about.html

    Travis what you wrote there is gibberish read my blogger it explains how the hunting industry is producing deer for recreational killing by manipulating deer habitat ie food plots and they also know about Compensatory Rebound Effect that is when large numbers of deer are killed from hunting or other lethal “culling” the remaining deer will have higher fawn births. Sometimes even killing of does will do the same.

    http://mathew5-7.blogspot.com/2009/08/this-is-why-we-have-too-many-deer.html

    Also you forgot about bovine TB, pesticides, parasites, lead and worms.

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