Deer on the Domain

Jackson Sparkman
Executive Staff

On October 4, 2021, the Domain Manager of Sewanee, Nathan Wilson, sent an email to all current students advertising recently harvested venison. “The deer are field dressed, meaning that the organs and intestines have been removed, but they are otherwise intact carcasses with hide intact,” read many students. For some, this email was a jarring reminder of a horrid tradition on campus. For others, this was just the marker of the beginning of deer season on the campus of Sewanee.

Population of deer on the mountain has been a concern on the campus for several  decades. According to the Deer Management Plan of the University, the modern deer hunt on Sewanee started in 2000, when the Sewanee Police department shot and killed deer from baited stations from either firearm or bow. Deer congregated in yards, ate wildflowers, and were hit by cars. A decade ago, the program recorded the highest recorded herd, 54 individuals gathered in a single herd.

Historically, hunting deer around the Domain has been plagued by single-sex hunting. Recreationally, many hunters sought the largest male deer, or “bucks” shoot for competition or aesthetic value. The thought that kiling male deer was as an effective form of population management, and the cumulative effects of trophy hunting, which is to kill a male deer for their rack of antlers, might have led to a high female to male sex ratio in and around the Sewanee campus.  Now, deer hunting on the Domain includes careful monitoring of sex ratios to balance the deer population, and hunters help close the sex ratio gap by targeting does at a higher rate than bucks. 

“A population is of secondary importance to us. With a wild animal like deer, because of its breeding strategy, sex ratio is much more important,” Wilson said. . He continued, “Deer are promiscuous… the closer you get the sex ratio, the lower the fecundity [reproductive rate of deer] is.”

A map of the University’s deer hunting program for 2021.

The program has closed that gap from females to males in recent years. The current observed sex ratio sits at around 1.7, which is down considerably from around 2.5 females to males in 2016.  The state allows hunters in Sewanee to kill up to 3 does a day, each day, for the entirety of doe season. To participate in the University’s deer hunting program, each hunter has to kill at least four does for each buck that they kill. While students are on campus, only hunting with bows is allowed.

The University currently has 6 registered students participating in the deer program. They can choose among nine “Archery only” zones to stalk and harvest their prey. Cory Gurman (C’25) is a registered hunter on the Domain.  Informed by the prevalence of now dropping white-oak acorns and deer antler scrapings on the tree bark, Gurman set his hunting stand up in an area close to the Sewanee golf course on Saturday, October 23. 

Around 5:40 p.m., three does came near the stand to lick a salt block set out by another hunter. Gurman shot an arrow at a doe, severing a major artery. 

Gurman has been hunting with his father since he was eight years old. And this was the fourth deer that he has killed in his life. “I’m passionate about hunting because it brings me closer to the animal I’m harvesting,” Gurman said. 

“When they [people who haven’t hunted before] think of hunting, they think of the killing and some of the not-so pretty things associated with hunting, which is fair.” Gurman doesn’t want to foster an image of a careless camouflaged killer: “I don’t think any ethical hunter feels nothing. I mean you’ve just taken the life of a living creature… I feel like I respect that animal more than anyone else could.”

Joseph Brown (C’23), a student who works for Domain management and is a part of the deer program this year, hopes to get a deer this upcoming year. “I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with eating meat, and I would like to get to the point that any meat that I do eat is something that I have processed myself or someone I know has processed it, so I know where it’s coming from.”To receive a deer carcass culled from the program, you must be on a list organized through domain management. Processing the deer, which is to make the deer into ready-to-cook meat forms like steak or ground chuck, is up to the recipient’s discretion. Carcasses that aren’t claimed are distributed throughout the community by staff or the Hunters for the Hungry program.