Alaska Deer Population:  An estimated 330,000 in 2021, 265,000 deer in 2020, 325,000 in 2019, 290,000 in 2018, 280,000 in 2017, 425,000 in 2016, and 375,000 in 2015 based on harvest data and an estimated population range from the state.  Mild winters from 2012 to 2019 allowed populations to increase.  A harsh 2021 winter.  


Alaska Deer News

Despite hunter concerns, sport limit for deer to remain at six for Southeast's 'ABC Islands' January 26, 2023 Alaska, KCAW

... deer populations have rebounded to near carrying capacity for the three major islands comprising the unit – Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof, which are often called the “ABC Islands.”  This is a change from 2006 through 2008, when harsh winters, with especially high snowfalls, dramatically affected deer populations. Fish & Game beach surveys in the spring of 2007 recorded roughly 4 winterkill deer carcasses per mile of shoreline ...


Wolves eliminate deer on Alaskan island, quickly shift to eating sea otters, OSU researchers find January 23, 2023 Alaska, KTVZ

... in 2015 deer were the primary food of the wolves, representing 75% of their diet, while sea otters comprised 25%. By 2017, wolves transitioned to primarily consuming sea otters (57% of their diet) while the frequency of deer declined to 7%... Shortly after wolves colonized Pleasant Island in 2013, the deer population on the island plummeted. With the wolves having consumed most of the deer ...


Killing wolves and bears over nearly 4 decades did not improve moose hunting, study says November 23, 2022 Alaska, Anchorage Daily News

... The study, by retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game and University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers ... The researchers ... set out with the hypothesis that killing predators improved moose hunts in Game Management Unit 13 between 1973 and 2020.  They found the opposite...


Preliminary announcement of a month-long wolf harvest sparks outcry from trappers November 4, 2022, Alaska, KTOO

... The department wants to keep the island’s wolf population somewhere between 150 and 200 animals. Based on data from last fall, Fish and Game thinks there’s more than 230 on the island. That’s lower than the 2020 estimate of 386, and the 2019 estimate of 316... "I really think that’s what you need to focus on is the ungulate population in Southeast in general,” ... Other trappers spoke about a declining deer population ...


Scientists present theories for deer decline at Prince of Wales Island deer summit November 2, 2022 Alaska,  KRBD

... It’s what scientists call an “even-aged forest.” When trees all start growing at the same time, they create a dense canopy that prevents light from reaching the ferns and berry bushes that black-tail deer love to snack on. And because the trees grow close together, they end up long and spindly — not the massive, thick, tight-grained trunks that make old growth lumber so highly valued...


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...


State proposes timber sale near El Capitan cave on northern Prince of Wales Island September 16, 2022  Alaska, KRBD

... The Division of Forestry’s determination says about 20% of the proposed sale area is “important seasonal habitat” for deer. But the state Department of Fish and Game “does not have major concerns” about the impact on deer and their predators ... there’s a plan in place to manage the regrowth of the area after the logging.  “And one of those ways of doing that would be through pre-commercial thinning in the future,” ...


Snow forcing hungry moose to mosey into Alaska's largest city March 11, 2022 New York Post

...For the past few years, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has conducted an urban-moose survey. It is estimated that about 350 moose live around Anchorage... 


Deep snow hampers Mitkof Island deer study February 1, 2022 Alaska, KTOO

... The fourth heaviest December snowfall on record ... it looked like males on average used about 1.35 times more space, so about 1.35 times larger home range size,” Eacker said. “And so once I made that adjustment to the model ... the model is suggesting somewhere around 40 bucks per 100 does..,


Reindeer at the North Pole January 8, 2022 Alaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

... All deer, including reindeer and caribou, lack upper incisors... The word reindeer most likely comes from the Old Norse word 'hreindyri' which is derived from the word 'dyr' meaning 'animal' ...


Declines in Alaska's Western Arctic Caribou Herd Could Prompt Management Changes December 24, 2021 Field & Stream

... Alaska’s Western Arctic Caribou Herd is one of the largest caribou herds in the world—and it’s shrinking fast. Between 2019 and 2021, the herd’s population fell by nearly a quarter, dropping from 244,000 animals to 188,000...


