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Deer Hunting: Overpopulation Solution or Cause?

The overpopulation of deer in suburban areas can become a particularly dangerous situation when it comes to car accidents.  The most commonly proposed solution to this problem is hunting deer to thin out the population.  But is hunting really an effective method of controlling deer populations?  Without of hunting, would we be completely overrun by a new mutant breed of deer overlords?  Let’s find out!

This video post is going to be the first in a series addressing common myths about hunting.  With the deer-hunting season upon us, at least here in North America, I thought it would be appropriate to start with the so often-cited argument that hunting deer is necessary to keep their population in check.

First off, something important to note is that when speaking about out-of-control deer populations, state wildlife management agencies will rarely use the term “overpopulated,” opting instead for “overabundant.”  To understand this carefully calculated word choice, let's take a closer look at the terminology.

Overpopulation means a population has exceeded it's biological carrying capacity, which, by definition is the maximum number of individuals of a species that can exist in a habitat indefinitely without threatening other species in that habitat.  This is determined by limiting factors such as available, food, water, shelter, and prey to predator ratios.

When a species exceeds its biological carrying capacity, it is officially overpopulated.  In contrast, “overabundant,” the term hunting advocates use for deer populations, means…nothing.  It's not a scientific term and it has no fixed definition.  It's simply a way to make it sound like we're going to be overrun by deer any minute now.

(Has it happened yet?)

In reality, if deer did overpopulate a given area, this incredibly powerful force called nature would step in to regulate.  Trust me, this nature thing's been handling things like this for a while now.

The problem of overpopulation arises only when humans interfere with nature.  This is the most perverse element of the “we need hunters to control the deer population” argument: Deer populations become excessive because of hunting.  The proposed solution is the source of the problem.

So, just how does hunting increase deer populations?  There are two main ways.  The first is orchestrated by state wildlife management agencies and the second is a direct effect of hunting practices.

Wildlife agencies, like State Department of Natural Resources here in the US, make some or all of their money from selling hunting licenses.

hunting license revenue percentage from Minnesota DNR

Example from the Minnesota DNR


Many of their mission statements explicitly state their responsibility to provide hunting opportunities.  One of the ways they can increase these opportunities and thus increase hunting license revenue, is by clear-cutting forested areas to create habitat ideal for deer. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, for example, recommends clearing multiple areas, each one-three acres in size, a practice, which not only significantly boosts deer populations, but is also environmentally damaging.

Ned Caveney, a Department of Natural Resources State Forester in Michigan stated in the North Woods Call newspaper,

“We manipulate forest habitat to produce amazingly unnatural deer numbers–up to two million of the critters some years.  That probably approaches two million more than existed before man got into the act.”

You’d think a department of natural resources would be concerned with preserving and protecting natural resources, right?

(What a preposterous thing to think!)

Well, to these agencies, deer are seen as a resource.  Not as animals deserving protection and definitely not as sentient beings.  They are financial resources to be exploited for the sole purpose of being killed for sport at a profit.

Even the terminology used equates these sentient creatures with plants and views them as pure statistic.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources states in their annual report:

“We rank first in the country for the highest single year deer harvest on record and are number one for deer harvest over the past decade.  All of us work hard to keep it that way.”

Vegan activist Gary Yourofsky in his own article on hunting states:

“Everyone must understand that wildlife management is an illusory concept created around 100 years ago.  There is no such thing as wildlife management.  Humans cannot manage nature.  The only managing humans should be doing is managing to stay out of the animals' space.”

Now moving on to the second source of artificially overabundant deer populations: The practices of hunters themselves.

Conventional deer hunting is all about killing mature male deer, or bucks, with large antlers, leaving the female deers, or does, alone.  A single buck can breed with multiple does, so while hunting reduces the number of male deer it does not reduce the number of offspring.  This sex-biased hunting skews the natural 1:1 ratio of male and female deer to as high as 1:8, meaning one male for every eight females.

Let’s say that an area has 500 deer and each doe produces an average of 1.4 fawns, as 67 percent of mature does have twins.  In a natural 1:1 ratio, this would yield 350 new fawns.  Now, take that same 500 deer heard at the hunting-induced 1:8 ration and you now have 622 new fawns, almost 300 more than the 1:1 herd produced.

