Washington Deer Population:  An estimated 241,000 deer in 2022 with roughly 102,000 blacktails, 81,000 mule deer, and 59,000 whitetails.  The population estimate is down somewhat from the estimated 252,000 deer in 2021. The population is also down from about 278,000 in 2020 and 310,000 in 2014.  In 2021 about 25 percent of whitetails and 15 percent of blacktails died from disease.  In 2021 there were an estimated 92,000 blacktails, 89,000 mule deer, and 71,000 whitetail deer.   


Not counted are an estimated 1,300 Columbia whitetails that are protected, not hunted.  About 280,000 deer in 2019, up from 270,000 in 2018 and 250,000 in 2017 based on hunting data.  A slight downward population trend since the early 2000's.  Washington 2023 Hunting Prospects


Washington Deer News

Latest USGS Migrations Maps Feature Several WA, OR Deer, Elk Herds April 11, 2024 Washington, Northwest Sportsman Magazine

... New mapping out from the U.S. Geological Survey today is spotlighting how heavily a Central Washington mule deer herd uses a migratory corridor intersecting with busy US 97 over Blewett Pass...


Mule deer closures appear successful April 4, 2024  Washington, Methow Valley News

... The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed two-thirds of the Methow Wildlife Area to protect the deer at their most vulnerable time, when their food is covered by deep snow and they rely on limited fat reserves...


How Washington's I-90 became safer for wildlife, drivers April 1, 2024 Phys.org

...  A woven metal funnel of fencing surrounding the crossings helps guide animals to them  ... By the end of 2023, WSDOT recorded the 25,716th safe wildlife crossing in the project zone, which included 13,525 by deer, 7,967 by elk, 3,216 by coyote and a handful by rarer species like moose, cougar, American marten, fisher and American pika...


Getting a foothold on elk hoof disease March 16, 2024 Washington, The Columbian

... Scientists that have been researching Treponema-Associated Hoof Disease (TAHD) in elk have not found any magic pill to eliminate it ... Southwest Washington is ground zero for TAHD, for it is here that it first appeared within the Mount St. Helens elk herd ... has ravaged SW Washington elk ..,


Moose research begins in northeast Washington March 16, 2024 AOL

... biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife put GPS collars on 28 female moose ... hope to collar 80 ... Moose have been on the decline nationwide ...


WDFW proposes elimination of antlerless deer hunt in some areas March 15, 2024 Washington, Methow Valley News

... The proposed changes are intended to promote population stability and/or recovery of deer populations in affected areas around the state. Mule deer populations in north-central Washington have recently been affected by intense environmental conditions including drought and extreme winters, disease, and widespread wildfire...,


New Study Looks At Northeast Washington Elk, Wolf, Lion, Human Interactions February 29, 2024 Northwest Sportsman Magazine

... Researchers with the University of Washington ... found that elk always tried to avoid wolves regardless of time of day or either season, but while the herding animals strongly stayed away from cougar country at night, they were less worried about encountering big cats during daylight... Elk tend to avoid us during the day but moved closer to homes and farms at night to apparently use them as something of a shield against wolves...


WDFW Opens Comment On 3-year Hunting Proposals Package February 22, 2024 Washington, Northwest Sportsman Magazine

... “White-tailed and mule deer populations in southeast Washington remain below levels prior to a hemorrhagic disease outbreak in 2021,” the agency states. “Similarly, mule deer populations in north-central Washington have recently been impacted by intense environmental conditions (e.g., drought, extreme winter conditions), disease, and expansive wildfire. Improved adult female survival, which is facilitated by restricting antlerless harvest, will promote population growth and stability.” ...


Public comment period open for Washington three-year hunting season setting February 22, 2024 Washington  Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)

... Descriptions of each proposed rule change are available online.  The public may submit comments online, via email, by calling 1-855-925-2802 and entering project code 1378 ...


Public invited to virtual video screening and panel discussion with scientists on wildlife habitat loss January 24, 2024 Washington, 

Dailyfly

... The estimated number of mule deer killed annually on state highways is approximately half of what hunters harvest annually. Wildlife crossing structures like the ones on Interstate 90 substantially reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on Washington highways..,


Bipartisan bill seeks to boost payments for crops damaged by deer and elk January 19, 2024 Washington, Everett Post

...  Senate Bill 5784 ... would increase the state program’s current statutory limit from $150,000 annually to $420,000 for claims and damages awarded to farmers... would raise the individual claim amount from $10,000 to $30,000 ...