Buffaloed December 20, 2021 Alaska, craigmedred.news

 ...“Market hunting” – the wanton killing of wildlife for sale as food, hides or feathers – was legal in the U.S. into the 1900s.   At the start of the 1900s in Alaska, a Juneau grand jury petitioned Congress to restrict the hunting of deer for hides in the state’s Panhandle in fear the Sitka blacktails there would be exterminated...


Dunleavy administration loses lawsuit over Kake subsistence hunt December 7, 2021 Alaska, KTOO

... The Southeast tribal government in Kake had organized the deer and moose harvest out of concerns about food security during the early months of the pandemic... In the end, the Federal Subsistence Board authorized a special hunt ...


ADF&G cautions general public about deer, traps November 24, 2021 Alaska, KMXT 100.1 FM

... “There is a state statute that says whenever a dog habitually annoys or bites a deer, any person can lawfully kill that dog when it’s at large. In addition to that, there is also a $400 penalty that would go to the landowner ...” Svoboda [Area wildlife biologist] said...


Document paints bleak picture of plan to bring Sitka black-tailed deer to Mat-Su  November 19, 2021 Alaska, KTOO

... it’s pretty common for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to transplant animals...  Deer do survive in Alaska, certainly, and in some pretty cold places. But a lot of the factors that allow them to survive in colder years are kind of absent from that area of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley...


Alaska Gov. Dunleavy wants to transplant deer into the Mat-Su for hunters. State biologists say project is likely to fail November 14, 2021 Anchorage Daily News

... In a populous part of Alaska that climate change will warm in the decades ahead, an established deer population might provide a new source of food and wildlife viewing for residents ... “Translocating and reintroducing animals in Alaska is not an uncommon policy. Sitka black-tailed deer have been translocated throughout Alaska,” ...


Peace Region free of deadly deer disease but more sampling needed November 11, 2021 Alaska,  Alaska Highway News

... 2021 is the third year that sampling will be mandatory for hunters in the Kootenays ... The biggest threat comes from crossings over the Alberta border, as the province is confirmed to have cases of the disease,..


Wildlife officials propose wolf harvest on Prince of Wales Island November 8, 2021 Alaska, KFSK

... Conservationists have signaled they could file a lawsuit saying the Alexander Archipelago wolf population is threatened. That conflicts with resident hunters who say the population is rising and preying on island deer, an important subsistence food source...


Homeowner faces charge for keeping deer on premises October 29, 2021 Alaska,  Kodiak Daily Mirror

... Alaska Wildlife Troopers seized a Sitka Blacktail deer from a kennel at a residence on the island of Kodiak earlier this week. The deer had been placed in the enclosed space after ... captured it in 2020 ...


Hearing anxiety over food security, subsistence council recommends tighter hunting rules in rural So October 19, 2021 knba

... The strongest measure would be an outright closure of the southern portion of Admiralty Island to urban hunters. That’d be to give more opportunity to subsistence hunters living in nearby Angoon...


Environmentalists threaten lawsuit over Southeast Alaska wolf population September 9, 2021 KTOO

... the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife ... The three-page letter is required by law before filing a lawsuit that could compel the federal agencies reviewing the petition to protect Southeast’s wolves...


Feds to consider protections for Southeast Alaska’s wolves July 27, 2021 KTOO

... A notice in the federal register published on Tuesday found merit to a conservationist coalition’s 111-page petition ... one of the co-authors of the petition, says the legacy of clear-cuts is to blame for loss of deer herds, not predators...


Are non-native Mule Deer a threat? Fish and Game wants to find out. July 15, 2021 Alaska, KHNS Radio

... Large populations of Mule Deer can be found in the nearby Yukon Territory of Canada. They have likely migrated south to Skagway over mountain passes... it’s the Moose Winter Tick that state biologists are most concerned about. The Mule Deer can remove the ticks easily. Alaska’s native Moose, however, cannot...


Fawn rehomed but serves as cautionary example June 15, 2021 Alaska, Juneau Empire

... “We don’t encourage people to pick up what they perceive as orphaned animals in the wild because they may not be orphaned,” ...  the does will cache their fawns for sometimes several hours while they’re foraging ...


Alaska's Coastal Wolves Are Not Picky Eaters April 19, 2021 Hakai Magazine

... The research, conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and Oregon State University from 2010 to 2018, is the first large-scale, region-wide study of wolf diets in southeast Alaska ... The study ... across the majority of the islands, Sitka black-tailed deer made up 65 percent of the wolves’ diets; on the mainland, moose and mountain goats were preferred over deer...


Shift in caribou movements may be tied to human activity January 21, 2021 Alaska, Phys.org

 ... A UC study published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution identified a shift in one herd's movements after the 1970s that coincided with changes in herd size and climate, and the construction of new roads and other energy infrastructure...development could disrupt the migration of caribou they depend on for sustenance...


Prince of Wales trappers report 68 wolves taken in 2020 January 21, 2021 Alaska, KTOO

... Prince of Wales residents have testified in hearings that the true wolf population is higher than official estimates. Many blame the canine predators for the deer population falling in a place where venison is an affordable alternative to expensive store-bought meat...


Some people consider reindeer and caribou to be the same animal December 25, 2020 Alaska, Journal-Courier

...  the University of Alaska Fairbanks clarifies that these animals are the same species, but different subspecies. Caribous are more migratory animals that travel long distances for winter pasture and back home again for spring calving. Reindeer are much more sedentary animals with their movements staying within an established home area ...


Environment America joins lawsuit challenging Trump administration's plans to log in Tongass national forest December 23, 2020 Alaska, Environment America

...  Expanding logging operations into roadless areas in the Tongass would be devastating for such species as the Prince of Wales flying squirrel, Sitka black-tailed deer and Queen Charlotte goshawks...

Controversial wolf season extended for Prince of Wales Island November 9, 2020 Alaska, Alaska Public Media News

...  island resident hunters said too many wolves were preying on deer... resident hunters and trappers told wildlife managers were under-counting wolves: state and federal officials recently released their fall 2019 estimate of 316 wolves in and around Prince of Wales...


Gorilla warfare November 7, 2020 Alaska, craigmedred.news

... With Sitka blacktail deer overrunning, Coronation Island ... the Alaska Department of Fish and Game 60 years ago decided to try to “balance” nature... released four wolves ...  in December 1967 ... No deer tracks were seen... By the 1980s, the last wolf was gone from the island...


Lawsuit aims to block wolf trapping on Prince of Wales Island October 26, 2020 Alaska, KRBD

... The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s estimate of the wolf population last year is 316. But that number doesn’t factor in the 165 wolves reported taken last winter ... Wolves are targeted because they prey on the island’s deer. But critics say commercial logging on Prince of Wales Island destroyed deer habitat impacting the herds...


State withholds Prince of Wales wolf population estimate from subsistence council October 22, 2020 Alaska, KRBD

... Hunters say the wolf population is healthy and blame the predator for keeping down the deer herds. Another view is that deer habitat has been lost to commercial clear cuts, especially on Prince of Wales... officials refused this week to share their numbers with a regional council tasked with advising subsistence hunting and trapping on federal land...


Road to Berlaimont will be disastrous for deer, elk October 18, 2020 Alaska, Vail Daily News

... As career wildlife officers ... we observed decision upon decision placing recreation and development interests above wildlife needs. The recent Berlaimont draft decision is a prime example of the pro-development culture of the White River National Forest...


Canadians join lawsuit to overturn opening Alaska wilderness to energy drilling August 24, 2020 Red Deer Advocate

... “No one should stand by idly while the birthing grounds of the caribou are sold for oil and gas,” ... The herd returns every year to calve along an ecologically rich strip of Alaska’s north coast...


Deer population in PWS (Prince William Sound) still looking good August 3, 2020 Alaska, The cordova Times

... Almost every location had more pellet groups observed than the previous year... the two “population crashes” we have observed (1999 and 2012) showed an initial drop in pellets observed accompanying the carcasses...This winter didn’t have much snow until late January. January and February were colder than recent years (and the “big winters”) but all other months were warmer, the spring came fast ...

Deer study shows healthy population on Mitkof Island July 20, 2020 Alaska, KFSK

... The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s multi-year study of deer numbers on the island started last year and has produced an estimate for Sitka black tail numbers from last winter, 2018-19. The estimate is for the number of animals in low elevation winter habitat on the island, below 1700 feet...


Endangered Species petition filed for Southeast Alaska wolves July 15, 2020 KRBD

...  the state doesn’t believe Southeast Alaska’s wolves are endangered...  The Center for Biological Diversity ...  blames the decline in Prince of Wales Island’s deer habitat on the legacy of clear cuts which peaked in the 1980s and 90s...


Mule Deer Can Now Be Hunted in Interior Alaska July 15, 2020 Outdoor Life Magazine

... Mule deer aren’t an introduced species, they have come to Alaska by expanding their normal range... hunters would be allowed to kill either mule deer or whitetails in Alaska, with no closed season. The only requirement is that the deer be brought to ADF&G for sampling...


Environmentalists renew effort to protect Southeast Alaska wolves June 22, 2020 Alaska, KRBD

... Many resident hunters insist the wolf population is under-counted and blame predators for the decline of the deer population. Conservationists point to the legacy of clear cut logging for the loss of deer habitat...


Best Way to Save Young Wildlife: Leave Them Alone May 30, 2020 Alaska, Alaska Native News

...  black-tailed deer mothers stay away from their newborn fawns to avoid drawing predators.  “Does will cache them for several hours while they go off and feed,” he said. “It’s a strategy. It’s safer for the fawn to not be with the doe while she’s feeding. It’s not orphaned, and people are actually kidnapping it.” ...


Groups request federal protection for Southeast Alaska wolf population April 23, 2020 Alaska, Anchorage Daily News

... Some residents argue the wolf population is much higher than official estimates and they blame wolf packs for killing deer prized by subsistence hunters... Environmentalists unsuccessfully petitioned the federal government twice to list the Alexander Archipelago wolves as an endangered species...




Data:  From 2015 to 2021 the state has provided a target population range of 333,000 to 346,000 for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). Harvest data and this historical analysis indicates wide variations in year to year populations based primarily on weather severity.  To capture these variations, hunting data was combined with the WAFWA target deer population range to create the population estimates below which average at the middle of the WAFWA range.  


 Deer Population Estimates:  

2015   375,000

 2016   425,000

 2017   280,000

 2018   290,000

 2019    325,000

 2020    265,000

 2021    330,000

Estimated from hunting data.

A harsh winter in 2021-22.  In the 2021 WAFWA report, the state commented "Both Southeast and Southcentral experienced average to below average winter severity from 2012-2019. The winter 2015-2016 was one of the mildest on record, which resulted in increased hunter effort and harvest. These series of mild to average winters allowed deer populations to recover and hunters reported deer to be in good body condition.  The 2019-2020 winter severity was average in Southeast Alaska, but high in Southcentral Alaska, where managers estimated 60-70% mortality in some areas of the Kodiak Archipelago. Winter severity in 2020-2021 was average across both Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, allowing deer to recover." 


By 2019, the deer around Prince William Sound fully recovered from the severe winter of 2011-12.  Mild winters into 2017 and 2016 supported deer populations.  Mule deer sightings in 2019 and 2017 raised the concern that they would be accompanied by winter ticks and other pathogens that can be deadly to caribou and moose. Mule deer are not native but sightings have been reported since the 1970s. A 2018 study found that "Since the mid-1990s, the size of reindeer and caribou herds has declined by 56 percent... from an estimated 4.7 million animals to 2.1 million, a loss of 2.6 million." A 2016 study predicts a deer abundance will decline from 10−37% after 30 years.


