by Doctor Science
Last week (more or less) included my husband's birthday, and for his celebratory dinner I made Juniper-Spiced Venison with Brown Goat Cheese Sauce. The crowd went *wild* -- it may have been the best venison any of us have ever had , and it was certainly the tenderest wild-caught venison I've ever encountered.
I realize that I generally count as one of the "anti-gun" crowd, so it may surprise you to learn that I have no objection to hunting per se. On the contrary: I support local hunters as much as possible. I don't hunt, but that's for lack of hand-eye coordination and depth perception -- I pose no danger to the broad side of a barn.
The reason I support hunters is because I'm a serious lifelong birdwatcher. I've asked around, and I've never known a serious birder who was categorically opposed to hunting, even the vegetarians.
In the first place, birders see a lot of natural violence, red in tooth and claw. We know that an animal can be extremely cute and completely bloodthirsty, or ripped into pieces by another creature, or die in any of a variety of horrible, natural ways. We find nature very beautiful, but we don't expect it to be *nice*, and most of us get over being squeamish.
More importantly, birders notice problems of wild animal overpopulation, as well as rarity. In many parts of the U.S., including New Jersey, there are serious overpopulation problems with Canada Geese and especially with White-Tailed Deer[pdf]. Deer don't just strip gardens of almost everything except daffodils and peonies, they can devastate all the natural undergrowth in an area, with terrible effects on native plants and animals.
This is in addition to the direct risk to humans of deer-car collisions and of Lyme Disease. Every experienced driver I know in my area has hit a deer at one point or another, and everyone who spends a lot of time outdoors has had Lyme Disease.
One of my neighbors was walking past with his dog - a wolfhound!Imagine how complacent deer have to be, to just stand around when a wolfhound walks by.
Now imagine what they'll do to your garden.
The way I see it, humans are the top predator around here, and we have an ecological obligation to act like it. Which means killing deer, especially the young ones and the does. In other words, for food. The reason the venison we had last week was so exceptionally scrumptious was because it came from a 2-year-old antlerless animal, just the kind you'd select if they were farm-raised.
What I'm seeing in NJ is that hunters and birders (and other conservationists) are working together more than used to be the case. Or I should say "even more", because birders and duck hunters have had a pretty good relationship for many decades. We cooperate to support wetland and other habitats and to make sure birds have lots of places to live and feed. We spend time outside, cultivating patience, observational skills, and learning to keep our feet warm. Birding definitely taps into part of the ancient hunting impulse, to chase things down and find them out. I can definitely understand hunting on a gut level and see the appeal, even though I'd be a pretty terrible hunter.
I won't say that birders like *all* hunters -- we really hate the ones who drink with guns, shoot wildly, or don't warn us when and where they're going to be out. And we despise the kind of people who hunt farmed game, or from helicopters, or use bait. I assume good, serious-minded hunters hate birders who disregard warning signs and go charging through places where they're trying to hunt, getting in the way of bullets and disturbing the wildlife.
I don't know if there will be a shift in hunting culture, if hunters in places like NJ come to see themselves as ecological agents who don't just "harvest" or exploit wild animals, they use their skills to perform crucial tasks of population control and management. I hope more hunters become like Ari LeVaux, who says:
The National Rifle Association claims on its website to be the largest pro-hunting organization in the world. As a hunter, not to mention as a human being, the NRA couldn’t represent me less.I hope that as hunters like LeVaux break away from the NRA and their reflexive Republicanism, they'll find there's a real place for them among conservationists, and as agents of conservation.
The NRA isn’t for hunters any more than AAA is for bicyclists. Sure, some hunters are NRA members, but first and foremost the NRA serves gun fetishists and the firearms industry. (fetish: 1. An inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. 2. A course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment.)
In 2011, nearly 14 million Americans hunted, while NRA members number about four million–fewer than half of whom actually hunt.
Unlike a lot of gun fetishists, hunters actually use their guns as the killing tools that they are, as a means to an end. I don’t shoot for the joy of killing, or for the thrill of a loud explosion an inch from my head, or for the antlers. I do it for healthy, clean meat to feed my family. The gun is not a toy that we have a constitutional right to play with, but a tool to which we’re guaranteed access.
I have no idea what happened to these footnotes when I first posted this.
 My modifications: doubled the juniper and fennel. Doubled the aquavit, used it to deglaze the pan, then poured it into the sauce.
 Particularly significant since the guests included my father, who invariably, when seated at a fancy restaurant, reads the entire menu carefully and as though he has a decision to make, then says, "I think I'll have the venison" (if it's available). I'm the person who says, "I'll have the duck".
 "Narcissus" and "narcotic" have the same root, though it may be oxalic acid that makes them inedible by mammals.
 I suspect deer don't like the ants any more than you do. Indeed, although ants are not necessary for peony buds to open, I think the relationship is still symbiotic: the ants kill other insects and make peonies unpalatable for larger herbivores.
 In two different Novembers my husbands late lamented Dodge Daytona was chased by bucks who came up on the right side of the car and took off the side-view mirror. We figure that the mirror happened to be exactly at buck's-eye-height, and the testosterone-crazed animals were attacking a rival they saw looking at them funny.
 And it's going to stay that way -- even where coyotes have appeared in the East, they're too wary and opportunistic to specialize on deer, especially in areas where there are plenty of rodents and domestic dogs and cats. Catching deer is a lot of work, and coyotes will do something easier if they can. Wolves and cougars are far too dangerous and shy of humans to control deer in densely-populated New Jersey, even if they could be re-established.
 Deer contraception only works in areas where the deer population is isolated, e.g. on an island, otherwise deer just continually move in to replace the ones that aren't breeding. Almost all does in an area have to be treated, yet in parts of NJ the deer density is 50-100 per square mile.