Nebraska Deer Population   A declining deer population in recent years into 2024.  An estimated population of 320,000 deer in 2019.  Numbers increasing in 2020, but down in 2022.  The mule deer population in 2022 was estimated by the state at about  80,000 down from 135,000 in 2019.  About 343,000 deer in 2018, 340,000 in 2017, and 315,000 in 2016.  Severe drought, aggressive hunting, and a major EHD outbreak in 2012 and 2013 dramatically reduced the population which peaked around 2010.  Antlerless deer permits were reduced beginning in 2012 to help the herd recover.  An estimated 400,000 deer in 2005.

Nebraska Deer News

The 2024 Nebraska Deer Forecast May 14, 2024 OutdoorNebraska Big Game Guide

... Deer populations and harvests have declined in recent years.  In 2023, statewide mule deer buck harvest was the lowest since 1977 and whitetail buck harvest was the lowest since 1994..,

Nebraska researcher helps untangle history of fallow deer May 1, 2024 Nebraska Today - University of Nebraska–Lincoln

... The article broke new ground on how fallow deer, which emerged from the Ice Age in the Balkans, Anatolia and Persia, came to be distributed across Europe and around the world... Although fallow deer live wild in parks and preserves around the world, they actually were among the earliest animals to be domesticated. Nearly all populations — whether in Europe, Africa or the Americas — were established by humans ...

Creighton researcher receives $2.7 million grant to study infectious prions January 5, 2024 Nebraska, Fremont Tribune

... prions — the infectious agents that cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases, including chronic wasting disease in deer ...  “the first solid evidence” that substrains are present in a prion mix in a stable rodent model and that administering anti-prion drugs can allow drug-resistant ones to emerge...

Video Below:  225 views  Jan 12, 2024

Nebraska Game and Parks biologists discussed big game harvest results and season structure during the 2024 Big Game Informational Meeting recorded Jan. 4, 2024. 

Firearm Deer Harvest Down 18% Statewide December 24, 2023 Nebraska, Rural Radio Network

... Severe drought affected nearly all of Nebraska in recent years, leading to an increase in epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

Severe winter conditions, which reduced available food sources and increased stress, affected deer populations in northern Nebraska..,

Surveillance detects 31 positive CWD cases December 19, 2023 Nebraska Game and Parks News

... Chronic wasting disease surveillance conducted in central and north-central Nebraska during the November firearm deer season detected 31 positive cases in deer.  603 samples were collected from harvested deer at check stations ..,

Low deer population numbers seem to be a mystery December 14, 2023 Nebraska, The Beatrice Daily Sun

... NGPC biologists have suggested that drought and deer disease outbreaks have been some of the cause for this drop in deer numbers. However, if there are factors that are killing deer, where are the carcasses? ... one buck that was exhibiting symptoms of CWD... was standing in a field but could not walk...

With Nebraska deer season numbers down, changes are likely coming November 28, 2023

... significant adjustments may be made after preliminary results from the 2023 Nebraska November firearm deer season show the statewide harvest was down 18% from 2022 and 29% from the 2018-2022 average... Lower harvest and deer populations were recorded in 2022 ..,

Did you see any deer this year? November 23, 2023 Nebraska, Beatrice Daily Sun

... The majority of the hunters I talked to said they saw very few deer compared to previous years. It seemed to be the case across the state...  Only the extreme northeast part of the state seemed to be ‘normal’ with the deer numbers seen..,

Officials issue fewer hunting permits as deer population in western Nebraska declines November 14, 2023 Nebraska, KLTN

... In 2019, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission was asked by landowners to reduce the amount of deer, leading to a spike in permits issued.  This, along with drought conditions and diseases, has led to a decrease ...

Deer hunters will find mixed results when Nebraska's season opens Saturday November 9, 2023

... deer numbers are down again. The buck harvest for 2022 was 23,045 for whitetails and 5,878 for mule deer, drops of 11% from 2021. The mule harvest was the lowest since 1981 and the whitetail buck harvest the lowest since 1994 ... Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease ... has hit the northern half of the state fairly hard ... The southeast also has seen a decline in deer...,

Nebraska study found new method to examine spread of COVID in deer November 1, 2023

... Earlier in the pandemic, researchers had worried that the coronavirus could spread to animals, mutate and spill back into people.  That has not, however, proved a big threat, Loy said. Recent work indicates there were introductions of the virus from humans to deer, which was followed by circulation among deer but only a couple of cases in which the virus passed from deer to humans...

