The Age of Deer: Trouble and Kinship with Our Wild Neighbours by Erika Howsare - review by Patrick Scrivenor

Patrick Scrivenor

Unhappy Hunting Ground

The Age of Deer: Trouble and Kinship with Our Wild Neighbours


Icon Books 368pp £20

There are fifty-five species of deer in the world, but it is the American white-tailed deer on which Erika Howsare concentrates in this book. She is mainly concerned with the relationships between deer and the human population, and with the ethics of hunting them. If much of her book verges on the touchy-feely, she nonetheless covers the history and, for lack of a better word, the sociology of human interactions with deer thoroughly and entertainingly.

She traces the fortunes of the white-tailed deer from the arrival of the first humans to the present. Pre-Columbian deer numbers in North America have been assessed at about fifty million. By 1800 the total was down to twelve million and by 1900 five million. In some eastern states, the population had fallen to near-extinction levels. This was mirrored by a rise in the European population of North America, from a few hundred in 1600 to more than two million at the time of the American Revolution and seventy-six million in 1900. Today white-tailed deer are found in large numbers only in Finland, and there are none in the UK.

By the 1930s the population of white-tailed deer across the United States was down to 300,000. Howsare can remember a time when to see a deer was a rarity. Now roadkill carcasses are common. No wonder, because today the white-tailed population alone numbers thirty million. This resurgence has come about thanks to hunter-led conservation and repopulation programmes, as well as to the white-tailed deer’s ability to adapt to semi-suburban surroundings. Curiously, it is now conservationists who are calling for a reduction in deer numbers.

The Great American Hunter is a difficult chap to understand, and, while Howsare strives nobly to do so, I don’t think she has really got the measure of him. The roots of his pursuit lie in the ideal of fair chase – a lone hunter pitting his wits against the

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