On October 4, 2021, Sewanee Estate Manager Nathan Wilson emailed all current students promoting recently harvested venison. “The deer are dressed in the field, which means the organs and intestines have been removed, but they are otherwise intact carcasses with intact skin,” many students read. To some, the email was a shocking reminder of a horrific tradition on campus. For others, it was just the marker for the start of deer season on the Sewanee campus.
The deer population on the mountain has been a concern on campus for several decades. According to the university’s deer management plan, modern deer hunting on Sewanee began in 2000, when the Sewanee Police Department slaughtered deer from stations baited with a gun or bow. The deer gathered in the yards, ate wild flowers and were struck by cars. Ten years ago, the program had the highest herd ever on record, 54 individuals in one herd.
Historically, deer hunting around the Estate has been plagued by single-sex hunting. For recreation, many hunters sought out the larger buck deer, or “bucks” shot for competition or aesthetic value. The idea that killing male deer was an effective form of population management, and the cumulative effects of trophy hunting, which involves killing a male deer for its antlers, may have led to a male / female relationship high in and around the Sewanee campus. Now, deer hunting on the estate includes careful monitoring of sex ratios to balance the deer population, and hunters are helping close the sex ratio gap by targeting females at a higher rate than males.
“A population is secondary to us. With a wild animal like deer, because of its reproductive strategy, the sex ratio is much more important, ”Wilson said. . He continued, “Deer are promiscuous… the closer you get to the sex ratio, the lower the fertility. [reproductive rate of deer] is.”
The program has bridged this gap between women and men in recent years. The sex ratio currently observed is around 1.7, which is significantly down from about 2.5 females compared to males in 2016. The state allows Sewanee hunters to kill up to 3 goats per day, every day, throughout the deer season. To participate in the University’s deer hunting program, each hunter must kill at least four does for each buck he kills. While students are on campus, only bow hunting is permitted.
The University currently has 6 students enrolled who participate in the deer program. They can choose from nine “Archery Only” areas to stalk and harvest their prey. Cory Gurman (C’25) is a registered hunter on the Estate. Informed by the prevalence of white oak acorns and deer antler scrapings on tree bark, Gurman set up his hunting stand in an area near the Sewanee golf course on Saturday, October 23.
Around 5:40 p.m., three does approached the stand to lick a block of salt placed by another hunter. Gurman shot an arrow at a doe, severing a main artery.
Gurman has been hunting with his father since he was eight years old. And it was the fourth deer he killed in his life. “I am passionate about hunting because it brings me closer to the animal I am harvesting,” said Gurman.
“When they [people who haven’t hunted before] think of the hunt, they think of the murder and some of the not-so-pretty things associated with the hunt, which is fair. Gurman doesn’t want to promote the image of a careless camouflaged killer: “I don’t think an ethical hunter doesn’t feel anything. I mean you just killed a living creature… I feel like I respect this animal more than anyone.
Joseph Brown (C’23), a student who works for estate management and is part of the deer program this year, hopes to get a deer this coming year. “I have re-evaluated my relationship with eating meat and I would like to come to the point that any meat I eat is something that I have transformed myself or that someone I know has transformed it, so i know where it’s coming from. To receive a deer carcass slaughtered under the program, you must be on a list organized by estate management. The deer processing, which involves turning the deer into ready-to-cook forms of meat like a steak or chuck, is at the recipient’s discretion. Carcasses that are not claimed are distributed throughout the community by staff or Hunters for the hungry program.