Commissioners Approve Nonresident Big Game Permit Fee Increases October 13, 2023 Nebraska, KCSR / KBPY

Chadron Radio

... The new fees will help offset the lost revenue from reducing the quota of nonresident deer, antelope and turkey permits. Money from the fees will be deposited into the Game Cash Fund, which supports the wildlife and fisheries divisions and their research, conservation and management efforts...

     Commissioners to Consider Nonresident Big Game Permit Fee Increases October 8, 2023 Rural Radio Network

... If approved, the nonresident permit fee would increase in 2024 to: Deer, $332; Statewide Whitetail Buck, $747; Statewide Buck, $992; Restricted Statewide Buck, $792; Season Choice Antlerless Only, $92; Special Antlerless Only, $92; Landowner Deer, $166 ...

With harvest down, state limiting deer permits June 27, 2023 Nebraska, Norfolk Daily News

... The 2022 deer harvest was down 11% statewide from the previous year and down 22% from 2020. Mule deer buck harvest was the lowest since 1981 and whitetail buck harvest was the lowest since 1994..,

As Herds Reel From Winterkill, Drought And Even Brain Worms, Neighboring States Join Wyoming In Slashing Hunting Tags May 31, 2023 Nebraska, Cowboy State Daily

... “Our mule deer buck harvest last fall was the lowest since 1981,” Nebraska Game and Parks spokesman Luke Meduna told Cowboy State Daily. “The whitetail buck harvest was the lowest since 1994.”  Nebraska cut roughly 8,300 deer tags for this fall, mostly for mule deer ..,

Fewer hunting permits for some species in Nebraska after big game recommendations April 21, 2023 Nebraska,

... Permits also were reduced for mule deer and whitetail deer...There’s also been some concern about reproduction in mule deer. ... Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease has hit some of the whitetail deer herds and the animals also have been impacted by drought conditions..,

Nebraska mountain lion now looking for a name after 700-mile journey February 17, 2023 York News-Times

... the big cat made its way from the scenic Niobrara River valley all the way to suburban Springfield, Illinois, according to the GPS tracker that Nebraska Game and Parks had tagged it with a year prior ..,

Husker researchers, Game and Parks partner on statewide elk study February 8, 2023 Nebraska Today - University of Nebraska–Lincoln

... Elk, like buffalo, once roamed widely across the Great Plains. Killed off in Nebraska by the 1880s ... The project aims to help Game and Parks develop an effective management approach, including a hunting quota to maintain the elk population at a sustainable, manageable level ..,

Celebrity bowhunting couple sentenced for conspiring to illegally obtain wildlife in Nebraska January 17, 2023 Nebraska, Lincoln Journal Star

... The Bowmars pleaded guilty Oct. 19 in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge. In exchange, four other more serious charges, mostly involving allegations of illegally baited hunting sites, were dropped...

Game and Parks points to widespread drought as factor in decrease of deer harvest numbers December 14, 2022, Nebraska, News Channel Nebraska

... Big Game Program Manager Luke Meduna says ... “Our harvest was down 9%  from last year… The main factor in the drop is likely related to the extreme drought felt by much of the state last winter and summer, as some areas went weeks on end without rain or snow..,

November firearm deer harvest: Less than last year December 2, 2022 The North Platte Bulletin

... Considering the increases in antlerless harvest due to depredation complaints over the past few years, it’s not surprising harvest numbers would start trending downward [Luke Meduna, the big game program manager]  ...

Deer harvest down compared to last year December 1, 2022 Nebraska, KHGI - Nebraska.TV

... harvest was down 9% during the 2022 nine-day season compared to the 2021 season... Officials said the lowering deer population and diseases likely had an impact ..,

Nebraska November firearm deer harvest lower than last year November 30, 2021 Nebraskaland Magazine

...Mule deer buck harvest decreased 10%, with 4,875 taken, compared to 5,407 in 2021. Whitetail buck harvest was down 12%, with 18,942 taken compared to 21,070 in 2021. Antlerless mule deer harvest was down 12%, while antlerless white-tailed deer harvest increased 1% compared to 2021..,

Nebraska deer season: Three hunters shot in three days November 21, 2022 Lincoln Journal Star

...  shot by members of their own hunting parties over the weekend ... So far in 2022, the commission has recorded four hunting accidents total. It counted eight in 2021 and five in 2020 ...

How will the drought impact Nebraska's rifle deer season this year? November 12, 2022

... "We know the drought moves deer around ... In years of drought, we also tend to have more hemorrhagic disease." ... While there may be fewer deer, the quality of deer has continued to be good ..,

Describing the two deer species found in North Dakota November 11, 2022 Grand Forks Herald

... “The whitetail got its name because it has a big white tail ... The mule deer got its name because it has big ears like a mule.”  Mule deer largely inhabit western North Dakota but can also be seen in small pockets in the eastern part of the state. White-tailed deer can be found most anywhere...

