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Does Hunting Reduce Lyme Disease?

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Black-legged ticks

Black-legged ticks with information cards from the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Stephen Chermin / Getty Images
Question: Does Hunting Reduce Lyme Disease?
Answer:

No, hunting has not been proven to reduce Lyme disease, but pesticides targeting black-legged ticks have proven to be very effective against Lyme disease. Those who claim that deer hunting reduces Lyme disease are not aware of how Lyme disease spreads or of how hunting causes state wildlife agencies to increase the deer population.

Lyme disease is spread to humans by black-legged ticks, which used to be called "deer ticks" until it was proven that "deer ticks" are not a separate species. Unforunately for the deer, the name "deer tick" is still commonly used. Lyme disease and black-legged ticks spread to humans mainly through mice, not deer.

Learn more about the life cycle of the black-legged tick.

Preventing Lyme Disease

Black-legged ticks can live on mice, squirrels, cattle, humans, deer and other mammals. The ticks cannot jump or fly. Instead, they climb vegetation, wait for a potential host to pass by, and grab onto that animal as they brush past. After sucking blood from their host, the ticks fall off and then wait for another host. More homes have mice nearby than deer, and mice get closer to homes, dropping ticks right next to areas that people frequent.

Neither the American Lyme Disease Foundation nor the Lyme Disease Foundation recommend hunting to prevent Lyme disease. Instead, LDF offers tips for preventing tick bites such as:

  • Avoid tick-infested areas
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, in light colors
  • Apply tick repellant
  • Check yourself frequently for ticks
  • Check your pets for ticks

The LDF website also has tips for reducing ticks on one's property, such as clearing brush and litter.

One proven way to combat Lyme disease is pesticides that target the ticks, such as Damminix Tick Tubes. Damminix Tick Tubes are small tubes filled with pesticide-treated cotton balls. Mice will take the cotton balls to line their nests, where the pesticide will kill the ticks. The pesticides are safe for mice and other mammals.

Ironically, it's well-known among hunters that those who participate in outdoor activities like hunting are at an increased risk for the disease. Grand View Outdoors, a hunting website, calls Lyme disease "The Hunter's Disease".

Hunting and the Deer Population

While hunters claim they help reduce the deer population, that's not the goal or the effect of hunting. State wildlife agencies are supported in part by sales of hunting licenses, so the goal of deer management is to keep the population high so that there are plenty of deer for hunters to kill. The mission statements of some wildlife agencies even dictate that they manage wildlife for recreational purposes. Learn more about state wildlife agencies, including their methods for increasing the deer population, here.

Whether reducing the deer population would reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in people has not been proven, but in the United States, hunting is not about reducing the deer population.

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