The Decline of Deer Populations
The total U.S.deer population in 2014 was about 32.2 million; 28.6 million whitetails and 3.6 million mule deer, blacktails, and other. That's down from 33.5 million in 2013; 29.9 million white tails and 3.6 million mule deer, blacktails, and other.   Recent peak U.S. deer population is estimated to have occurred around the year 2000 at 38.1 million, 33.5 million whitetails and 4.6 mule, blacktails, and other.  The estimate is based on population information from state agencies and other groups collected on this website, discussed on each state page that can be accessed by clicking on the drop down menus above.  The estimate also relies on harvest data for each state, available using the links at the top of the column at right.  As illustrated in the figure below, the U.S. deer harvest has fallen by 18.8 percent since 2000, a few state numbers are unavailable and estimated.  The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies estimates the total U.S. mule and blacktail deer population at 4 million in 2015 and 4.2 million for 2016 - 2018.  Some numbers are goals.  Detail.
There are many issues complicating the collection process for this data.  Actual harvest numbers are probably higher than reported.  States use different methods to estimate harvest.  The decline does not appear to be the result of a decline in hunters.  Although hunting participation has generally declined in the U.S. since 1983,  hunting participation increased by 9 percent from 2006 to 2011 according to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s national five-year survey .  Also see page 30 of this report for a history.  About 11.6 million deer hunters licensed in 2013.
     Although research in the 2014 Journal of Wildlife Research mistakenly reports that "In both North America and Europe, deer populations are increasing ...", research published in 2014  and 2016 [PDF] using data from this site identified the change in the population trend, turning down around the year 2000.

 Historic U.S. Deer Population

Below is a graph of the total deer population, the whitetail population, and the combined mule, deer, and other deer populations estimated using harvest data and academic research on historical trends [click on graph to enlarge].  Information about historic U.S. deer population trends and the significant decline of mule deer and black-tail deer populations appears farther down this column. 

     Although there are often comments in the media about the over abundant deer population, the historical analysis summarized in the figure above shows the population of white-tailed deer returned to about pre-European settlement numbers by the year 2000.  Data for the trend in the white-tailed deer population from 2000 and earlier is based on Kert VerCauteren in The Deer Boom and the Wildlife Management Institute's 1984 book "Whitetail Deer Ecology and Management", updated using current harvest data and state population estimates.  A summary of historic mule and black-tail population estimates.  Read a peer reviewed research article demonstrating how public management decisions in California have contributed to the long term decine of the deer population.
     A Wall Street Journal article recently reports that “The U.S. now has 30 million deer, a hundred times more than a century ago" failing to point out that the deer population was almost hunted to extinction 100 years ago and that the white-tail population has approximately returned to its historic population size. As the harvest data above suggests, it appears the total deer population started to turn down again in about the year 2000.  In some states in the west with mule and blacktail deer, the decline has been going on for decades. The map below illustrates the 2013 harvest as a percent of peak harvest. The deepest declines, in red, appear in western states.

     In response to declining deer populations in much of the U.S., most states are currently trying to raise the deer populations.  Population strategies vary within states.  For example, New York is trying to raise populations in part of the state. Many states are conducting studies to understand the cause of the decline and their recovery has been the focus of groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation.  Habitat loss and fragmentation are known to play a role in the decline. Deer populations in the western United States and some other regions are in significant decline. 
     Searching the internet, this site has tracked many of the proposed causes for the declining deer population reported in the column at right and including:
-  Maine and New England:   Changes that have occurred on commercially managed forest lands – based on a new Forest Study
-  Connecticut:  First decline since early 1900’s, increased predation  (Bobcat, Coywolf)
-  Western North Carolina:  Mature Forests, Cherokee Indians are restocking deer herds
-  West Virginia:  Aging forests in high mountains
-  Georgia:  Coyotes
-  Minnesota:  Severe Winters
-  Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota:  Overharvest, drought, EHD
-  Colorado:  Food supply, predation, energy development
-  North Dakota:  Drought, EHD (severe decline), habitat loss
-  Montana:  Loss of habitat, severe winter, predation
-  Oregon:  Reduction in logging related to timber sales

Elk populations, once exceeding 10 million in the continental United States, number about 1 million.

Mule Deer and Black-tail Deer Populations Have Been in Decline for Many Years

WAFWA mule and blacktail population analysis puts the 2015 U.S. total at about 3.5 million.

The graph below shows the estimated California deer population, made up of blacktails and mule deer, for the 1911 to 2016. [click on graph to enlarge]  See the California page for an analysis of what appears to be the largest modern decline in the deer population. 