Special Landowner Deer Season, Nebraska Game and Parks news November 3, 2022 Syracuse Journal-Democrat

... the Special Landowner Deer Season, now in its second year ... gives a qualifying landowner a threeday season on his or her property preceding the regular firearm deer season... The qualifying landowners and immediate family may have up to eight of these permits for $8 each. Last year they could have four permits...

Deer management plan working so well no cull planned for Chadron for now October 22, 2022 Nebraska, Panhandle News Channel

... Arnold admits numbers may also be down because mild winters allowed the deer to remain up in the Pine Ridge.... 

Public asked to report dead and sick big game October 18, 2022 Nebraska,

... Nebraska wildlife officials say conditions throughout much of the state are suitable for the

spread of deadly viral diseases among big game populations... Epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, often causes high fever, internal bleeding, swelling, lesions, lethargy, increased heart rate, dehydration, salivation, incoordination and loss of fear of humans ...

Hunter sentenced in federal court for violations in Nebraska September 4, 2022

...  for transporting illegally obtained wildlife during a mule deer hunt in Nebraska... a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation to two years of probation with a $5,000 fine and an additional $4,000 in restitution...

Landowners reminded Free-earned Landowner Elk Permit Program available August 30, N ebraskaland Magazine - Nebraska Game and Parks

... The free-earned landowner elk permit was created during the 2021 Legislative Session. The goal is to increase hunting access opportunities and antlerless elk harvest, and to benefit landowners who regularly have elk on their property but can’t always draw a landowner permit...

Game and Parks' solution for elk problems stirs up Nebraska hunters June 25, 2022 Lincoln Journal Star

... a special depredation order for a season July 1-31 on private land ... to relieve problems landowners are having with elk destroying their crops ... Issues brought up by hunters ... include young calves being left orphaned, landowners charging for permits, offering permits to out-of-state resident ...

Commissioners approve mountain lion season for 2023 June 17, 2022, Nebraskaland Magazine

... he harvest objective is to allow the mountain lion population to remain resilient and healthy, while halting growth or moderately reducing the population size. The most recent estimate for the Pine Ridge population from the 2021 genetic survey is 33 mountain lions..,

Wyoming and Nebraska reduce deer tags, but for different reasons -May 5, 2022. KLKN-TV

... Nebraska plans to issue fewer permits ... “On our mule deer and pronghorns, numbers are down a little bit,” Meduna said. “Overall, we’re down a little bit on everything, like whitetails and even elk ..,

Commission approves 2022 big game hunting recommendations April 28, 2022 Nebraskaland Magazine

... Commissioners approved staff recommendations that will help the agency manage big game populations at socially acceptable levels, address declining mule deer populations in some areas of the state, and maintain resident access to hunting permits..,

Florida man must sell Nebraska property after history of hunting violations March 21, 2022 Nebraska, Columbus Telegram

... the Florida ringleader’s unprecedented plea deal last month to stay out of the Morrill County Jail: Yes, he would sell his house and land near Bridgeport; and no, he wouldn’t buy, rent or lease any other property in the county for five years...

November deer harvest down 12% in Nebraska December 10, 2021

...  southwest Nebraska was down 13%, the northwestern part of the state saw an 8% decrease and northeast Nebraska decreased 15% ...

So, what is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease? October 21, 2021 Nebraska, Beatrice Daily Sun

...  EHD seems to present and may get worse in northeast Nebraska...  Clinical signs in white-tailed deer consist of loss of appetite, weakness, and loss of fear of humans and in late stages, deer barely being able to walk...

 Mountain Lions Becoming Normal Presence In Area, Authorities Say October 19, 2021 Nebraska,

... Mountain lions were native to Nebraska but were eliminated by the 1890s, he said in a news release.  Nebraska’s first modern confirmation was made in 1991 ... statutes to allow hunting were created in 2012. There are presently breeding populations in three areas in the state: the Pine Ridge, Niobrara River Valley and Wildcat Hills...

2021 Homestead NHP deer count shows high population  September 25, 2021 Nebraska,  News Channel Nebraska

... Of those 34 deer, 32 were doe and just a pair were bucks. Bolli explained why this may be.  “The hunting pressure,” Bolli said. “It’s southeast Nebraska. There’s a lot of deer hunting that goes on and a lot of the hunters target the bucks. It could also be that the bucks were just more secretive.” ...


