Oh Deer! Environmental Education through the Lens of a Hunter

Each year I find a new topic to share at the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education (ANJEE) Winter Conference. This year my theme is  “Oh Deer! Environmental Education through the lens of a Hunter”

Participants explore how we can build a stronger understanding and interest in the natural world through the culture and customs of the hunting community. They learn what it takes to become a licensed hunter in New Jersey, how to age a deer by the teeth and how hunting remains a strong tool for creating environmental advocates and preserving open space.  Together we experience lessons that try to provide a balanced exploration of controversial issues and help shed an understanding on hunter perspectives.

I’ll start with open exploration of inquiry based activity learning areas.

Critter Cameras

critter camera, natureintoactioncritter camera, nature into action

Deer Teeth Aging for Quality Deer Management: We can determine the age of a deer by examining the wear of their molars. We examine the exposed tooth called a “crown” and the points on each tooth called “cusps” and use it as a diagnostic tool for aging. 

  • Fewer then 6 teeth and no wear= fawn – less than 6 months old.                                       
  • 6 teeth and light wear on teeth, very thin brown line through teeth – 1 1/2 years old.
  • Moderate wear, brown line thicker then a heavy line from a pen – 2 1/2 years old.     
  • Heavy wear, brown line unquestionably thick – greater then 3 years old.

We also look at the lower incisors and how deer can rip or tear vegetation and “gum” the food with their muscular upper lip (absent of top incisors) before moving the food back to the molars for grinding. If you examine twig browse you can see the rough, jagged edge from deer pulling or tearing while a rabbit browse would be smooth and clean cut from using sharp upper and lower incisors to bite through the twig.

Lenape Native American Reliance on White-Tailed Deer

Deer Skeleton Anatomy:  Deer have long thin legs and small, hard, sharply, pointed hooves. The long legs help deer run fast and jump high, making it easier for them to escape predators. They can jump eight feet high clearing obstacles, even from a standstill. They can jump 25ft clearing long distances without struggling through obstacles. 

deer skeleton anatomy lesson, natureintoactionOh Deer, Nature Into Action

Deer Skull Anatomy:  We discuss the anatomy of the skull and examine the deer’s eye sockets. They are large for the deer’s body size and are able to gather available light, helping them to see in near darkness. Deer are colorblind but are able to see very small, quick movements. 


Deer Tracking in Moon Sand

Deer as Nutritious Food: The priority of hunters is to acquire quality meat for their family. Harvesting big bucks often takes additional skill, patience and perseverance and adds to the accomplishment. Being able to share the nutritious, delicious, quality food throughout the year is a big part of the culture of what it means to be a hunter. 

Deer Antler Tines and Beam Measurement and Boone and Crockett Scoring Lab!  The antler is bone material made mostly of calcium and the size is more a representation of diet and heredity than age. With exceptions, a buck will have small button antlers at six months of age and be called a button buck, at age 1 1/2  they often show two spikes/tines and are known as a spike buck or may grow 4 points and be called a crotchhorn, forkhorn or forky. As they age 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 4 1/2 they may show more antler tines and thicker beams and become quite wise and difficult to harvest and are refereed to as ol’ “Charlie” or a nickname of your choice. 

and Deer Ticks

and follow-up with an adapted Oh Deer! lesson from Project Wild that includes additional population dynamic factors of hunters, predators, vehicles and disease.

If time allows, we’ll also read the situation statement in the Deer Dilemma lesson from Project Wild and act out the various stakeholder perspectives.

Finally, participants will discuss New Jersey Hunter Safety and learn about license and permit fees through the hunter digest magazine.

A shorter version of this presentation is available as a class,

OH DEER!  Play predator and prey games and explore the White-Tailed Deer through inquiry and exploration! Examine the anatomical structure of a deer as we piece together a skeleton, learn how to age a deer by looking at its teeth and examine deer sign along the trail as we search for rubs, scrapes, scat, tracks, bedding area and browse.


Resource List:

Where does the Pittman-Robertson-Tax-Money-Really-Go?

Handouts from Oh Deer from Project Wild

Handouts from Deer Dilemma from Project Wild

Please contact me if you would like this presentation facilitated for your group.

My past presentation topics shared at the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education (ANJEE) Winter Conference have included Buzz Into Action, Hop Into Action, Recycling Education, Wild About Wildlife, Using Digital Mapping to Improve Nature Access, Backyard Habitats, The Science of Air, How to Lead Nature Walks and Practical Ethnobotany in the Mid Atlantic .

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com


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