The Deer Debate, decline of black tail deer May 1, 2014 Oregon, Jefferson Public Radio
... , the black-tailed deer has been in decline across its range since the late 1970s. A state-wide survey in 1979 estimated the total population at 452,000; the 2004 estimate pegged it at only 320,000. ODFW cites a number of reasons for the decline, loss of habitat and disease chief among them...

Disappearing Mule Deer A New Reality Throughout Western US January 4, 2013 NPR, Audio Discussion
Scientists throughout the West are trying to figure out the mystery of the disappearing mule deer. Since the 1970s, biologists in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah have seen deer populations drop by 50 percent.  The potential causes vary. Oil and gas development and the growth in coyote populations top the list.

Unlocking the needs and habits of our mule deer March 28, 2014 Washington, The Wenatchee World
... As has happened in the Wenatchee area over the past 50 years, traditional mule deer wintering grounds have been converted to human settlement. Mule deer populations have decreased since 1940 throughout the western U.S...

Discover the Mule Deer, Issues Contributing to the Decline of Population, Wyoming

Where have all the Oregon deer gone? November 15, 2012 Portland Tribune
... Deer populations are struggling across the state, says Don Whittaker, an ODFW game biologist. That’s true for black-tailed deer and mule deer, both native to Oregon.  
Black-tailed deer numbers are hard to track because of their reclusive nature and thick forested habitats... The problem may partly stem from the series of four large forest fires, starting in the 1930s, known as the Tillamook Burn, which consumed 550 square miles of timber in Northwest Oregon... Reforestation of the burned land .... And as charred lands came back to life, trees began to shade out the deers’ favorite shrubs...

The California Deer Decline and Possibilities for Restoration Cal-Nevada Wildlife Transactions, 1976 

Seasonal neighbors: residential development encroaches on mule deer winter range in central Oregon March 27, 2012 Oregon, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, Marie Oliver
Mule deer populations in central Oregon are in decline, largely because of habitat loss. Several factors are likely contributors. Encroaching juniper and invasive cheatgrass are replacing deer forage with high nutritional value, such as bitterbrush and sagebrush. Fire suppression and reduced timber harvests mean fewer acres of early successional forest, which also offer forage opportunities. Human development, including homes and roads, is another factor. It is this one that scientists with the Pacific Northwest Research Station and their collaborators investigated in a recent study. ..

The Mule Deer Wars December 17, 2012 Colorado, Huffington Post
... It began in the 1990s, when state wildlife managers started reporting lower mule deer populations and decreased fawn-to-doe ratios throughout the West....  in 1999 the Colorado and Idaho wildlife departments launched long-term investigations into the true causes of the perceived mule deer decline. Both studies soon enough reported, in line with previous research throughout the West, that coyotes and other predators indeed are capable of keeping isolated and already critically low deer populations from recovering via a rare phenomenon known as a "predator pit." 

...  for the past 15 years show a consistent drop in estimated populations in the region ... Brad Weinmeister, a terrestrial biologist ... the downward trend is likely a combination of the extended drought, less nutritious range, and increasing development and populations... In the urban areas they are doing OK ... Predation of deer by coyotes and mountain lions does not appear to be causing the overall mule deer decline either ...

Proceedings of the 9th Western States and Provinces Deer & Elk Workshop, 2011 (Describes a number of recent studies related to decline of deer populations)
Effect Of Enhanced Nutrition On Mule Deer Population Rate Of
Change:  We found strong evidence that enhanced nutrition of deer reduced coyote and mountain lion predation rates of less than 6 month old fawns and adult females.  Winter range habitat quality was a limiting factor ... we recommend evaluating habitat treatments for deer that are designed to set-back succession and increase productivity of late-seral pinyon-juniper habitats that presently dominate the winter range....
Utilizing Antler Point Restrictions For Mule Deer To Maximize 
Hunter Opportunity In Southern British Columbia:  We provide explanations as to why our results appear to counter some findings from other studies and suggest that utilizing a combination of 4-point and any-buck seasons for mule deer for 92 days can maintain maximum hunter opportunity while retaining a sustainable harvest.

From Wildlife.Utah.Gov: "Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has served as a leader promoting management and protection of fish and wildlife in the western United States and Canada. An organization represented by 17 states and four Canadian provinces, WAFWA has faced the difficult challenge of sifting through the ever-changing societal, economic, political and scientific issues that define natural resource management in a West that has undergone many changes. WAFWA is particularly concerned about mule deer, a species that lives in every North American habitat except for the tropics, arctic and extreme deserts. Mule deer numbers and distribution have been declining throughout the West since the latter third of the 20th century. To address this concern, the Mule Deer Working Group was established at the midwinter meeting of WAFWA in 1998. The group was charged with finding “solutions to our common mule deer management problems,” expanding “cooperative research and management in the Western states and provinces,” and sharing information with agency directors and administrators on mule deer issues."

