U.S. Deer Population


The total U.S. deer population in 2017 was about 33.5 million, up from a recent low of about 32.2 million in 2014, down from the recent peak in 2000 of about 38.1 million deer. Historic estimates. Use the drop down menu above to see the population analysis "By State".

The whitetail population fell from about 33.5 million in 2000 to 28.6 million in 2014, recovering to about 29.5 million in 2017. The mule, blacktail, and other deer populations fell from about 4.6 million in 2000 to about 3.6 million in 2014, recovering to about 4 million in 2017. Less than 4 million in 2020 about 3.5 million in 2021. The recent peak for mule and blacktails was around 1960, illustrated in the graph below for the estimated U.S. deer population from 1450 to 2017.


Deer were nearly hunted to extinction by the early 1900s and were extirpated in many regions. In 1890 the U.S. BIological Survey estimated the whitetail population at 300,000. Conservation and restocking allowed whitetail populations to recover to about pre-colonization levels while blacktails and mule deer are below historic levels. A Wall Street Journal article reports that “The U.S. now has 30 million deer, a hundred times more than a century ago" failing to point out that deer faced a near extinction event 100 years ago and that the white-tail population has approximately returned to its historic population size. [This and other examples in news and research]. The modern decline of mule and blacktail populations has been a major concern of wildlife agencies for decades.

As illustrated in the figure above, the U.S. deer harvest fell by 14.7 percent from 2000 to 2017, from about 7.5 million to 6.4 million. Mild winters in the north and recovery from the Texas drought account for much of the uptick since 2014.


Data for the trend in the whitetail deer population from 2000 and earlier is based on Kert VerCauteren in The Deer Boom, the Wildlife Management Institute's 1984 book "Whitetail Deer: Ecology and Management" and other historic deer data, updated using current harvest data and state population estimates. This information is provided in more detail in this data history page, including sources describing the relatively recent migration of deer into much of Canada. Recent University of Wyoming research puts the white-tailed deer population prior to European settlement in America at 30 to 40 million.


Research published in 2014 and 2018 using data from this site identified the recent change in the total population trend, turning down around the year 2000. Using a sample of populations from 29 states, the U.S. Forest service published a report in 2010 identifying the year 2000 peak for whitetail deer.


In 2012 there were 231,431 head of deer on 4,042 operations in the country according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.


Causes for the Decline of the Deer Population

Habitat loss, change, and fragmentation are known to play a role in the decline. Many fear that chronic wasting disease will drive the deer population to low levels over the coming decades. Searching the internet, this site has tracked many of the proposed causes for the declining deer population reported in the column at right and in more detail on for each state on their page, including:

- California: Increased forest density, drought, predation.

- 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

When Europeans first came to settle America, it was estimated that as many as 10 million elk roamed the land. The current population is around one million. An estimated 1 million moose in North America in 2018. The last U.S. caribou was moved to Canada in an effort to save the local herd in 2019.


Mule Deer and Blacktail Deer Populations Have Been in Decline for Many Years

The graph below shows the estimated 1911 to 2016 California deer population, made up of blacktails and mule deer, falling by about 75 percent from 1960. See the California page for an analysis of what appears to be the largest modern decline in the deer population.


California Deer Population Estimate, 1911 to 2016

Read a peer reviewed research article demonstrating how public management decisions in California may have contributed to the long term decline of the deer population.


What Are We Conserving with Conservation?


We have outlawed wilderness — can rewilding bring it back? November 11, 2019 apolitical.com

... Our hunter-gatherer ancestors caused the widespread demise of the large herbivores around leading to a “downgrading” of ecosystems. As the grazers were no longer around to keep woody vegetation in check, trees got the upper hand over grasses and forests became the dominant vegetation ... Today, the realization that biodiversity policy has been protecting the ecological impacts of historic extinctions ...


Are Deer a Threat to Forests?


Does white-tailed deer density affect tree stocking in forests of the Eastern United States? August, 2019 Ecological Processes

... Despite deer pressure, a major transition in eastern forests has resulted in increased tree densities. Methods To reconcile conflicting trends, we applied generalized linear mixed models to compare deer densities during 1982 and then 1996 to tree stocking after about 30 years and 15 years of potential reductions of small trees by deer, for the entire eastern US and 11 ecological provinces... Deer densities and tree stocking were not related significantly for the entire eastern US... Furthermore, major tree species trends did not match tree browse preferences. Conclusions Rather than too few trees, too many trees is an ecological problem where historical open oak and pine forests had herbaceous understories, and currently, trees have captured growing space. We attribute other drivers than deer to explain this transition...


