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The Deerslayer, the Suburban Cowboy, and the Militia

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Article first appeared at Ammoland.com

Ammoland – From time to time, an email circulates on the web that purports to count the number of hunters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and some other states, then compares those numbers to the army sizes of several nations around the world.

The idea behind this comparison is the notion that it would be foolish for a foreign nation, China for instance, to invade the United States. None of those emails that I have seen have had any supporting documentation, though. Digging around on the Internet, I found a report at Bear Miller Outdoors, but no supporting links.

With curiosity aroused, I decided to research the subject, with a different twist. I decided to look at annual deer harvests in Tennessee and surrounding states, and for the United States as a whole. For the sake of simplicity, one deer tag equals one deerslayer. A deerslayer, then, is someone who has killed a living animal that approximates a human in size.

But counting deerslayers wasn’t sufficient to tell the whole story, so I decided to include what I will call suburban cowboys. I define these as owners of modern autoloaders such as AR-15’s and their variants, AK-47’s and their variants, and other semi-automatic rifles and shotguns; and a host of pistols and revolvers. Some of the handgun owners will have handgun carry permits.

Another group that adds significantly to the tally is the number of citizens of all ages who have borne arms for the Stars and Stripes, in particular those who have seen the elephant.

Obviously, there is significant crossover among these groups. The deerslayers may have been in uniform. The suburban cowboys may hunt. The defensive handgun users may hunt, and may participate in competitive shooting.


We will look at Tennessee and its contiguous states, and the most recent data easily found on them, then look at the national total. Here are recent total kills, in increasing order:

Kentucky                    85,467

Tennessee                   148,865

North Carolina            153,629

Virginia’s                   190,745

South Carolina            202,952

Arkansas                     211,048

Mississippi                 258,341

Alabama                      300,000

Georgia                       412,068

Total                            1,900,000

The deer kill in these nine southeastern states approaches 2 million.  Even the largely urban state of New Jersey, with its restrictive gun laws recently reported an annual harvest of 52,704. The American rifleman reported a deer harvest of 6.2 million deer by some 10 million hunters in 2010.

There are other game animals that were not researched for this report. This includes small game such a squirrels and rabbits, and other big game, such as moose, bear, antelope, and elk. Understanding that here, too, there will be some crossover, it is safe to speculate that somewhere between six and ten million Americans kill a large game animal each year, and many more kill small game (aim small, miss small). Most of these animals were killed by someone who had some skill as a marksman, and some degree of woodcraft. This data suggests that at any given time, perhaps eight million deerslayers could take to the field.

Suburban cowboys packin’ heat

Having shown that multiple millions of adequately skilled hunting marksmen are here in the United States, we look now at citizens with handgun carry permits. There are now over 250,000 permits in Tennessee, and according to the Dr. John Lott at the Crime Prevention Research Center, the number of permits nationwide was over 11 million in 2014. These armed individuals have all taken the serious step of jumping through their respective state’s hoops, paid the requisite poll tax on their second amendment right, and carry a loaded handgun in public. Some states have enacted Constitutional Carry, requiring no permit, and there is no way to count the ones carrying in those states. Allowing for some crossover, all these individuals combined with the deerslayers could amount to fifteen million or more!

Suburban cowboys and the modern sporting rifle

The FBI reported over 23 million NICS checks in 2015. Although no clear statistics could be found, a good percentage of those are modern sporting rifles such as the AR-15. It is commonly accepted that the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America and Americans are buying guns a a record pace, including these rifles. Making a wild guess that twenty percent of these are AR-15’s, AK’s, and other sporting rifles similar to military designs, we have between four and five million of these that went into private ownership just last year! For purposes of this report, we do not even attempt to speculate how many more of such rifles are out there.

The militia

Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” (Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.)

The Founders recognized that the people are the militia, and the Second Amendment codified the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Just the groups mentioned above could potentially fall out as twenty-five million militiamen.

How does this compare to the armies of the world? Here are the top eight armies, with their troop strength, according to globalsecurity.org:

1. USA (Army and Marines) 1.3 million
2. China 1.25 million
3. South Korea 1.24 million
4. India 1.12 million
5. North Korea 1 million
6. Israel 633,000
7. Pakistan 550,000
8. Russia 415,000

These nations combined could field around 7.5 million soldiers.

So, how would the 25 million militiamen fare against a land invasion from China? It seems that barring use of nuclear weapons by the Chinese, and assuming that we could muster up the willpower, America would suffer tremendous loss, but ultimately prevail.

I can now confirm that the email mentioned at the beginning is believable. Let those who would deprive Americans of their birthright as an armed warrior nation take a warning from Tenche Coxe, and we who support the right to keep and bear arms continue to voice his words that, “The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”

About the Author:

Liston Matthews is a longtime firearms civil rights advocate in Knoxville, TN. He is involved with the Tennessee Firearms Association, and executive director of the Farragut Gun Club. Visit his website at www.KnoxGunGuy.com.

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