Deer pellet counts in 2015 were higher than 2014 but still near the lows from around 2000.  Deer populations on some islands were half of what they had been a decade ago.  In 2015, 29 reindeer arrived in early June to the Alaska Peninsula village of Port Heiden, where the community is reviving a long-dormant tradition of reindeer herding.  A 2014 population estimate of 200,000 deer in the Southeast.    In 2014 a coalition successfully sued to stop some projects in the Tongass National Forest. "The logging plans did not take into account that these areas are already struggling to sustain a high enough deer population to allow timber sales."  Does were 24.4% of the 2013 harvest.  


According to the 2013 Deer Management Report [PDF] "As clearcut logging continues to reduce old-growth habitat in portions of the unit (Unit 1A), many previously logged stands no longer support deer, the local deer populations are expected to decline.  Population models predict declines in deer carrying capacity of 50-60% by the end of the logging rotation in 2054."   This estimate is based on changes on old growth habitat which provide for deer during winters with heavy snow.  However, the climate is rapidly warming in Alaska as evidenced by sightings of non-native mule and whitetail deer.  The estimated population trend is up with the warmer climate a likely contributing cause.


A brutal winter in 2011-12 reduced deer populations, reflected in the reduced number of deer taken during the hunt in 2012.  The populations took several years to recover.  Between 1987 and 2007 the harvest averaged about 12,330.  Harsh winters from 2006 to 2009 reduced the population and the deer kill from 2007 to 2010.  Deer populations declined in some areas from the severe winters of 2011-12, 2006-07, and 2007-08, and to a lesser degree,  2014 and 2008-09. 


A hard winter in 1998-99 reduced populations in some areas by more than half.


Deer in Alaska are primarily Sitka black-tailed, but some mule deer have recently migrated into the state as a result of warmer weather.


History:  Sitka black-tail deer began to wander north to Southeast Alaska at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, as glaciers receded.  Sitka black-tailed deer, related to mule deer, were originally found only in Southeast Alaska.


Translocation of deer near CordovaStarting in 1916 Sitka blacktail deer were successfully translocated by the Cordova Chamber of Commerce into Unit 6 in the southeast with at least 24 released on the islands of Hawkins and Hinchinbrook.  Legal deer hunting began in 1935.  The population peaked in 1945, with diminished habitat.  The annual deer kill from hunting ranged between 500 and 1,500 prior to 1979.  


A long term population upward trend started in 1978 with 3,000 deer taken in the hunt by 1987.  The average kill in the 1990s was 2,160 deer, ranging from 1,300 to 3,000 deer; in the 2000s was 2,460, ranging from 1,400 to 3,500.  The population trend turneld ower in the 2010s with an average kill of 1,900 deer, ranging from 618 to 3,084.


Translocation of Reindeer to St. Matthews Island:  In 1944, 29 reindeer were introduced to St. Matthew, an island covered with a thick mat of lichens. With this abundance of high quality forage, the herd increased dramatically, and by the summer of 1963 there were 6000 reindeer on the island. After a bad winter, there were less than 50 reindeer alive the next spring.  The size of the herd had resulted in a change in forage, from lichens to more sedges and grasses offering less nutrition.


Graph Below from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

The 1998 - 2000 Deer Management Report provides harvest data and population trend analysis for 1984 to 1999.


Chronic Wasting Disease.  A 2016 study determined that Reindeer were susceptible to chronic wasting disease regardless of source species.



In 2006 about 400,000 caribou and 130,000 to 160,000

moose.  A 2018 study found that "Since the mid-1990s, the size of reindeer and caribou herds has declined by 56 percent... from an estimated 4.7 million animals to 2.1 million, a loss of 2.6 million."  A 2017 report finds wide fluctuations in moose populations based on winter severity.


Wolves have been in Southeast Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago for 12,000 years. In 1960 biologiests decided to release wolves on Coronation Island where the was a high density of blacktailed deer and no wolves. By 1965 there was no sign of deer on the north side of the island.  By 1966 they found only three wolves and wolf scats indicating the animals had resorted to cannibalism.   In 1983 they found no evidence of wolves, but the deer were once again plentiful.


Mountain Lions are rare in Alaska, but there were three sightings reported in 2019.

Alaska Deer Population Estimate