Regaining the History of Deer Populations and Densities in the Southeastern United States BB Hanberry, P Hanberry - Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2020

... Deer population sizes declined to a minimum of <215,000 during the early 1900s. Population sizes and mean deer densities were 304,000 and 0.22 deer/km2 by 1940, 476,000 and 0.35 deer/km2 by 1950, 2.9 million to 4.1 million and 2.2 to 3.1 deer/km2 by approximately 1970, 6.2 million and 4.6 deer/km2 by 1982, and 10.8 million to 12 million and 8 to 9 deer/km2 by about 2003... the current population may be within the bounds of mid to high historical deer densities ... deer may be considered a natural disturbance helpful in controlling increased tree densities during the past century ...


Maybe deer aren't the forest-killers we thought they were October 6, 2020 Concord Monitor

... A report from the U.S. Forest Service (read it here) says: ... using current tree surveys and historical records they examined trends in tree species preferred by deer. Researchers found white-tail deer have not reduced tree densities at landscape scales across the Eastern U.S. In fact, they propose other management influences and fire exclusion have had bigger impacts...


Are Forests a Threat to Deer?


"Factors Related to Larger but Fewer Wildfires and Fewer Deer in California: A Google Sites Knowledge Base," [PDF] (2019) Issues in Information Systems. 20(1), pp. 22-31.

... Large wildfires have been a recent focus of public concern in California and other western states... Data from 1987 show that total acres burned increased and were correlated to increased maximum temperature, and that that wildfires have become larger but less frequent. A decline in logging activity was strongly correlated to increased fire size and reduced deer populations. [Forest density in California has increased as a result of forest management practices and reduced logging, reducing deer habitat and dramatically reducing the deer population]. Drought was also correlated to increased fire size and fewer deer. ...


Habitat Use of Female Columbian Black-tailed Deer in Western Oregon TJ Schrautemeier - 2017

... Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) observed declines in black-tailed deer populations since the late 1980’s and attributes these declines to reduction in quality and availability of habitat, following the decline of timber harvest on federal lands... my results support the hypothesis that food and cover are more readily available and used by female black-tailed deer on industrial forestlands than federal forestlands in western Oregon...


‘There’s good fire and bad fire.’ An Indigenous practice may be key to preventing wildfires December 18, 2020 California, National Geographic

... The Indigenous Peoples Burn Network focused on a single goal: setting forests on fire.... [ancestors] burned young trees and brush to create and maintain meadows that would attract deer and elk... As these flames ceased, a new kind of forest emerged: a nearly fire-free ecosystem that was unlike anything that had existed since the end of the Ice Age...


Chronic Wasting Disease is Expected to Dramatically Reduce Future Deer Populations


Biologist ponders: What happens when every deer has chronic wasting disease? February 13, 2020 Minnesota, StarTribune

... As the environmental reservoir of toxic prions continues to grow, deer can be infected irrespective of whether there are many or few deer in the immediate area. That is why culling works only in the very early stages of a CWD outbreak ... Deer with Gene A live for two years after infection; Gene B two to three years: Gene C up to four years...


Widely used neonic insecticides may be a threat to mammals, too February 5, 2021 Food & Environment Reporting Network

... Chemically related to nicotine, neonics, as they’re known, were developed in the 1990s as a safer alternative to more toxic, longer-lasting farm chemicals... data suggesting that a significant number of wild deer in the upper Midwest have neonics in their spleens... “Neonics could have a catastrophic effect on white-tailed deer populations,” ...


The End of Caribou in the U.S.

The Quiet Extinction February 19, 2020 Montana, Montana Kaimin

... Caribou herds once abundantly thrived from

General Information

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


Decline of Mule Deer Populations in Colorado: Reasons and Responses. 1999.


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 ..


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


Deer Population in the South ... The deer population increased from about 303,500 in the mid-forties to about 2,405,000 at the present time [1969] and the kill increased from about 60,133 in 1950 to 274,184 in 1967 in the 11 Southern States on which data are available...


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] ...


The elk are coming! The elk are coming! December 17, 2017 California, Oroville Mercury Register

... Prior to Europeans, there were about 10 million elk in all of the USA. Due to excessive hunting the population dropped to about 50,000, and through restocking it’s up to about 1 million...


Early humans hunted the largest available animals to extinction for 1.5 million years December 21, 2021

Phys.org

... "Starting about 400,000 years ago, the humans who lived in our region—early ancestors of the Neandertals and Homo sapiens, appear to have hunted mainly deer, along with some larger animals weighing almost a ton, such as wild cattle and horses...

The population estimates are the total of estimates from state wildlife agencies and other published sources. Hunting and other data is used to fill in missing years. This peer reviewed paper explains the method. Use the drop down menu above "By State" to go each state for a detailed population analysis and news.


