Gone Fishin' - Oct. 25, 1999

October 25, 1999                                    By Charlie Taylor

Most of God's critters were meant to live in small groups, occupying and defending a certain size territory. Anytime this area became overpopulated, Mother Nature took steps to reduce the number of animals in the territory.

Thus, we have recorded many epidemics of rabies among raccoons and foxes throughout the Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs. This is primarily due to the lack of natural checks and balances among the animals. When man comes into an area, he naturally wipes out all the natural predators in order to protect his children and pets. This alters the normal state of affairs throughout the region. When he also wipes out the natural habitat, forcing the animals to crowd each other in ever smaller quarters, something drastic has to happen.

This is the current situation in Northern Virginia, as more and more land is being developed, leaving animals less and less habitat in which to exist. Not only does this reduce the food supply, but overall living area is also reduced. This promotes unnatural forced interaction among the various species, causing drastic consequences to the individual animals living in the territory.

As a result of the development of subdivisions and shopping malls, less and less land is left in a forested condition, forcing the whitetail deer out of it's element and onto the local lawns, to feed on the shrubs and grass of the homeowners. Although these homeowners do a lot of screaming to their elected officials, another segment of the community voices their love of animals and effectively blocks any attempt to thin the population by hunting. This overpopulation causes inbreeding, poor nutrition, too much physical contact and general overall poor health.

As a result of conditions like these, an outbreak of Epizootiologoc Hemmoragic Disease (EHD) is underway in Northern Virginia. Many dead deer have been found on Fort Belvoir, Quantico and in various places in Fairfax County. While this reporter has not heard any reports of the diseased deer in Loudoun County, this may be just a matter of time. The disease is transmitted from deer to deer by a biting midge, normally at water sources. The emergence of the midges is being blamed on the long drought, followed by the heavy rains. Please keep an eye out for dead or lethargic deer. Before an infected deer dies, it becomes lethargic. When you approach the deer, it may not run away like normal. It may just stand or lay and allow you to approach.

Is this Mother Nature's way of thinning the herd? Could the herd be thinned in a more humane way, by judicious hunting in the area. Does a deer suffer more from a single, well placed bullet or arrow, than from a disease that disables the animal for upwards of a week, as it slowly succumbs to the disease? This is a debate that keeps people arguing constantly.

Mother Nature is a severe taskmaster. Her methods are not necessarily humane, nor is her purpose that of keeping all her animals alive. "Survival of the Fittest" is the watchword throughout nature and deer are not excluded. When it is necessary for nature to take drastic steps to ensure the survival of fit, healthy specimens, there is no room for remorse, only death to those who are too weak to survive the "cure".

Throughout Northern Virginia, there is a hue and cry among hunters, to allow them to thin the herds. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is so concerned with the exploding deer population in the Commonwealth, that there is no limit on the number of deer that a hunter may legally harvest this year. Although the big game license only allows four deer during the season, unlimited numbers of "bonus tags" are available for a fee, allowing the harvest of two deer for each such permit.

While this may seem cruel to a particular segment of our population, just one news story on Saturday's local news should be enough to justify the actions. A man, driving a truck on Centreville Road in Chantilly, had a deer come through the windshield of his truck, killing him. The early stage of the rut is in process now. Bucks are chasing does throughout the range. During the rut, they tend to pay no attention to where they are or what dangers await them. They will run out in front of a car or cross a solid string of traffic on an eight lane, divided highway. It matters not. The only thing that matters is the doe upon which this buck has his eye.

Those of you who hunt, may be doing the citizens of Northern Virginia a great service, by taking does out of the population, thus reducing the herd by an estimated seven animals. Due to your efforts and those of your fellow hunters, perhaps you or your loved ones will be spared the fate of the Chantilly truck driver.

Good huntin'....