Who owns that deer?

Does proposed Kansas law overturn North American Model of Conservation?

By Tony Hansen

Brow Tines and Backstrap

Who owns the deer that live in the United States?

How about the deer that live in your state?

Let’s narrow it down a bit more. Who owns the deer that live in your county? How about on the land that you own?

To me, the answer is always the same: We own those deer. All of us.

See, I’m a student of the North American Conservation Model, which states that wildlife resources are held in a public trust, meaning wildlife is not “owned” by anyone. It’s a resource that belongs to all of us.

From a macro level, I suspect all who read this would agree. The whitetail population we so cherish in this country is a national resource owned by all Americans.

I suspect we tend to agree at the state level, as well. As a Michigan resident, I’ve heard plenty of talk about “our” deer herd.

But what happens when you talk about the deer on your land? Deer that walk by your trail cameras, that you glass from your treestand?

Does the fact that those deer live on land you own change your view of “ownership?”

I found myself thinking hard about that question while reading a report about a proposed law in Kansas that would require the state to turn over animal parts – including antlers – of animals poached off private land to the landowners.

Currently, any deer poached in Kansas becomes property of the state.

But one Kansas landowner is pushing hard to see that law changed, and he’s getting support from state lawmakers.

In November of 2011, Kansas resident David Kent spotted several deer in the headlights of his truck. He pulled out a 9mm handgun and fired two shots. One of the deer fell. He decapitated the animal, tossed the head in the back of his truck, and then attempted to pass off the buck as a legal kill.

The deer would have been a new state record typical, taping nearly 200 inches as a 7×7.

Kent, according to his statement to Kansas wildlife officers, killed the deer on – or very near – land owned by the mother of Timothy Nedeau.

Nedeau believes that because the deer was allegedly killed on land owned by his mother, he was not only entitled to the $8,000 in state-ordered restitution paid by Kent but also was entitled to the buck’s antlers.

There are all sorts of back-story to this tale, and there is now confusion as to whether the buck was actually killed while standing on land owned by Nadeau’s mother or whether it was on a neighboring parcel.

None of that really matters here. What matters is this: The Kansas House passed a bill that would require the state to turn antlers and other animal parts over to the landowner of the land where the animal was poached. If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, it would become law.

Which gives me pause.

The antlers of that poached buck likely carry a high level of value. I have no idea what a state record typical rack might be worth, but it’s safe to say it would be worth thousands.

Because a trophy-class animal spends time on a landowner’s property, does that mean the animal now “belongs” to that landowner if it’s killed illegally?

If a law is passed stating that poached bucks killed on their land must be turned over to them, does that not signify those deer are the “property” of the landowner?

There is a model in which landowners own the land and the critters that live on it. It’s called the European model. And it’s all about the privatization of wildlife… about controlling who can hunt and who can’t.

In short, it is everything the North American model is not. And that is something to think about.