That there was something wrong with these old theories was first brought home to Lauckhart in 1937 when an attempt was made to exterminate a herd of deer on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. The island, which is 50 miles long by three miles wide, yielded kills of little over 100 buck deer a year. Because the island's strawberry crop was being severely damaged, the game commission decided to throw open the season on deer of either sex, with no limitations on the number of hunters, in an attempt to kill off the entire offending deer herd. By season's end 400 deer had been killed. A similar season was continued the next year with the hope that the remaining deer would be eliminated. But again 400 deer were killed. Such unrestricted seasons have been continued for 18 years now and 500 to 600 deer are annually being harvested. Damage to crops has virtually ceased and the herd is healthier than ever before.
On Whidbey Island it was definitely demonstrated that permitting the killing of bucks, does and young had no effect whatever on the survival of the herd. Capacity for deer had been reached on the island, and it was only necessary to harvest the increase to keep them in a state of biological eruption.
Faced with the findings on Whidbey Island, Lauckhart came to a seemingly contradictory conclusion—that "the only way to produce and have more game is to kill more game."
Instituting a system of what he called "unit management," Lauckhart relaxed sex and age limitations on deer in Washington State, liberalized seasons and awaited results.
That was eight years ago. Under the buck-only rule the annual kill ran from around 23,000 to 30,000. Under the new shoot-anything rule the figure jumped to between 60,000 and 70,000 and this year reached an all-time record of just under 80,000. In spite of the increased kill there has been no sign of herd depletion in any sector of the state.
Three years ago Lauckhart summarized his findings in a paper which established him as the spokesman of the unlimited-harvest school. His views have not changed since. "Studies have shown," he said at the time, "that generally all ranges carry a capacity herd of deer at all times. There have been only a few instances in recent years of overhunting causing serious damage to a deer population. There have, however, been many instances where big-game animals have almost eliminated themselves by destroying their own food supply."
These unnecessary losses could best be understood, Lauckhart explained, if we consider habitat to be a bucket and deer to be the water with which it is filled to the brim. If reproduction pours in another quart of water it is all lost over the brim. But if hunting dips out a quart from the bucket there will be little spilled or lost from the quart of reproduction.
"It seems obvious that losses must equal reproduction or any species would continue to increase indefinitely," he said. "The species with the highest rate of reproduction must have the highest rate of loss and also the shortest average life span. Animals of a population having a 25% annual reproductive increase rate must have an average life expectancy of less than four years. Those having a 50% increase rate must have an average life of less than two years."
According to Lauckhart, when only buck deer are harvested the kill rarely exceeds 10% of the herd. Most herds, however, reproduce 35% or more per year. Therefore, a properly harvested deer herd should yield the equivalent of a threefold increase over its kill of bucks alone. One hundred percent increase in kill can be derived from does alone and the other 100% comes from increased survival of both bucks and does.