SI Vault
 
A MORE SENSIBLE WAY TO HUNT
Charles W. Thayer
October 28, 1963
A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 28, 1963

A More Sensible Way To Hunt

A former diplomat, shown here stalking deer in the Alpine solitude of his private Bavarian reserve, tells America how to profit from a centuries-old European system

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Furthermore, the law says that the quota be reckoned so that the ratio of male to female deer shall be 1 to 1 and for chamois not greater than two males to three females. While this provision is often questioned by conservationists, the reasoning, based on generations of experience, is that an excess of females leads to degeneration of herds.

The finally approved shooting quota for our 2,500-acre reserve was one first-rate stag, four smaller stags, 12 hinds, eight roebuck and 14 does. This quota is not a large one for the acreage, but it should be pointed out that the area lies in intensively worked dairy farmland and is within one or two miles of a bustling village of 6,000. Since the quota is on an annual basis, the seasons are limited only by biological considerations—the breeding season and the development of the antlers. Thus the roebuck season begins in June but does may not be shot before September. Young hinds can be shot beginning in July, and stags beginning in August. All shooting stops as soon as the heavy snow comes, and in any case not later than January 15.

The quota is not simply permissive. It must be fulfilled unless unusual circumstances, such as an early winter, prevent it. Since the system automatically makes the hunter a conservationist as well, there is often a reluctance to shoot the whole quota, particularly the hinds and does, on the theory that the population can be built up for later years. The county agent, however, aided by state game wardens and often by the farmers themselves, keeps a sharp eye on what is shot and can impose heavy fines if a hunter fudges his reports.

When, for example, I suggested to my partner that we report more does shot than was the case, he was shocked. "All they have to do is ask the innkeeper how many deer we sold him," he objected. When I suggested we claim we butchered them ourselves and used them at home he laughed in my face. "The county agent caught on to that trick a hundred years ago," he said.

The contract we had signed also required us to pay for damages done by ourselves or by the game to crops or to the forest. As a result of a long hard winter the previous year, the deer had attacked a newly planted nursery of spruce and nipped the tops of the young trees. An impartial commission of forestry experts had evaluated the damage at $50, which The Knogler and myself had to pay.

The reserve owner is also obliged to provide feeding stations for his game during the winter. This is particularly important in mountain areas, since neither roe nor red deer are naturally mountain animals, having been driven there by population pressures from the plains. While the cost of maintaining feeding stations and providing hay and nutrients is not great, it is often a hard job, especially when heavy snows make it necessary to carry the feed long distances on one's back.

The reserve owner shares with the forestry officials and the police the obligation to protect the game against poachers. The law deals sternly with illegal hunters. Even for the first offense their weapons are confiscated and the fine is considerable. Second or third offenders can be and often are jailed. Because of this, the few poachers who cannot control their hunting passions usually go to extreme lengths to avoid arrest. The prewar German law authorized game wardens and owners to shoot armed poachers after a single warning, but now a more lenient law requires three warnings. Wardens resent this change, with some justification, claiming that nowadays more wardens are shot by poachers than vice versa.

Finally, the owner of a reserve must pay a substantial yearly sum for his privileges. This is divided among the farmers on whose land he shoots. The sum varies according to the amount of game in the area. In my neighborhood each farmer gets about 40� per acre, which, as one of them told me, just about covers the cost of the artificial fertilizers for their fields.

The landowner-hunter relationship that has plagued hunting in many areas in America is scarcely a problem in the European system. The long lease guarantees that hunters will not overshoot or exploit the territory. It also protects the farmer against damages caused by both the hunter and the game, and it provides a small but sure cash income that the poor mountain farmers, at least, value highly. Since the farmers themselves select the hunter by vote from the highest bidders, they can make sure that he is agreeable to themselves.

Whenever I come back to the United States and exchange hunting experiences with my fellow Americans, they complain that our own fences are in a sorry state of disarray. Yet our problems are basically the same as those on the other side of the Atlantic—growing population pressures, intensified land use and in consequence dwindling of areas where game can thrive and hunters may shoot. In my discussions with sportsmen from Maryland to the West Coast, I often have been asked whether or not some European practices could profitably be adapted to American conditions.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7