Wildlife Commission ordered to consider gray wolf management changes January 15, 2024 Washington Policy Center

... The apex predators have flourished in the northeastern part of the state, preying on deer, elk, livestock, and domestic animals for nearly 20 years. Current population counts note 30 of the 37 identified wolf packs in Washington State are clustered in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Spokane counties..,


Whidbey Island has one of highest wildlife-vehicle crash rates December 20, 2023 Washington, HeraldNet.com

... “It sounds backwards, but much of our development actually increases the deer habitat ... They are quite adept, being foragers not grazers, at capitalizing on our development and living amongst our sprawling neighborhood settings.” [Ralph Downes, an enforcement officer] ...


Five Central Washington Wildlife Area Units Close Temporarily to Protect Wintering Mule Deer November 27, 2023 Big Country News

... Much of the Methow Wildlife Area land was acquired to conserve winter habitat for migrating deer. The temporary closure will protect crucial winter foraging habitat ...


WDFW issues chronic wasting disease rule November 22, 2023 Washington, Elkhorn Media Group

...  Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has adopted a rule change that allows WDFW to offer an incentive to hunters who have their harvested deer and elk tested for chronic wasting disease... has not been found in Washington ..,


WDFW Sees Increased Traffic At CWD Sampling Stations This Fall November 20, 2023 Washington, Northwest Sportsman Magazine

...Asked what the agency attributed 2023’s increase to – the whitetail herd bouncing back from 2021’s huge hemorrhagic disease dieoff? better hunting conditions? the incentive of potentially drawing into one of 100 multiseason tags ... – Lehman said it was “probably a combination of factors.” ...


Mating season, winter migration bring deer closer to Washington's roads November 17, 2023 nbcrightnow.com

... WSDOT maintenance crews also track wildlife carcass removal across Washington and report an average of 5,000 collisions with deer and nearly 300 collisions with elk occur each year..,


CWD Sampling Continues At Eastern Washington Deer Check Stations October 23, 2023 Northwest Sportsman Magazine

... CWD is not known to occur in Washington, but with outbreaks in Northwest Montana and in Central Idaho just east of Hells Canyon, WDFW has made testing harvested and roadkilled deer, elk and other ungulates in far Eastern Washington a priority ...


WDFW invites public comment on rule making to offer incentives for chronic wasting disease testing September 25, 2023 Washington, The Reflector

... WDFW has asked hunters to have harvested deer and elk tested for CWD since 2021 as part of the department’s disease surveillance program... 


Driver Allegedly Shot Man as He Helped Deer Cross Road September 17, 2023 Washington, Newser 

...  a man stood in his driveway with his wife, attempting to alert passing cars to deer that were crossing the road so that drivers would slow down, one of those drivers fatally shot him, police say...


Man killed in road-rage shooting after trying to slow cars down for crossing deer September 11, 2023 FOX 13 Seattle

... The woman told deputies that she and her husband had gone out to the road to slow down traffic on S. Machias Rd. to help some deer safely cross the road...she heard a pop and turned around to see her husband laying in the driveway of their home and had been shot...


Washington plans special drawing for hunters who have elk, deer tested for chronic wasting disease September 1, 2023 Yahoo Sports

... It's an incentive program meant to boost sample numbers for the always-fatal brain disease, which affects elk, deer, moose and caribou. The disease hasn't been detected in Washington ...


WDFW seeks public input on proposed Methow Wildlife Area temporary winter closures to protect mule deer September 1, 2023 Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife News

... The Methow Valley is home to the largest migratory mule deer herd in Washington ... With the increasing impacts of climate change, including higher intensity wildfire, mule deer winter range has been decreasing while the demand for outdoor recreation has been increasing...


Watch deer with sweet tooth wander into Washington candy shop. 'We have a taffy thief' August 29, 2023 Washington, Tacoma News Tribune

... A buck wandered into Buddy and Howie's Candy Store in Ocean Shores, Washington. It stole a buttered popcorn taffy before fleeing ...


Washington considers consolidating elk management August 16, 2023 Crosscut

... An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 elk live throughout Washington, divided into 10 “populations,” ... most Washington elk populations are meeting the state’s objectives ...  In April, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, introduced House Bill 1849 to require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up a statewide elk management plan..,


Officials question Fish and Wildlife view August 15, 2023 Washington, Yahoo News

... Commissioner Brian Shinn said the state board is dominated by people who are not worried about dwindling elk populations or deer. Instead, the majority opposes hunting bears and cougars and seem to be more concerned about predators than prey ...


Deer take refuge from Washington wildfires at base of massive turbines as blaze expands July 25, 2023 Fox News

...  he saw deer: does and fawns that had found refuge on gravel pads at the base of the towers, some of the only areas left untouched amid an expanse of blackened earth.  "That was their sanctuary — everything was burning around them," ...


Allometric brain reduction in an insular, dwarfed population of black-tailed deer.

2023, Journal of Mammalian Evolution

... Previous research has established that insular large mammals tend to reduce in body size, and that size reduction may not scale isometrically across all body parts. The brain has been a particular subject of interest due to its high energy requirements. Here, we report that an extant, dwarfed island population of black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) exhibits significantly reduced brain mass relative to body mass in comparison to their mainland conspecifics, with brain mass 4.9% smaller in the island population for a given body mass ...


See it: Deer finds most unusual mammal-eating friend to swim with off Washington coast June 7, 2023 Washington, AOL

...  the wildlife tour guests aboard Island Adventures Whale Watching witnessed Sunday along Battleship Island, a small island northwest of San Juan Island in Washington. A deer was seen taking a swim with a mammal-eating killer whale...


Once controversial highway program is now massive success story March 11, 2023 Washington, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

... at 11 wildlife crossings on a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 90.  Last year, there were close to 5,000 crossings–mostly deer, elk, coyotes ... According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Colorado has 69 wildlife crossings; California and Utah each have 50; and Washington and Nevada have close to two dozen each. Oregon is lagging, with just six...


Animal advocacy group files complaints against WSU research animal deaths February 17, 2023 Washington, Northwest News Network

... In meeting minutes from the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, he read that five deer, one elk and one alpaca died in a bluetongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, outbreak. Minutes from a separate meeting show two elk were euthanized and two elk died after developing pneumonia post-anesthesia...


Columbian white-tailed deer make gains, but still face threats, challenges February 10, 2023 Washington, The Columbian

... a recent population study that found the risk of the species facing a “serious threat of extinction” is exceedingly low. It particularly illustrated the growth of populations along the lower Columbia River, which were estimated to be nearly 1,300 in 2022. That compares with a population estimate of 545 made 20 years ago...


'Some equity here': Bill would pay Fish and Wildlife Commission members | Washington February 8, 2023 Washington, The Center Square

... what Kretz feels is a lack of representation of his constituents in the commission that lead to HB 1699, which would start to pay members of the commission. The opening sentence of the bill calls it “an act relating to establishing salaries for the Washington fish and wildlife commission.” ...


Study: Staying in standard time leads to more deer-vehicle collisions January 26, 2023 Washington, MyNorthwest.com

... we increase our chances of hitting deer because they come out in abundance at night.  A group of UW scholars studied deer collisions and found turning the clocks back in November leads to a 16% hike in deer-vehicle collisions...


Human Presence Alone Can Create "Landscape of Fear" for Wildlife January 24, 2023 Washington, Labroots

... The species that demonstrated a reduction in trail area use included black bear, white-tailed deer, and elk, and many species were found to even reduce their daytime activities, to include coyotes, snowshoe hare, grizzly bears, and mule deer. Despite this, it was also found that cougars didn’t change their behavioral patterns at all...  a recent study published in Scientific Reports ...

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

Washington Deer:  For 2024 the state eliminated antlerless deer hunting in some areas, mostly north central, to allow for populations to recover from intense environmental conditions including drought and extreme winters, disease, and widespread wildfire.  In their 2023 assessment, the state explains "...The consistent reduction in harvest is attributed to hemorrhagic disease outbreaks that reduced abundance in the summer and fall of 2021, which likely depressed hunter participation (i.e., fewer hunters in 2021). Lagging impacts of disease outbreaks and extreme drought in 2021, unseasonably hot and dry late-fall conditions in 2022 which kept deer at higher elevations longer ... "  


The data and analysis used to create the chart below.

Since 2015 the total deer harvest has fallen by 43.4 percent while the number of hunters has fallen by 22.4 percent.  Hunter success was 31.3% in 2015 falling to 23% in 2022.  Using hunting data, harvest adjusted for the number of hunters, and some population range estimates from the state, an estimated 241,000 deer in 2022, 252,000 in 2021, 278,00 in 2020 and 332,000 in 2015.


In 2024 the state estimated that the "number of mule deer killed annually on state highways is approximately half of what hunters harvest annually."


From the 2022 Hunting Outlook; "Despite disease outbreaks, all available harvest and survey data indicate white-tailed deer populations appear to be stable in all GMUs associated with District 1. According to harvest data, mule deer populations appear to be stable or slightly decreasing"  [page 14]    Population estimates from the state for some regions are available in the 2022 and 2021 Game Status and Trend reports.  2021 Hunting Outlook.   About 5,000 car collisions with deer and 300 with elk each year.


In 2021 approximately 25 percent of the whitetails and 15 percent of the mule deer died from disease.  In 2022 hunting permits primarily for antlerless deer were reduced to help the herd recover.  


An estimate in the press for 2022 puts the population at 300,000 with100,000 whitetails which is consistent with population estimates from several years ago.   The state does not provide a formal population estimate and has been reporting to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife since 2013  a general range of about 90,000 to 110,000 mule deer and in 2019 gave a range of 90,000 to 10,000 blacktail deer.  


Although hunting data indicates a drop in the deer population, the state estimates for the deer population from 2015 to 2022 of about 90,000 to 110,000 for mule deer and the same for blacktail deer although no estimate was provided for 2020 to 2022.  About 100,000 for each with an average of 110,000 whitetail deer giving an average population of about 310,000 which was the 2014 deer population estimate according to the Game Management Plan.   


Nearly 10,000 more deer hunters in 2020, likely due to the pandemic and higher deer numbers east of the Cascades.  Some reports of declining deer populations.  In 2020 state biologists report a significant decline in deer and elk numbers over the past 24 years, partly attributed to predators.  The estimate below used the state estimate of about 310,000 deer in 2014 and hunting data.  Spreadsheet at the bottom of this column.


Washington Deer Population

Year     Estimate

2014*     310,000

2015     332,000

2016     307,000

2017     250,000

2018     272,000

2019     281,000

2020     278,000

2021     252,000

2022     241,000

* 2014 State Estimate

Other years based on hunting data

 adjusted for the number of hunters.

Estimates rounded to the nearest thousand.


A more severe winter than normal in February 2019 put elk and deer in poor condition, reducing whitetail and mule deer populations in some areas.  Reduced elk permits for 2019 in the southeast and antlerless whitetails in the northeast to help the herd recover.  A more mild 2019-20 winter and lush 2020 spring in the northeast and a stable buck to doe ratio.  An estimated buck to doe ratio or 23:100 in 2019.  In 2020, deer were still recovering from the hard 2016-17 winter, reduced hunting to help deer and elk recover.  The mild start to the 2018-19 winter, followed by heavier snow reduced deer numbers in the southeast.


Chart below from the 2022 Range-wide Status of Black-tailed and Mule Deer.  Mule Deer Working Group. Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Results of the Washington deer hunt 2006 to 2021

According to the 2021 WAFWA:  "Harvest estimates and composition ratios from annual monitoring efforts for mule deer indicate populations along the northern Cascade Mountains, are likely stable to increasing. However, southern herds remain stable to decreasing." (page 44)


An increase in population for 2018 after several down years, but populations in eastern Washington are still recovering from the 2015 drought and outbreak of bluetongue.  Reduced hunting permits and no antlerless hunting for  whitetails in the east in 2019 after severe winters in 2016 and 2017.  The 2018 Big Game Report gives some regional population estimates for deer and elk.


An  estimated at 300,000 to 320,000 deer in 2014 according to the 2015 - 2024 Game Management Plan, p. 62 [PDF]. For 2015, an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 blacktails and about the same 90,000 to 100,000 mule deer.  Deer and elk tags were reduced for the 2017-18 hunt in eastern parts of the state because the hard winter of 2016-17.  A hard winter in 2015-16 also reduced deer and elk populations.  An outbreak of bluetongue in 2015, drought, and wildfires reduced deer populations.  


Whitetail deer in Northeast Washington experienced major winters kills in the winters of '07 and '08.  White-tails predominate in the northeast, mule deer in the southeast. With the decline of logging and new forest management practices, the deer population has declined by about 40 percent in some parts of the Southwest since 2002, mostly blacktails; numbers are stronger in the interior Southwest.   Another major factor reducing deer habitat is the conversion of farm and forest lands into residential development and reduced alfalfa and cereal production [Deer Status Report, 2014, PDF].  Efforts are ongoing to support the few remaining Columbian white-tailed deer, once thought to be extinct. 2015 Draft Mule Deer Management Plan


The 2013 total deer harvest was 33,657 with 27,448 antlered deer and 6,209 antlerless deer taken with a hunter success rate of 27.2 percent.  The antlerless harvest rose from 15.7% of the total in 1998 to 25.6 percent in 2012.  Harvest Statistics   

The total deer harvest in 2012 was similar to 1997, with a recent peak in the early 2000's at around 40,000.  Whitetail deer are about 35 percent of the harvest and are more numerous in the northeast, mule deer are found in the higher elevations, blacktails found along the coast are about 32 percent of the harvest.  The management goal for mule deer was 15 to 19 bucks per 100 does after hunting The low buck to doe ratio has been suspected as a factor in their decline.