Simply put, hunting creates more deer.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t reiterate what i said in my video post “what would happen if the world went vegan tomorrow”–creating an artificially high population of deer and then stepping in to say you have to hunt to control this out-of-control deer population is like farting in a room all day and then saying, “Thank god I’m here to open a window otherwise we’d be overtaken by the smell.”  In both cases, if humans hadn’t stunk it up in the first place, there’d be no “problem” to resolve.

Let me know your thoughts about deer overpopulation in the comments and be sure to share the post around to bust this myth!

See ya next nugget!







★Watch More!


Carrying capacity, population equilibrium, and environment's maximal load by Cang Hui

Does Deer Hunting Reduce Car Accidents? By Dave Roos

Hunting Myths and Facts by Doris Lyn

What is Deer Overabundance? By Doris Lyn

Carrying Capacity Basics on Wikipedia

Gary Yourofsky on Hunting (click on “What’s Wrong With Hunting”)

How are Deer Managed by State Wildlife Agencies? By Doris Lin

Featured Video Posts:

What if the World Went Vegan Tomorrow?

Is Eating Animals A Right?

The Ethics of Eating Meat

The Hunting Myths Series

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  1. Alecia Cole on December 10, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I always knew deer hunting was for the birds. Or should I say for the shit-eating, ignorant, heartless bastards. (Is that too harsh?)
    But I learned a lot from this article that I did not know. Like that hunting INCREASE deer populations! Yes, I just LOVE IT (not) when hunters use the lame excuse (not reason, but excuse) that if they didn’t kill Bambi and his parents, we’d be overrun with them.
    But the main argument I HATE is that “we do it for food”. WHAT!! First of all, meat-eating will be your health downfall. Secondly, if you feel the need for meat, do you not live anywhere near a grocery store where you can go browse the the neatly packaged carcasses of the billions if pigs, chickens, turkeys and cows that have already been killed and cleaned for your consumption??? GET A LIFE!! AND A BRAIN!!
    And, yes, Emily, I think THIS post needs to be shared with everyone. Problem is, the diehard hunters will not be swayed. I intend to print out this offering and send it to my friend who has just “fallen in love” with a man who hunts and fishes. She claims to love animals. She has dogs and cats, has rescued cats, and she would wreck her car killing all passengers inside to avoid hitting a turtle in the road. (She adores turtles!) But, she gave me the old tired excuse that “he’s gotta’ eat”!! She has been my good friend for over 40 years, going back to high school, but I do not know how to handle this situation. I have not met the man yet, and I don’t know how to keep my friendship with her if I kick him in the groin line I would like to when I DO meet him. Any suggestions?? Seriously.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on December 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      so glad you learned new stuff Alecia! that’s my goal :) oh and the food argument- that will be one of the videos i do on this hunting myth series.

      and you’re right- they won’t stop- all of these reasons are empty…strip them of logic and it comes down to the fact that they want to and they don’t care. and for your friend’s new squeeze- that’s tough. it’s not about having to eat- there is plenty to eat that is not a living being (as you know). i can’t tell you what to do in that situation…loving and accepting her doesn’t necessarily mean accepting him. but that is challenging :(

  2. Robert on December 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Like everything in today’s world, hunting is part of a massive industry in which everyone gets paid. Whether it’s the gunmakers, state wildlife agencies or apparel makers, it generates revenue.

    And deer as well as bears and other wild animals are being spotted in suburban and exurban areas because humankind is encroaching too far into their natural habitat. It’s not the bears’ fault that another subdivision and strip mall is built in their hunting and breeding ground. This maybe off-topic but it’s an important point.

    Thanks for this informative post.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on December 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      very true Robert- you’ve hit it on the head. it all comes down to money and profit (as do most of the absurd things we humans do).

      and you are so right- we have encroached on their territory, not the other way around. thanks for your thoughtful comment :)

  3. Anthony on December 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I’m having a bit of a dumb moment, so forgive me. I just don’t want to speak out of school when arguing against proponents of deer hunting.

    Are you saying that if they kill the dude deer, that they leave a lot of already pregnant female deers?

    Never was great at maths in school! :P

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on December 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      it confused me at first too because i suck at math. what happens is bucks will mate with multiple partners. so if you kill a bunch of bucks, the others will make up for it and still mate with all the does. your ratio is skewed, however with more does to bucks. so instead of having 10 happily monogamous couples, you have a handful of bucks with multiple baby-mommas. does that make sense? in addition, there’s a lot of evidence that when a species feels threatened, the females will produce multiple offspring and the instances of twins within does increases.

