Practical Issues >
Fishing & Hunting >
Hunting - Index
Facts: Deer Population Control
In recent years, deer populations have increased to numbers
unsupportable by wildlife habitat alone. Many researchers believe
that this increase results from continued human incursion into deer
habitat, and the mismanagement of deer populations by forest and
wildlife authorities who see hunting as the primary means of
Present Wildlife Management
Wildlife and land management agencies
purport to effectively limit deer populations to numbers sustainable by
their natural habitat. In reality, the policies of such agencies
exacerbate deer overpopulation, serving only to provide a population
large enough to suit sport hunters. The overpopulation of deer stems not
only from the specific mismanagement of deer populations, but from the
mismanagement of our forestlands and natural areas.
Currently, there are approximately eight does for every buck in the
wild. Laws restrict the number of does that hunters may kill. Deer do
not have monogamous mating relationships, and bucks will often mate with
more than one female. As a result, the ratio of does to bucks sets the
stage for a population explosion.
Allowing hunters to kill more does, however, does not resolve
population problems. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
the open hunting of does left fawns without mothers, and removed too
many females from the breeding population. Sport hunting decimated deer
populations in many states. As a result, states passed laws restricting
the hunting of does. These policies have contributed to the
overpopulation of deer.
Hunting does remove some animals from the population, but it does
not keep deer populations at a continually reduced level. Immediately
after a hunt, the remaining animals flourish because less competition
for food exists, allowing the remaining animals to live healthier lives,
and resulting in a higher reproductive rate.
Left alone by humans, the ratio of does to bucks would be
approximately equal. In Defense of Animals believes that sport hunting
is not only an ineffective wildlife management tool, but a cruel and
unnecessary practice. Sport hunting should be banned, allowing deer
populations to regulate themselves naturally.
Banning sport hunting, however, is only one of the measures needed
to control deer population. We also need to change the land management
policies that create large deer populations, and to limit deer access to
vegetation in human habitations.
national, private, and state owned lands are open to logging. The
natural fires that used to renew forests are no longer allowed to burn
with regularity. Thus, logging companies and many land management
agencies argue that logging is a means of maintaining a forest's health,
allowing saplings and ground cover access to sun. In reality, logging
normally takes the form of clear cutting.
Companies demolish large stands of trees, rather than selectively
taking trees from different stands of timber. This practice ill effects
animals dependent on trees for food and cover. It also creates fields of
additional "browse" vegetation for deer, causing a surge in deer
population attributable to the introduction of this food source. In
turn, governments argue that hunting should be used to control the
resulting population increase.
Human Incursions Into Deer Habitat
Deer enjoy eating the vegetation offered by homes in suburban and urban
developments, and munching on farm crops. These developments, built in
formerly forested and fielded areas, provide ideal edge and winter
feeding grounds for deer. Humans can take measures to limit the access
deer have to such food sources.
Reducing deer access to vegetation in residential developments will
force deer to be more reliant on wild vegetation. When deer must rely on
available wild lands for their only food source, a corresponding drop in
deer population should take place.
In addition, preventing deer from seeing residential developments as
a food source should reduce the contact and conflicts between humans and
By changing hunting, land management
policies, and human development practices, we can better control deer
populations. Some or all of the following measures should be employed.Ban sport hunting.
Reintroduce natural predators, such as wolves and mountain lions,
where possible. Maintain existing populations of natural predators.
Ban clear-cut logging.
Allow fires to burn naturally in wildlife areas. Limit new human
habitations in wildlife areas, decreasing the risk of property damage in
the event of a fire, and making controlled burns a more acceptable
wildlife management tool.
Prevent humans in residential areas, state parks, and federal parks
from feeding deer. Deer should be reliant on their own habitat for food.
Erect high fencing around crops and plants. Electric and sturdy
fencing increase the effectiveness of this deterrent. Fences should be
at least eight feet high and buried one foot deep. Openings in the fence
should be small. Contact a university agricultural extension office or
landscape business before purchasing and installing your fencing.
Steps can also be taken to reduce
conflicts with deer.
Automobile Safety: Drive slowly and cautiously, scanning the road
and roadside at sunrise, sunset, and in the first few hours after the
sun has set.
Remove vegetation from roadsides to reduce the attractiveness of
roadside areas to deer.
Keeping Your Yard Safe
Prevent deer from eating your precious yard plants and trees by
installing fencing, as suggested above.
Individual trees can be
protected with mesh and netting. Contact a nursery to find out what
types of netting are effective.
Plant native plants tolerant of deer
Plant plants that repel deer through smell and taste.
Contact your nursery to find out more.
Use flashing lights or loud
noises to startle deer away.
In Defense of Animals
131 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, CA 94941. Tel.: