With over 35 million white-tailed deer in the United States, deer herd management is something that has to be talked about and action taken. The practice of deer management means regulating the size and health of a deer population in a given area. That area could be micro down to a specific community or a large vast area such as the entire United States. This management is often done by state or provincial wildlife agencies but we as landowners play a huge factor as well. It’s often a controversial and very tough thing to achieve. With data and a list of pros and cons for each method, we can have a better idea on controlling and managing deer herds in the wild.
There are three key aspects on controlling the deer herd population:
Hunting is the most commonly used method of population control, as it allows for the removal of excess animals from the population while providing recreational opportunities for hunters. In the 2021-2022 deer season, hunters in the US harvested over 6 million deer. That’s 17% of the total population.
Not only for recreation, venison brings food to families in need. In the state of Kentucky, hunters have provided over 294,000 meals, or 73,000 pounds, of venison to families in need in 2021.
Additionally, the amount of revenue from hunting & fishing licenses, gear and ammunition that hunters add to the economy exceeds $55 billion per year. If you add in recreational firearms owners, that number is even higher.
Contraception, while still in the experimental phase, has shown promise as a way to control deer populations without killing the animals.
However, this doesn’t come without great opposition, controversy as well as costs. PZP (porcine zone pellucida) is an antigen extracted from the ovaries of pigs and used as a contraception. When injected, it prevents fertilization from occurring and can prevent whitetail deer from having fawns for up to three years. Over a five year period, deer population decreased by 60% on Fripp Island, SC while using the PZP injection. Studies have shown that it costs approximately $500/deer to capture and inject the PZP contraception.
Relocation, while sometimes necessary, is often considered a last resort due to the potential for the spread of disease and the stress it can cause to the animals. Capturing and relocating is a very costly and difficult method. Relocation costs average around $430 per deer captured and has about an 85% mortality rate, studies say.
When you look at deer herd management, you can see it’s a complex and not so easy task. It’s an important issue and requires a great understanding of deer biology, behavior and habitats. Of the different methods used to control deer population, it’s easy to see that the best and most effective is ethical hunting. Hunting can control the population of deer as well as providing food and bringing money into the economy. By carefully managing whitetail deer populations, we can ensure these animals continue to play a vital role in the ecosystem and provide hunting opportunities for the population.