What is the value of a deer?

Thought about that when I ran across a news story about Texas deer breeders who paid $450,000 for a deer named Dream Buck.

That’s correct: $450,000; almost half a million smackaroos for a deer.

What made this white-tailed deer so dreamy were his antlers, which scored an astounding 301 3/8 points when this buck was four years old. Dream Buck was purchased for selective breeding to produce other big-racked deer. His owners had no problem recouping their investment by selling the deer’s semen to other breeders.

Of course, deer like Dream Buck are as rare as 20-pound bass. The price paid for this animal was a record and in no way reflects the value of an ordinary deer pursued by an average hunter like you or me.

Which leaves me still begging the question: What is the value of a deer?

dee cost moneyIn centuries past, when deer hides and venison were common items of trade, those doing the trading knew quite well the value of a deer or part thereof. In 1718, for example, every frontiersman knew one tanned deerskin could be traded for one pound of black powder, 40 bullets or 20 flints. A rifle could be obtained for 25 deerskins, a pistol for 12, an ax for four, a coat for 12 and a blanket for six.

Using the word “buck” as a synonym for “dollar” originated from these trading practices. Each skin originally was referred to as a buckskin, which later was shortened to just buck as in “A pound of black powder will cost you one buck.”

Rarely was a buckskin worth a dollar, however. During the nineteenth century, U.S. prices ranged from 20 cents per pound to 75 cents per hide. Deer hides were made into clothing, rugs, wall covers, upholstery, bellows, harnessing, saddles, handbags, bookbinding and more.

Venison also served as an important exchange medium. Prices ranged from a halfpenny per pound in 1831 to a high of about 30 cents per pound in the late 1870s. By the turn of the century, however, as citizens became less dependent on wild animal foods, venison prices had fallen to 8 to 15 cents per pound.

Today, you’d get some funny looks if you threw 25 tanned deer hides up on the counter at the gun shop and asked for a rifle in return. And if you try selling wild venison, you’ll be a law violator. Nevertheless, we still find reasons to ask now and then, “What is the dollar value of a deer?” Fortunately for us, people have figured out exactly what that value is.

For example, when studying economic losses resulting from deer/vehicle crashes, economists can’t compute bottom-line losses without first knowing the estimated value of each deer thus killed. So, someone in this group did all kinds of arithmetic and came up with the figure of $1,250. That is, one deer is worth, economically speaking, approximately $1,250.

Other researchers disagree. They say the dollar value of a deer is twice this amount, even if the total is based on hunting expenditures alone.

Therefore, depending on who you want to believe, one deer — the regular type and not big-antlered breeding stock like Dream Buck — has a dollar value somewhere between $1,250 and $2,500.

That’s a big spread, so last season, I figured I’d do some economic research myself in hopes of pinpointing a more exact figure. I did this while deer hunting with sons Matt and Zach.

My first computations were based on reasonable expenses incurred by the three of us while pursuing whitetails on a two-day hunt. Those expenses were:

deer worth• Three refuge hunting permits: $60

• Motel room for two nights: $100

• Meals for two days: $115.70

• Travel expenses: $93.15

• Ammunition: $1.30 (for the one and only one round fired this trip)

This totals $370.15. Our hunting trip produced one doe deer killed by Matt. This deer weighed 91 pounds on the hoof. It therefore cost us $4.06 a pound. Had Zach and I killed a deer, too (neither of us saw one that was legal), the cost per pound would have been considerably lower. Had the three of us traveled to Alberta, Canada, to hunt, the cost per pound would have risen exponentially.

Can these cost-per-pound figures help you calculate the value of a deer? Of course not. I present them here just to show you how foolish it really is to try and come up with an accurate figure that shows the true economic value of a deer.

In the end, however, a deer’s economic value is pretty meaningless to most of us anyway. Dollars and cents have nothing to do with the reasons we value deer and other wildlife so highly.

I’ve decided to think of it like that old MasterCard commercial:

All expenses-paid trip to your favorite deer hunting area: $370.15

Getting to spend some time in the deer woods with family and friends: Priceless!

There are some things your bucks just can’t buy.