Menning: Just Doe It

Dartmouth, deer and New Hampshire would benefit from the regulated sale of hunted game.

by Isaiah Menning | 11/15/22 4:00am

This year, roughly 10,000 Granite Staters will return from the New Hampshire forests with harvested white-tailed deer. Though distant from campus, these hunters’ license fees will fund New Hampshire conservation while preventing deer overpopulation in places like Hanover. When they finish dressing and processing their harvested game, deer hunters will return home to share the wild venison with family and friends. However, they will not be able to sell their game to restaurants or butchers –– unlike the United Kingdom and Germany, New Hampshire bans the sale of wild venison. 

Why is this? Other nations sustain healthy wildlife populations while letting citizens sell hunted meat. Wild venison is arguably the most locally sourced, environmentally sustainable and healthy meat available, and yet most non-hunters are barred from enjoying it. Deer hunting is a personally costly activity that funds conservation and keeps wildlife populations in check, though  hunters cannot reap monetary compensation for their services. Deer hunting is in alarming decline, and still the state blocks incentives for younger citizens from getting involved in wildlife management, threatening both the ability to control deer populations and fund future conservation efforts. 

New Hampshire is not alone –– the sale of wild venison is banned across the United States. The origins of this policy lie in the North American Model of Conservation, a longstanding principle for wildlife management in the U.S. and Canada. Conservationists developed the North American Model in the early 20th century after centuries of ecological devastation that saw the wanton destruction of bison, elk, pronghorn and, yes, the white-tailed deer native to New Hampshire. Through placing wildlife in the public trust, eliminating game markets and regulating hunting, many game species have fully recovered. 

While the North American Model has seen remarkable results, it warrants a revisitation. For white-tailed deer, the modern conundrum is overpopulation and diminishing interest in hunting, not impending extinction and overwhelming market demand. Experimentally opening a regulated wild venison market could be the answer. 

What would a regulated venison market look like? Up until the point of sale, it would look much like the current system. Using the best available science, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department would set hunting quotas for each of their management units and sell permits to licensed hunters. Then, after legally harvesting their deer, hunters could choose to sell all or a portion of the usable venison to USDA-approved butchers. New Hampshire already allows USDA-approved butchers to process venison for food bank donations, so minimal regulatory investments would be necessary. Venison could then be sold to restaurants, delis or grocery stores, where everyday consumers could enjoy the bounties of the New Hampshire ecosystem while supporting conservation. 

Some might worry that a wild venison market would recreate the exact incentives that necessitated the North American Model in the first place –– if one could sell deer meat, incentives for poaching would skyrocket. However, this scenario simply hasn’t occurred in similar situations around the world. The U.K. successfully conserves large deer populations with wild venison markets. If anything, wild venison is underconsumed in the British market despite its historic acceptance in food culture –– the U.K. government actively provides business tips for venison producers. Similar to the U.K., New Hampshire has abundant deer populations with the science and regulatory infrastructure to sustainably harvest, but unlike the U.K., eating commercial wild venison is not a cultural norm. 

Rather than threatening wildlife, a New Hampshire wild venison market would help secure the future of wild deer populations while benefiting people. If a hunter could sell a portion of their venison, this could go a long way in offsetting the cost of hunting. If hunting becomes less costly, or even a way to make money, this would remove major barriers that prevent young and low-income New Hampshire residents from hunting. By fostering hunting in youth while increasing equitable access, New Hampshire could safeguard public interest in healthy deer populations and the people it will need to control deer populations in the near future. Further, if wild venison is in enough demand, New Hampshire could tax the sale of game to secure funding for non-game wildlife conservation. Decoupling conservation funding from hunting permit revenue would be a major improvement in one of the North American Model’s greatest shortcomings.  

Further, a wild venison market would provide healthy, locally sourced and environmentally responsible food to non-hunters, including many students at Dartmouth. For Dartmouth and Hanover, restaurant and DDS patrons could be presented with a choice of real meat that does not support industrial animal cruelty, large-scale greenhouse emissions and appalling labor conditions. When non-hunting town residents and students eat white-tailed deer venison, they will be invested in the local ecosystem that provides not only recreational trail access and beautiful foliage, but their very food.

A regulated wild venison market could be a win-win for wildlife and humans, and New Hampshire could pioneer it. Dartmouth and Hanover could offer healthy wild venison, the future of deer conservation could be supported, and New Hampshire could collect funds for conserving the Northwoods’ full biodiversity. The bold step of updating the North American Model of Conservation would not be easy, but the benefits of a market and the stakes of wildlife’s future merit trying.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!