Population trends vary considerably by state. Western deer, mule deer and blacktails, have been in a long decline. Some whitetail populations are near or at recent highs such as in Wisconsin and Texas, while whitetails have been declining in Georgia. Each state page has a link to an archive of "Population and Management" information in the upper right corner used in analyzing the populations.


Why does this page at Cornell extension estimate 25 million deer? Check the math.


Reports of Deer Populations in Decline


‘Death by a thousand clearcuts’: Canada’s deep-snow caribou are vanishing January 14, 2023 thenarwhal

... The B.C. government spends millions on extreme measures — like wolf culls and maternity pens — to support these mountain-loving herds found nowhere else in the world. Yet such efforts fail to offset the habitat destruction at the root of their disappearance ...


DNR finalizes wolf management plan, learn what it means for deer and moose in northern Minnesota January 5, 2022 Minnesota, WTIP

... Stark explains that wolf populations are driven by prey availability and what the landscape can support. He said the Minnesota landscape is at its limit with diminishing deer populations and struggling moose populations, particularly in the northeast region...


Will Minnesota's moose ever thrive again? December 31, 2022 inforum

... First it was northwestern Minnesota's moose that disappeared, in the 1990s, from thousands to virtually none over just one decade. Then, northeastern moose numbers crashed by 70% from a modern high of 8,840 moose estimated in 2006 to just 2,700 by 2013..,


'Big ideas' proposed to help deer and elk in Aspen area December 27, 2022 Colorado, Aspen Daily News

... deer and elk populations in parts of the region are declining, the study suggests loss of habitat isn’t the issue. "Forage quality does not appear to be a limiting factor ... The large landscape that provides good habitat in the watershed has been fragmented by major highways and smaller secondary roads ...


Why I Think We're Overhunting Mule Deer December 24, 2022 Wide Open Spaces

... mule deer are seeing a general population decline, and people have been talking about it for decades... Fawn productivity has declined across most of the United States and harsh western winters haven't helped... With so many factors that can influence mule deer population, the one most under our control is limiting mule deer harvests. States such as South Dakota have seen an increase of herd population after restrictions have been placed ...


Sublette mule deer trigger PAPO wildlife matrix December 22, 2022 Wyoming, Pinedale Roundup

... The Sublette Mule Deer Herd’s population in the Anticline’s winter range is an annual concern magnified this year, when comparing the 2008 baseline of 2,856 to February infrared flights showing only 1,787 animals present ... The Sublette Mule Deer Herd has an estimated total population of 21,802 animals, down 10 percent from the 2008 baseline of 24,165 animals ...


Reindeer Vs. Caribou: What's the Difference? December 21, 2022 Mental Floss

... Caribou and reindeer belong to the same genus, Rangifer... a 2022 study in the journal ZooKeys by Dr. Lee Harding, a Canadian mammologist, argued that these subspecies are so different from each other that they actually deserve their own species designation...Russia’s overall reindeer population fell by 21 percent between 1990 and 2015, while the last wild caribou population in the contiguous United States became functionally extinct in the late 2010s ...


Should South Dakota's East River deer season be shorter? Mitchell man petitions yes December 7, 2022 YAHOO!News

... The GFP website says South Dakota deer hunting seasons have occurred regularly since the 1950s, with deer hunters harvesting approximately 95,000 deer during the record year of 2010. More recently, due to diseases, statewide white-tail deer harvest has hovered around 45,000...


Aerial reseeding of crucial watershed hopes to improve habitat in Central Utah November 30, 2021 Utah, Fox 13

...the project began with mulching juniper trees which had overcrowded other vegetation. Another phase involved ‘reseeding’ the area ... interest in improving the deer population in this specific area after years of decline...


Four Deschutes National Forest winter wildlife range closures go into effect amid declining deer population November 29, 2022 Oregon, KTVZ

... Local mule deer populations have declined 56% between 2004 and 2021. Human disturbance of deer and elk during the winter can cause the animals to flee, which expends energy from the reserves they’re relying on to survive through winter and to successfully provide for young in the spring...


How we’re shrinking animals, with red deer under threat while rats and parakeets should thrive November 25, 2022 United Kindom, The i

... Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion – that climate change and other human activity are leading both to animals within the same species becoming smaller in size, and to bigger animals declining ... In the UK researchers have suggested this could mean a threat to deer and eagles; while rats and parakeets continue to prosper...