Fall means more deer on the road: 4 ways time of day, month and year raise your risk of crashes September 22, 2021 Nebraska,

... accidents occur most frequently at dusk and dawn ... the peak number of deer-vehicle accidents occurs in the last week of October and first weeks of November...

Homestead to host deer survey September 17, 2021 Nebraska, Beatrice Daily Sun

...  offering the public the opportunity to help conduct a fall deer survey ... a walker or a counter ... [walker[ needed to watch the park’s boundaries and count deer as they exit...

Nebraska Deer News and Information Archive by TopicPopulation and Management, Deer in the News, Disease, Suburban, Transportation

Nebraska data:  Declining deer populations with drought, hunting pressure, and the effect of disease into 2022 and 2023, so fewer hunting permits issued.  The state notes in the 2024 deer forecast that: Deer populations and harvests have declined in recent years.  In 2023, statewide mule deer buck harvest was the lowest since 1977 and whitetail buck harvest was the lowest since 1994.

An increase in deer permits for 2021 to stabilize the population in several areas, but drought limited populations.  The state reported a decline in the 2022 mule deer population, falling from about 135,000 in 2019 to 80,000 (60,000 to 100,000) in 2022.   The hunting data in the graph below reflects a significant decline of the deer population in 2012 as a result of a large outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and drought.

Data in the Graph Below

Recent whitetail estimates are based on hunting data updating reports to the Outdoor Life and National Deer Association of 270,000 whitetails in 2017 and 200,000 in 2015.  The state did not provide a whitetail population to the National Deer Association for 2019, but the Nebraska Big Game Conservation Association provides an undated estimate for recent years on their website of 150,000 to 180,000 whitetails.

In their 2022 Big Game Management Recommendations the state notes that "Overall, 2021 was a down year for deer harvest, down 12% statewide from 2020. We did have a significant EHD event in the Northern half of the state and panhandle ... Whitetail harvest statewide has largely remained stable for the last 5-7 years. While populations are not at to pre-2012 levels or even mid-2000’s levels... Mule deer harvest has declined from record and near record levels in many western deer management units in recent years ..."  [page 31].  

In 2021, the state reported that "The eastern range of mule deer has receded westward in the last 15 years. We suspect that this is partially due to habitat loss and partially due to impacts of meningeal brain worm (P. tenuis)."   The recent peak mule deer population was 135,000 in 2019. Source:  Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  Graph below from the 2022 report for the mule deer harvest, 1970 to 2021.

In 2020 "deer numbers are good across most of the state, and there are plenty of permits available."  Increased antlerless permits in the southwest appear to have reduced the population.  Hunter numbers increased in the 2020.  Floods and blizzards in 2018-19 took some toll on deer with the estimated mule deer population falling by 15,000, reducing the population estimate to 320,000 for 2019.

A 2019 study from the University of Nebraska suggests the area of meadows surrounded by forests, the edge habitat most beneficial to deer, are greatly reduced from the days of mammoths roaming the country: "Mammoths toppled trees, compacted soil ...meadow is much smaller..." 

Harvest data and comments for 2016 through 2018 indicate a stable to moderately increasing population with an increase of 20,000 mule deer in 2017 and 2,500 mule deer in 2018 resulting in the estimate of 315,000 in 2016, 340,000 in 2017  and 343,000 for 2018, including some whitetail increase.  

Populations rebounded from the drought and EHD outbreak of 2012 and 2013. By 2018 most areas had recovered.  A similar population in 2019. In 2017 whitetail populations were stable and mule deer populations were higher.  Reduced whitetail permits and increased mule deer doe permits for 2017.   One estimate put the 2017 total population at 70 percent of the 2010 population.  The mule deer population trended up for three years into 2016 with reduced hunting pressure.  Higher whitetail anterless permits in 2016 to limit growth.   

Based on reported deer population estimates from 2015 there were 278,000 deer, about 200,000 whitetails and 77,500 mule deer.  

Restrictions on anlterless deer permits in 2015 increased the population. The 2014 whitetail deer population was down by about 36 percent from 2011.  The 2013 deer population was about the same as in 2003.  An estimated 77,000 mule deer in 2015, but the number of whitetails vs. mule deer is hard to estimate since hunters can take either and harvest data is used for the estimate. 

The Game Commission reduced antlerless deer tags in 2013, an effort to boost the deer population. Brain worm is blamed for some of the mule deer decline. Deer permit sales in 2012 declined 13 percent to 122,214. Total deer harvest fell 30 percent to 60,548. (Source).  