Study of the Reasons for the Decline of Nevada's Deer Population: MULE DEER INITIATIVE Commission Briefing - February 20, 2009, (Oregon). Issue: Researchers and wildlife managers generally concede mule deer achieved maximum abundance during the 1950s and ‘60s. Since then, mule deer have declined across the West, including Oregon. The most recent decline appened during the early 1990s and, though not fully understood, it is believed to be primarily due to the combined effects of drought and severe winters. Historically, deer populations rebounded quickly after such climatic extremes. However, in recent years, production and survival of fawns have remained at depressed levels. Low recruitment, severe winters, dry summers, changing predator/prey relationships, and increased habitat loss have pushed mule deer populations lower than the department and public desire.

[PDF] THE CALIFORNIA DEER DECLINE AND POSSIBILITIES FOR RESTORATION by WM Longhurst - -This paper dealing with the possible factors responsible for the decline of deer populations in California is a progress report and a more detailed and ...

North American Mule Deer Conservation Plan - MULE DEER ... From Alaska, down the Pacific Coast of California to southern Baja Mexico and from the extreme ..... decline of mule deer populations over large portions ..

SCIENTISTS, MANAGERS OUTLINE BLACK-TAILED DEER DECLINE - Black-tailed deer, once numerous throughout the woods of western Oregon, are suffering a population decline, scientists reported ...

UF Research:  Total Historic Deer Population  November 28, 2000 Science Daily
... experts believe the population of [white-tail] deer in the United States is about equal to what it was before Europeans arrived, with somewhere between 24 million and 34 million nationwide. That's up from just 350,000 in 1900, when the population crashed largely because of unregulated hunting... 

Estimated whitetail populations.  Published by Deer and Deer Hunting in the 1998 Almanac
Texas 3,748,000, Michigan 1,900,000, Mississippi 1,750,000, Wisconsin 1,600,000, Alabama 1,500,000

Statistical Abstract, 1957:  454,000 deer killed by hunters in the United States

An estimated 1 million moose in North America in 2018.

When Europeans first came to settle America, it was estimated that as many as 10 million elk roamed the land [Kathy Funk, the Virginia volunteer state chair for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation]  ... 

Deer have been in the state of Washington since at least 4.9 million years ago, as documented by a recent deer bone recovered in Ellensberg.  Deer were thought to have crossed into North America using the Bering Sea land bridge.

Reports of 
Deer Populations in Decline

Deer population in better shape November 14, 2018 North Dakota, Jamestown Sun
... "While we hope to see changes in habitat and conservation programs to help influence and increase deer and other wildlife populations, it's very unlikely we'll see deer numbers like we did in the early to mid-2000s," ..,

Prospects better for Wisconsin firearms deer season November 11, 2018 Duluth News Tribune 
... back in the early 2000s when hunters harvested more than 15,000 deer in Douglas County in one year alone, an all-time record that may never be broken ... The harvest likely will hit 5,000 deer after a kill of 4,554 last year in the county...

Point Reyes National Seashore is a place for wildlife viewing. The California endemic tule elk live on these public lands. But a congressional bill is moving that may eliminate many of the elk in favor of cattle grazing. In your national park! November 13, 2018 California

Two rarely seen woodland caribou spotted in Montana November 5, 2018 The Spokesman-Review
... an aerial survey of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd found only three surviving members, all female... Canadian officials move the surviving members of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd they hope to breed the animals in captivity ...

Elk Hunting Season: Decade of Decline October 24, 2018 Washington, The Columbian
... In 2008, the Mount St Helens elk herd was thriving ... Ten years of the spread of hoof disease and efforts to cull breeding cows had already reduced the herd before the devastating winter of 2016 hit... 2012, when more than 3,000 elk were harvested... Last year, a total of 981 elk were harvested during the general season in addition to 192 elk harvested by permit ..,

Mule deer forage availability and quality at the Chihuahuan Desert rangelands, Mexico after a severe three-year drought  [PDF} MP Olivas-Sánchez, C Vital-García, JP Flores-Margez… - Cogent Biology, 2018
... Mule deer historic range in Mexico has declined dramatically in the last decade...  Our results suggest that forage is appropriate to sustain mule deer populations, however, we found considerable variation in both localities suggesting a patchy landscape...

