Data History

In his book, Lives of Game Animals, 1953, Ernest Thomas Seton estimated the pre-European whitetail deer populations at 40 million.  He estimated the blacktail population at 3 million and the mule deer population at 10 million.  A review of his estimates in the 1978 book, The Deer of North American, by Leonard Lee Rue III, page 4, agrees that his estimates have been generally accepted, but the reviewer suggests that his estimates for whitetails may have been high, under estimating the range of the white tail but over estimating the average population density at 20 deer per square mile.  He agrees with the consensus that the blacktail and mule deer populations estimates are reasonable.    The book provides a population estimate for around 1978 at a total of about 19.5 million, with a bit over five million mule deer and a little less than 1.5 million blacktail.

Mule Deer’s Plight and Peril: A True Story 2012 T. Messmer, KingsCamo.com
... Pre-settlement populations of mule deer have been estimated to exceed 10 million. Blacktails may have numbered over 3 million...

Population estimate for pre-settlement mule deer, including blacktails:   13 million.    Estimated elk:  10 million
    Cited this source for muledeer:  Miller, K. V., L. I. Muller, and S. Demarais. 2003. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Pages 906–930 in Wild Mammals of North America. G. A. Feldhamer, B. C. Thompson, and J. A. Chapman, ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

U.S. Deer Herds in Trouble September 17, 2014 Illinois, Mother Earth News
... Historians believe that nearly 30 million whitetails existed across about 80% of the U.S. before its discovery by European. The mule deer range was about half that size, and their numbers were estimated about one-third that of whitetails... the U.S. deer herd dwindled to 1/60th of its 15th-century population ... Unfortunately, individual state deer management, once based in science, has now grown to be political...

The trend in the mule and blacktail deer on the estimate from about 1450 to 1850 is based on an inverse relation to the change in the human population.

Bright Blooms — Prehistoric Supermarket May 13, 2015 Texas, Desertexposure 
... As the Ice Age drew to a close ... in southern New Mexico and western Texas ... They saw the megafauna dwindle into extinction, to be replaced by new communities of smaller animals – for example, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep ...

Deer in the West 1997 by Len H. Carpenter.  Deer/Elk Workshop, Arizona... provides a good summary of historic populations of deer in the western United States

Post-1900 Mule Deer Irruptions In The Intermountain West: Principle Cause and Influences  George E. Gruell 1986 United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service 
...  In Utah the mule deer population was estimated to have increased from 8,500 in 1916 to a peak of 375,000 in the 1945-50 period.  Idaho officials estimated that their deer population
(including whitetailed deer) increased from 45,000 in 1923-24 to 315,000 in 1963 (Julander and Low 1975)...  Longhurst and others (1981) concluded that prescribed livestock grazing has more potential for improving deer habitat than any other land use practice. These researchers propose that greater efforts should be made to minimize the detrimental effects of grazing on deer habitat, and particularly to explore the possibility of using prescribed grazing to enhance forage quality ...
     Also by Beorge E Gruell:  Deer and Reforestation in the Pacific Northwest.  Proceedings of the 7th Vertebrate Pest Conference (1976)
... Deer and forestry researchers and managers agree that black-tailed deer respond predictably to changes in forest cover (Lawrence 1969, Resler 1972). Numbers of animals
tend to increase as closed-canopy forests are burned or logged and to decline as forests regenerate and mature. Such increases in numbers of deer are deemed favorable and in the
public interest... 
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Deer Friendly,
Oct 19, 2020, 8:41 PM