Perhaps no other segment of society has a greater awareness of civilization’s impact on our natural resources than the hunter. It is the hunters of America who have carried the fight for wildlife conservation through the instigation of regulated hunting seasons and bag limits—reforms designed to protect our wildlife resources from overharvest.
All species of wildlife that are hunted are secure today and most are far more numerous than they were before the turn of the century.
The helping hand of the sportsman has increased the numbers of many kinds of wildlife to record proportions and has restored many species of game to parts of the country that had been stripped of native wildlife by commercial exploitation and unchecked development.
As recently as 1900, the total white-tailed deer population of North America was estimated at about 500,000, following a study by the U. S. Biological Survey. Nearly every state in the nation had closed its deer hunting season, and a good number need not have bothered since there were so few deer to hunt. Massachusetts counted about 200 out on Cape Cod, New York claimed about 7,000 in the Adirondacks and Pennsylvania had a small herd centered in Potter County. In Delaware and New Jersey, deer were considered practically extinct.
In contrast, by the early 1960’s practically every state in the union allowed some form of whitetail deer hunting. Our nation’s whitetail deer population is now estimated at around 18 million and today many of the largest trophy bucks are found in midwestern farming states which were a generation or so ago wholly without deer. In many states, expanding deer herds have created traffic hazards and caused crop damage. In 1987, the total legal deer harvest in the U.S. was more than 4.3 million, more than eight times the entire deer population of North America at the turn of the century.
Only 45 years ago, the total U.S. population of pronghorn antelope was about 12,000. This species, which at one time may have outnumbered the buffalo, could not in 1920 be hunted legally anywhere on the continent. Today, however, there are more than 1 million and the pronghorn is once again a legal trophy for hunters in a dozen or more western states. The restoration of habitat, restocking of range and biological attention that protected and increased the antelope population were due mainly to the efforts and dollars of the American sportsman.
Today there are more than 500,000 elk, or wapiti, in the nation, 12 times as many as there were in 1907 when elk were common only in and around Yellowstone National Park. More than 800,000 are now to be found in 16 states, and most western states have surpluses that can be hunted. Overpopulation on some ranges permits local restocking and, in Yellowstone National Park where the control effect of public hunting is prohibited, the elk multiplied so fast that they are destroying their range.
The wild turkey, which had also disappeared from much of its native range early in this century, has now been restored in many states by hunter dollars. The national population of wild turkeys has increased from 97,000 in 1952 to over 4 million today; and 41 states can now offer spring and/or fall hunting for this traditional table trophy.
And so on down the list. The fact is that no game bird or animal is endangered by hunting. Rather it is the helping hand of the sportsman that will protect and conserve these free roaming species of wildlife for the enjoyment of future generations.