Restrictions on antlerless permits beginning in 2012 were implemented to increase the population. The population peaked in 2010 . Disease, hunting, and the 2011 flood reduced the number.  GPC has focused on increasing mule deer populations, in part because they are more acceptable to farmers. An increase in antlerless permits in 2016 designed to stabilize the whitetails. Mule deer are mostly in the higher, drier western counties and whitetails dominate in the east. 

The herd was hit hard by epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and drought in 2012, killing an estimated third of the whitetail population.  Half the herd are thought to have died in Dodge and Saunders counties.   Aggressive hunting leading up to 2012, with a big increase in the take of whitetail does, also brought the numbers down (see figure of harvest data below).   EHD in 2012 and 2013 took about 60 percent of the deer in the north central area. A parasitic, meningeal worm, has also reduced deer numbers. The 2014 harvest was about 50,580 down from the peak of 88,034 in 2010. 

Population Estimates:   The 2017 total population at 70 percent of the 2010 population.   Whitetails estimated to be 265,000 in 2009.  A total listed by the state at  300,000 to 350,000 in 2009. One estimate puts the total deer population at 300,000 to 350,000 around 2007, also an estimate of 300,000.  A 2005 estimate of 400,000 deer. In 2003 an estimate of at least 50,000 mule deer and 200,000 whitetails, 35,000 and 40,000 mule deer each year during the early 1990s.  "whitetail population each fall has been estimated at between 150,000 to 180,000 animals" (undated).  A whitetail population estimate of 140,000 in 1990 and a 1991 estimate for all deer of 210,000 in 1991 (p. 2).

More estimates

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease  EHD  The 2012 outbreak killed more than 100,000 deer in the state, about 30 percent of the deer population.  An implied population estimate of more than 333,000 deer for 2012.  Another outbreak in 2021.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD)   The first case in Nebraska was in February, 1998, confirmed by NVSL in 4.5 year old male elk in a north central Nebraska game farm.  The affected herd was  quarantined  The first case in wild deer was during the fall hunt of 2000 located within 3 miles of the Nebraska facility that reported CWD in 4 elk obtained from Montana.  A wild deer killed in 2004 near Grand Island and the Platte River represented a significant eastward expansion of the disease.  By 2016 the disease had spread to 30 counties.  The first positives in southeast Nebraska in early 2017 with 203 positives of 1,807 deer sampled during the 2017 gun season.  Into 2018, a total of 499 positives in 40 Nebraska counties.  During the 2019 gun season there were 169 positives from 1,803 deer sampled.   During the November, 2023, gun season  there were 31 positive cases of 603 sampled.  From 1997 to the end of 2023, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission had tested more than 57,000 deer and more than 400 elk, with 1,269 deer and 19 elk testing positive. 

History  Deer were common to the state prior to the late 1800s.  In 1804 Lewis and Clark reported abundant deer along the Missouri river.  Unregulated hunting and agricultural development nearly wiped them out.  Deer were nearly extinct in Nebraska by 1900.  The Nebraska Game and Fish report for 1901-02 estimated the mule deer population at 50 [page 5].  In 1907 deer hunting was prohibited, but the recovery took decades.   "Game Commission surveys in the winter of 1939-1940 found between 2,000 and 3,000 deer."

The first modern deer season was in 1945 when 275 mule deer and 2 whitetails were taken. The deer population rose from the mid-1990's through 2011 when the Game Commission issued more permits and implemented some Earn-a-Buck programs to encourage shooting does to reduce the population. The drought of 2012 and resulting EHD outbreak which killed thousands of deer was the worst outbreak since the 1970's. An estimated 50,000 mule deer and 200,000 whitetails in 2003. More deer history 

Mule deer are mostly found in the western half of the state where there are open grasslands, the Sandhills, Panhandle, and southwest. Whitetails are found more often in the east along rivers and in forested and edge habitat.  Whitetail densities have been to 30 deer per square mile in some areas.

Elk were extirpated by the 1880s and began their return in the 1960s as elk were repopulated in Wyoming.

Cougar ( Mountain Lion) hunting was opened in 2014, with 22 cougars occupying the Pine Ridge area.   An estimate for Pine Ridge of 34 in 2020.  Mountain lions were hunted to extinction in the 1800's with the last confirmed sighting in 1903 but are native to the state, returning around 1991. In 2017 an estimated 59 lions. Sightings.  The 2020 population estimate was lowered and hunting reduced for 2021.  A genetic survey of the Pine Ridge population from the 2021 found 33 mountain lions.  A mountain lion traveled 700 to Nebraska, captured in 2023.

Wolves, a few. One killed near Spaulding in 2003. DNA tests showed it came from Minnesota-Michgan-Wisconsin area. In 1913 one killed near Oconto.