Surprisingly, another of the lion's most formidable foes has been the sportsman, who, above all others, should be its staunchest ally. Like the rancher, the sportsman's attitude toward the lion developed not because of malice but because of misinformation. The prime item in the lion's diet is deer. The prime target for most U.S. big-game hunters is also deer. Where the pioneer once considered the lion's taste for deer a threat to his personal survival, many hunters consider the lion a threat to their sport. If a lion eats two deer a week, they figure, each dead lion must mean more than 100 deer saved every year for the sportsman.
Aside from the error in the initial figures (an average lion seldom eats more than one deer per week), there is gross error in this logic. Among the important factors not considered in such thinking is the kind of deer lions eat. The lion consistently culls the weak, the infirm, the subnormal, the poorest of the herd. It is, in fact, one of nature's most precise game-management tools.
But if the hunter has been slow in recognizing the lion's place among the ecological facts of life, he has been even slower in recognizing its place in his own sport. For, of all the many convincing arguments for granting the American lion the game status it deserves in this country, the most convincing of all is the sporting challenge it offers the hunter. The real measure of a game animal is not the food it eats, the coat it makes, the meat it provides or the cost of the license required to hunt it. It is the contest it offers the hunter on which an animal is really judged. Of the many contests available to the sportsman in this country, there are few animals as exciting or as challenging as the lion.