Upper Peninsula hunters want more control over natural resource policy November 21, 2022 Michigan, Interlochen Public Radio

... Tom Baird is chair of the NRC. He said there’s no conclusive evidence that wolves really are to blame for the U.P.’s shrinking deer population. ... “The two factors that seem to be weighing very heavily are weather and habitat,” said Baird. He said extreme cold and a lack of food in the forests are believed to be the main causes of deer mortality in the winter and spring months...


Game and Fish launches 5-year mule deer monitoring project November 21, 2022 Wyoming Game and Fish News

... Biologists at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ... are well aware weather, habitat and chronic wasting disease affect Wyoming’s mule deer populations. These environmental factors play a significant role in the population fluctuation of mule deer. But in the last 30 years, mule deer populations have declined to a point that is worrisome to wildlife managers and the public.


State lawmakers can help solve elk management November 14, 2022 Montana, The Montana Standard

... Montana is suffering from reduced habitat quality on public lands, particularly in the northwest part of the state which has suffered elk population declines, increased predation on elk, and a lack of habitat diversity. Meanwhile many private lands in eastern and central Montana are withering under prolonged drought which has stressed land productivity...


Ketchikan's tribe asks federal board to expand subsistence hunting and fishing opportunities October 24, 2022 Alaska, KRBD

... on Prince of Wales Island, where there’s widespread concern about deer populations, some aren’t so sure opening the island to more hunting and fishing is a good idea. Earlier this month, wildlife and conservation agencies held a three-day summit to discuss the problems facing the island’s dwindling deer population...


Can Wildlife and Clean Energy Coexist in the West October 14, 2022 Wyoming, Outdoor Life

... drilling in the Pinedale Anticline natural gas field was being proposed for 198,000 acres of sagebrush habitat in western Wyoming in the 1990s. The mule deer herds in the area took a massive hit in the years that followed the project...


Mule Deer Foundation Partners with Arizona Game & Fish, Arizona Deer Association to Focus on Kaibab Plateau October 6, 2022, Arizona, Mule Deer Foundation News

... “The Arizona Strip and North Kaibab are legendary mule deer areas that have seen some population impacts due to years of extreme drought and declining habitat conditions,” commented Mule Deer Foundation President/CEO Joel Pedersen. “The Mule Deer Foundation is excited to work with our partners at Arizona Game and Fish and Arizona Deer Association ...


The Dreadful Toll of Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions — and What We Can Do About It October 4, 2022 Wyoming, governing.com

...In Wyoming, for example, the mule deer population, which supports more than $300 million in annual hunting-related spending in the state, has decreased by 40 percent since 2000, due in large part to habitat fragmentation caused by roads and development ...


There is still time to reconcile forest management with climate-driven declines in habitat suitability for boreal caribou. Global Ecology and Conservation, 2022

... Many boreal populations of woodland caribou in Canada are declining, mainly due to the prevalence of anthropogenic disturbances which alter predator-prey dynamics. Climate change is expected to exert an additional negative influence on caribou populations in coming decades ... We show that reducing harvest activities in areas where habitat suitability is currently high could help maintain high-quality caribou habitat even under the most intense climate change scenario...


Majestic moose; more reclusive than their deer friends September 18, 2022 British Columbia, Columbia Valley Pioneer

... for reasons unknown, over the last decade there has been a significant decline in their population in the central interior region of British Columbia. Studies show that the population of moose in this region have declined by approximately 27,500 since 2011...


Mule deer numbers find new normal as CPW works to address challenges September 18, 2022 Colordado, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

... in the Meeker area, that herd alone was estimated to have more than 100,000 deer in the early 1980s, but in the decade before the new plan’s approval hadn’t exceeded 40,000 animals... they have biologically and ecologically stabilized at a lower population level ...


Mule Deer Palooza Planned In Wyoming To Raise Money For Mule Deer Conservation Projects August 22, 2022 Wyoming, Cowboy State Daily

... Habitat fragmentation and disruption of mule deer migration routes between summer and winter ranges have been among the biggest challenges facing mule deer in Wyoming and across the West. Disease, particularly chronic wasting disease, has also been a factor in mule deer decline ...


CPW may cut mule deer population goal in Glade Park herd, keep status quo for others August 16, 2022 Colorado, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

... the Glade Park herd is a “very small herd” that takes in the Glade Park/Piñon Mesa/McInnis Canyons area, reaching the Utah border... the herd has been consistently below population objectives for about 25 years. “We have not been able to get that population up,” ...


