Hunters don’t just shoot at anything that appears in their sights; they are constantly making choices. That is because hunting is strictly regulated and because they have their own preferences. A red deer stag is more likely to be targeted than a female with young.
Hunters prefer to shoot male rather than female deer.
According to Wageningen economist Andries Richter of Environmental Economics and Natural Resources, hunters’ behaviour has not been studied much. He and his Norwegian colleagues developed a model that explains this behaviour. The model approaches the choices a hunter makes when he has an animal in his sights as an ‘optimal stop problem’. Richter: ‘Every time, the hunter compares the advantages of shooting now with the advantages of waiting for the next animal.’ Richter compared it with house-hunting. ‘Do I buy this house or do I wait in case an even nicer house comes along?’ The hunter’s expectations can be modelled with three simple, measurable variables, says Richter: the number of animals passing by, the amount of time the hunter has left in the hunting season, and the size of the group that is out hunting.
It is important to gain a good understanding of hunters’ behaviour, says Richter, because it can have a big influence on the ecology of animals. In Europe, for example, about 80 to 90 percent of red deer die at the hands of hunters. Red deer seldom live to be very old, therefore. Half of all the males do not survive their first couple of years.
To test the model, the researchers are using a huge database of 256 hunting locations in Norway, built up over more than ten years. The data records almost 182,000 decisions made by hunters, the deer they shot and the deer they let go. The model takes into consideration the influence of the weather, the day of the week, and the position of the moon. The model seems to reflect the actual results of the hunting accurately.
Hunters are least selective towards the end of the hunting season, when they hunt together, and when there are fewer animals in the area. They also shoot more readily on weekdays and by full moon.