Studying wildlife ecology through road-killed animals October 19, 2018 Idaho, Rexburg Standard Journal
... I-84 became an impediment to migration...  many were killed ... many deer remained on the east side of the freeway and spent winters near Snowville, Utah. That winter range had insufficient forage for deer, and during the following winters, an estimated 40 percent of the herd died of malnutrition... the deer herd is currently less than half of what it was in the 1960s ...

Wildlife officials can't coax increase in Basalt, Glenwood deer herd population October 1, 2018 Colorado, Glenwood Springs Post Independent
... The deer population had plunged after the severe winter of 2007-08, so agency officials felt that reducing hunting for does would help the numbers bounce back. It didn't work out... The staff is recommending reducing the buck ratio to a range of 32 to 40 bucks per 100 does ..,

State seeking answers to vanishing mule deer October 1, 2018 Oregon, OregonReport
...enlisting the aid of hunters to determine why the state’s population of mule deer has dropped by nearly 10 percent in the past dozen years ... , the mule deer population in Oregon in 2016 was 226,775, down by 4,466 since 2013, and 20,575 since 2004. Between 2013 and 2016, the Rocky Mountain elk population in Oregon has increased by 6 percent to 74,227..,

The price of Oregon's failed cougar management September 20, 2018 Portland Tribune
... Back in the early 1990s, the Oregon cougar population was estimated at about 2,000. Today, that number is approximately 6,600... the decline in deer and elk herds can be attributed to a number of factors — climate, availability of food and water, loss of habitat, as well as predation...,

... exceptionally dry conditions ... in Central Oregon ... The meager snowpack last winter has made for extremely dry conditions ... deer numbers are in decline across much of Central and Eastern Oregon ... Buck ratios are near management goals districtwide with a ratio of 19 bucks per 100 does..,

Mule deer migration corridor should be protected September 16, 2018 Wyoming, Casper Star-Tribune
... Mule deer populations are dwindling. Energy development in critical habitat may only increase their struggle ... these 33 parcels of land, less than 2 percent of the total acreage proposed for lease by the BLM, should not be leased without further consideration ... the notices have no legal teeth...

Eagle County officials concerned by wildlife population declines September 13, 2018 Colorado, Vail Daily News
...  county commissioners sat down with representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to discuss the drop in local elk and deer population ... elk count in Eagle County is down 50 percent from numbers recorded in 2003 ...

Maine's deer stewards falling short of goals August 31, 2018
... the earlier game management plan’s ambitious statewide deer population objective of 384,000 deer ... The newly adopted big game management plan sets a target population goal of just 210,000 animals by 2033. This is a 54 percent reduction in the state’s deer density objective incorporated in the previous 15-year big game management plan...

... Whitetail deer populations are lower today in many states than they have been in many decades, and hunters are concerned,” Brian Murphy, CEO of the Quality Deer Management Association ...

... Harvest estimates reflected an upward trend from 1976 through the mid-1990s when it peaked at over 330,000 deer for three years. After that, harvest estimates showed a steady decline. The harvest estimate for the 2016-17 season fell to 244,795 deer, making it the lowest harvest since 1981. The 2017-18 estimate is 194,975 which is a 50,000-deer drop from the prior season..,

... In the late 1980s and early 1990s, mule deer in the herd numbered around 50,000. But a series of bad winters and increased hunting pressure cut the herd down to about 30,000. Wildlife managers tried for years to reach that 50,000 goal again, but realized the deer were not just limited by a bad winter or hunting, but by available food... Fawns born in 2017 after the harsh winter measured on average 6.8 pounds. Fawns born this summer weighed on average almost a pound more...

Drop in mule deer population being addressed August 16, 2018 Washington, La Grande Observer
... The question is being asked with an increasing sense of concern on the wildlife front: Why are mule deer populations gradually declining in Oregon? ... One potential cause they are looking at is a rising number of Rocky Mountain elk in Oregon... up 6 percent since 2013. The state had 74,227 Rocky Mountain elk in 2016, up 4,654 from 2013 when it had 69,573..,

The decline of moose in northwestern Minnesota July 22, 2018 Bemidji Pioneer
... one glaring fact is undeniably clear: the moose population of Minnesota’s great northwest is significantly diminished...  unless something extraordinary happens to change the apparent downward population trend, some wildlife biologists have predicted that moose will eventually become extinct in that part of Minnesota...

... The deer population in much of northern New Brunswick continues to be too low to support a hunting season ... "The population declined in the late 1980s and early 1990s … and it hasn't recovered to the point where we believe we can have a sustainable hunting season,"  ...

... We’re not seeing mule deer like we used to... The B.C. Interior Mule Deer Project is the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in the province...