The tangled web of wildlife management June 25, 2022 Ohio, The Courier

... there were no whitetail deer in Ohio. Extirpated by 1911 by lack of both seasonal limits and restraint ... In 1922, wildlife officials began restocking wild deer from neighboring states ... Deer populations are down all over the place on national forest land as an artifact of restricted active forest management, and research ..,


Caribou threatened: the forestry industry proposes to bet on hunting predators June 3, 2022 Quebec, The Bobr Times

... The caribou are in decline in Quebec... “The CIFQ recommends prioritizing predator management measures to reduce early caribou mortality, before considering costly and highly disadvantageous road dismantling measures.” ...


A Wilder View: Wolves impacting deer and moose behaviors in important way May 26, 2022 Montana, KPAX

... "We began researching moose population decline over a decade ago and discovered that brain worm is the primary driver of adult mortality,” said Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Director of Biology and Environment Seth Moore. About 25% of moose die from this parasite...


Efforts Intensify to Save the Huemul, South America’s Endangered Deer May 26, 2022 Field & Stream

... the real danger is that no one will ever see one again if something isn’t done. Which is why efforts to save the huemul are now intensifying in Chile and Argentina, in response to the species’ decline to dangerously low population levels ...


Efficacy and ethics of intensive predator management to save endangered caribou - Conservation Science and Practice, 2022

... in Canada. Across multiple jurisdictions, large numbers of wolves (Canis lupus), and to a lesser extent bears (Ursus

americanus) and coyotes (C. latrans), are killed through trapping, poisoning or aerial shooting to halt or reverse continued declines of woodland caribou ...


Wyoming Wildlife Task Force recommends splitting white-tailed, mule deer licenses May 20, 2022 The Sheridan Press

... Commenters also expressed concern about how the change could put more hunting pressure on mule deer populations, which have been in decline statewide... As of the 2020 job completion report, mule deer population in the Powder River region in Sheridan County was estimated at 34,050, which was slightly below the previous five-year average of 36,533...


Deschutes County Community Development proposes land rezoning to protect Mule deer population May 17, 2022 Oregon, KTVZ

... According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the mule deer population decreased about 40% near Metolius and about 30% near Paulina in a recent three-year testing period... recommends that certain uses be prohibited or limited to protect the mule deer winter range habitats...


Deer disease in North Dakota cuts into hunter success, license numbers May 13, 2022 The Bismarck Tribune

... The impact of the disease stretched over most of western and central North Dakota ... North Dakota has experienced a loss of wildlife habitat in recent years due to oil development and reduced grassland areas resulting from changes in farming practices. That has resulted in annual license numbers essentially being cut in half from the heyday of deer populations in the mid-2000s..,


Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon Are Cutting Big Game Tags Due to Drought Conditions. Will Other States Follow? May 8, 2022 Outdoor Life

... One of the biggest reasons behind these decreasing populations and lower allotment of tags is the growing presence of drought throughout the American West. The latest maps show roughly 70 percent of lands in the West are facing severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S Drought Monitor...


Mule Deer in New Mexico 2022. College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University

... In general, mule deer have been declining in numbers in New Mexico since populations peaked around the 1960s, similar to declines seen throughout the West (Heffelfinger and Messmer, 2003). Because of population declines, harvests of mule deer have also declined; deer harvests (mostly mule deer), estimated to be as high as 55,000 in 1960, declined to <10,000 in 2013. Despite declines, mule deer are still present in all 33 counties in New Mexico...


Drought Leads to Fewer Pronghorn and Mule Deer Tags April 29, 2022 Wyoming, Field & Stream

... The worsening drought comes on top of outbreaks of CWD and EHD in the state ... Last year’s [2021] post-hunt ... estimate of 291,700 mule deer was 61 percent of the statewide goal..,


Utah Wildlife Board approves decrease in general-season deer permits for 2022 April 29, 2022 Utah Division of Wildlife Resources News

... The current management plan includes an objective to have just over 400,000 deer across Utah — there are currently an estimated 305,700 deer in the state. “We’ve had several years of drought and are still facing ongoing extreme drought conditions statewide, which has a significant impact on the survival rates of deer,” DWR Big Game Coordinator Covy Jones said..,


Whitetail hunting in jeopardy April 7, 2022 Washington, Whitman County Gazette

... The Northeast Washington Wildlife Group believes that our whitetail deer are in trouble and their numbers have dropped to the point that recovery is impossible given the direction state. Region 1 game managers and the Fish and Wildlife Commission has taken...


Wyo to target elk, large carnivores to aid reeling mule deer April 5, 2022 Wyoming, WyoFile

... doesn’t see large-scale predator control as a silver bullet to turning the corner on mule deer numbers, which have fallen statewide from a high of over 500,000 in the early 2000s to just over 300,000 today ... pilot projects will target elk, which have thrived and trended in the opposite direction as mule deer, growing from about 90,000 animals in the early 2000s to 110,000-plus today ..,


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