The killing of two fawns taken from a rehabilitation center by WDFW resulted in public outcry in 2018.


Population Estimate:  A population estimate of 120,000 whitetails in 2009.   

According to the White-tailed Management Plan: "From 2001 through 2008 white-tailed deer comprised approximately 35% of the annual hunter harvest of all deer in Washington."


Chart below from the 2015 Range-wide Status of Black-tailed and Mule Deer.  Mule Deer Working Group. Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Results of the Washington deer hunt 2001 to 2014

Analyzed in "Wolf Diets, And Washington Deer And Elk Trends" by Andy Walgamott this graph illustrates the downward trend of the deer population as tracked by the buck harvest plotted against the inverse of the human population trend.  As the human population rises the deer population falls over the years 2000 to 2021.

Hemorrhagic Disease:  The first case of Adenovirus Hemorrhagic disease (AHD) in 2017.  A blue tongue outbreak in 2015.  Outbreaks of AHD in 2020 in the north and in 2021 among deer in the San Juan Islands and Skagit County then later becoming more widespread.  An AHD outbreak in 2022 around Goldendale, the location of the first outbreak.


Chronic Wasting Disease:   Washington has ramped up testing, but no positives as of 2022.  No positives as of 2023, but a special lottery to encourage hunters to have deer tested.


Treponema-Associated Hoof Disease (TAHD) has ravaged SW Washington elk since the first eruption around Mount St. Helens  in 1980.


History:  White-tail deer numbers were plentiful in in the 1800's, but were reduced by over hunting by the early 1900's.  Early explorers saw deer swimming between the San Juan Islands.  Indians were burning underbrush to improve deer habitat.  From the Washing White-tailed deer management plan:  "White-tailed deer were found in abundance in the foothills and valleys of the Northwest by Euro- American explorers and trappers in the early 1800s"  A short historic summary from the state in 2015.


From the 2015 Draft Mule Deer Plan:  "Although records of historic mule deer population trends are limited, Julander and Low  reported a marked decline in populations due to severe weather during the winter of 1889. They also reported an increase in population between 1935 and 1968.  Mule deer populations apparently reached very low numbers in eastern Washington during 1969, 1971, and 1972, during unseasonably harsh winters. Mule deer populations increased from 1973 until the mid-1980s.  Deer hunter numbers and also probably deer population peaked in 1979, with a recent peak in the 1990sDrought conditions developed in eastern Washington starting in 1986, and then eased somewhat in the mid-1990s, and became more pronounced in the early 2000s."  Deer hunter numbers and also probably deer population peaked in 1979, with a recent peak in the 1990s.  


Deer have been in the state 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.


Columbian Whitetails   A low of only 545  in 2002 with an estimated population of 1,296 deer in 2022.


CaribouIn 2019, the last woodland caribou in Washington and the contiguous United States was captures and shipped to a breeding facility in British Columbia.


Moose  Between 4,000 and 6,000 in 2017.  An estimated 5,000 in 2015.  The first confirmed moose sighting was made in Pend Oreille County in the early 1950s. Surveys in the early 1970s estimated a population of about 60 moose. The first hunting season was opened in 1977. 


Elk were nearly wiped out in the late 1800s.  An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 in 2023.


Cougar population in 2018 estimated between 1,900 to 2,100 animals, not counting kittens.  Sightings have increased over recent years.  Population estimated at 2,500 in 2015.


Wolf  By 2024 there were 37 identified packs.  In 2021, the state counted 206 wolves among 33 packs.  A minimum of  178 in 29 packs in 2020.  A minimum of 126 wolves in 2019 with an estimate of 200 wolves.  A minimum of 115 in 2018. The count at the end of 2016 was 115.  A minimum of 68 in 2014, up from 24 in 2010.


Report Poaching:  Information can be submitted anonymously:  Call the state Poaching Hotline, (877) 933-9847,  Email the tip to reportpoaching@dfw.wa.gov


Other useful links:

- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife  

- Mule deer Geodatabase     

- Predator Ecology Lab

- Washington Prescribed Fire Council      

Washington Deer Population