JJ Boan, JR Malcolm, MD Vanier, DL Euler, FM Moola - Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2018
... Over the past decade, declines of Canadian populations of boreal caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) have received considerable attention ...  Many boreal caribou populations have been shown to be decreasing, in some cases precipitously, and empirical evidence from adult survival and calf recruitment surveys indicates that the cumulative effect of habitat disturbance, including that which results from industrial development, is a key driver in the decline. Yet, as scientific understanding of the decline has become clearer, and agreement among scientists and governments about habitat management requirements has increased ...

Habitat loss coincides with drop in pheasant, deer numbers June 14, 2018 North Dakota, The Bismarck Tribune
... 2007 ... a significant number of CRP contracts involving hundreds of thousands of acres established in the early to mid-1990s started to expire... At the same time  ... Game and Fish Department biologists and state legislators were feeling pressure from farmers, ranchers ... to reduce the deer herd, so license numbers were set with the intent to reduce deer numbers in many units...

Ineffectiveness of local zoning to reduce regional loss and fragmentation of wintering habitat for white-tailed deer  EM Simons-Legaard, DJ Harrison, KR Legaard - Forest Ecology and Management, 2018
... We used a time series of Landsat satellite imagery (1975–2007) to quantify habitat changes in and adjacent to 187 areas zoned on private, commercial forestlands to protect habitat for wintering white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Maine... Areas protected for wintering deer collectively represent only 2% of the forested land base in our study area, and we conclude that habitat protection focused solely on those narrowly-defined zones has been ineffective at achieving regional conservation of winter habitat for deer...

Texas to test mule deer antler restrictions starting this fall June 6, 2018 MultiBriefs Exclusive
... The overall health of the mule deer population in the Texas Panhandle has been in decline for the past few years. In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has instituted antler restrictions for mule deer season in six Panhandle counties starting this fall...

... Conservationists and researchers say wildfire control efforts in B.C. may be causing mule deer numbers to decline... mule deer are very choosy eaters, and fire creates open canopies, so it opens up the forest and then you get the flush of green growth in the understory ... We think that is the single most important factor affecting mule deer abundance in B.C

... It is a disease that threatens the health of Colorado wildlife populations already hammered by rapid human population growth and a development boom that devours open habitat... a beloved herd of 500 deer in foothills by Boulder  ... dwindled to about 300. Testing on the herd showed 40 percent of the males had CWD...

Local mountain caribou herds down to seven, survey shows May 10, 2018 Idaho, Coeur d'Alene Press
... The minute populations of Idaho’s mountain caribou took another blow as pregnancy test results of three cows that biologists hoped would reproduce came back negative ... Last year, biologists counted 11 caribou in the local Selkirk population and 16 on the Purcell side...

Are mule deer in decline in Southeast Idaho? April 24, 2018 Idaho State Journal
...we have had some harsh winters where fawn survival was around 25 percent, which could be a possible reason we didn’t see as many deer while hunting in 2017.  The winter of 2016 was devastating for fawns. Only 30 percent of mule deer fawns survived... quaking aspen forests are decreasing in the state ...  provide high-quality forage for mule deer, as well as hiding deer and providing a thermal cover ..,

East Tehama Deer Herd, Northern California Regional Land Trust April 23
Action News Now
... One specific species now more fully protected from development, is the largest migratory deer herd in California; the East Tehama Deer Herd. The animals roam the acreage and conservationists say development could threaten their health and future...

... Hunters harvested 26,537 deer, when counting special and general permits. A total of 106,977 Washingtonians received deer licenses.  The state’s 54,638 licensed elk hunters harvested a total of 5,465 elk..,

Where are the deer going? April 20, 2018 British Columbia, Castanet
... "In the Southern Interior they've been declining for quite some time so we've been trying to put a project together to look at what makes mule deer grow and what's holding them back," ... For more information or how to donate visit the project's website...

300 attend annual deer association dinner in McCloud April 19, 2018 California, Siskiyou Daily News
... “We got into this because the deer herds in California are having a hard time and we want to help,” said Trenton Willis, one of the organizers and chapter co-chairmen of the CDA... “Our goal is to raise as much money as we can to bring back our deer population into Siskiyou County,” ...

... For quite some time now, hunters can’t help but acknowledge the game to be substantially smaller than a decade ago. It was also noticed that fewer bucks were allowed to gain maturity as more and more tags were made available...  an online petition which was circulated in 2016 ... Nearly 4,000 hunters supported the idea of shortening deer seasons for the Clearwater Region...

... Minnesota moose are in trouble. The iconic animals have disappeared from the northwest and have declined significantly in the northeast, numbering there most recently about 3,000, down from nearly 9,000 in 2006.  No one knows exactly why..,

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