      • Garald Rivers on December 11, 2014 at 1:04 am

        I’m currently studying Animal Ecology with a wildlife emphasis at Iowa State University, and found this video full of great points and well delivered. I feel like some of the statements about the cash flow to environmental agencies was a bit broad. I’d like to do a bit of research and get back to you, but sadly it might have to wait a bit, as I’m in the depths of pre finals week. Full disclosure, I am a hunter.

        • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on December 11, 2014 at 3:43 pm

          i’d welcome any additional info, Garald- i know i didn’t get into much depth with the budget issues as it wasn’t the main focus of the video. any additional research is always appreciated. and is this the Garald Rivers i worked with back in the day?

  4. J Rosenberg on December 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Here’s how to manage deer: Stop killing wolves, stop killing deer, and they will all be JUST FINE. They will control their own populations as they did for hundreds of thousands of years before we came along to screw everything up. And stop crowding them onto less and less land so that we can build more houses and strip malls. LEAVE THEM THE FCK ALONE.

  5. Jim on December 13, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Good one, Emily. I would add that the hunter’s preference for removing dominant males from local ecosystems results in a declining gene pool; some of the strongest, healthiest breeding males are “harvested” leaving younger, less fit males to breed with the available doe population. Darwin in reverse. On the overall population control point: if hunters and state “management” agencies were serious about population control, hunting season would be in mid-winter, with pregnant doe as the preferred target. There could also be a secondary season in spring-early summer in which fawns are the target (if spring lamb is best, and young animals preferred for consumption in domestic species, does it not follow that fawns are preferred?). Which leads me to point three: hunting traditions as practiced by humans today are about 180 degrees off from the practices of actual predatory species. Wolves and big cats take out the old, the sick and some of the young, while humans who fancy themselves predators target the big, strong, fit males; some perverse, reverse, machismo misappropriation of predatory behavior. I would like to question you on one point, this being the one to one, versus one to eight gender ratio assertion. Bucks and doe behave differently. Dominant males will tolerate male fawns, and non-competing young bucks, but will run-off maturing young bucks. Young bucks, without benefit of a larger protective herd are known to suffer higher mortality rates. So, while one to eight is clearly an unnatural result of human mismanagement, one to one, as a natural state, seems a bit off as well. One more thing. Sorry if I go on. Deer usually arrive at nusance status in suburban areas, where roads are heavily trafficked and lawns a precious, and where hunting can not be practiced. Meanwhile, hunting is still practiced much more vigorously in rural areas. So our “nuisance” or “overabundant” populations and our hunted deer populations are very often quite separate populations.

    • Emily Moran Barwick (BiteSizeVegan) on December 13, 2014 at 2:22 am

      these are some great points Jim. thanks for the additional information! the 1:1 is simple what i found from my sources- now it’s certainly not saying that ever one male breed with one female, just that the overall ration of the sexes is 1:1. it certainly is something i could look into at greater depth. :)

  6. Melissa Dominguez on August 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    You’re amazing. Thank you for all the research you do! It really helps the vegan movement. :)

  7. Austin Dean on January 20, 2016 at 3:01 am

    I’m honestly not sure if you have a true understanding of wildlife management and it’s need in the modern world. Firstly you say that nature will control the population . Yes nature controls populations through disease from overcrowding, starvation during bad conditions and predation from animals such as coyotes, wolves, cougars etc. Now with lack of these large predators in many areas that leaves disease and starvation. See diseases such as chronic wasting and blue tongue . They are terrible and suffering diseases. Now when droughts hit and food supplies become scarce then starvation kills with no discrimination, does miscarry, young deer starve along with the adults the population suffers. Then we get to the human factor and risk of a unmanaged population . The rate of car collisions will rise putting lives at risk during times when the deer are plentiful, the overgraze crops that support the human diet as well. Now getting to the misunderstanding that we as humans are not part of the natural world is completely false . We have modified the natural habitat more than any other organism that has ever existed so are we not the driving force behind the habitats these animals call home over a large portion of this rock we call earth? Not necessarily for the better either. we have sent animals to extinction , reduced the carrying capacity of the land, and destroyed habitats to never be seen again. Now sportsman, hunters, campers, and fisherman alike probably have a more intimate connection to the protection and preservation of deer and other wildlife, they’re habitats and yes it’s because we utilize the natural resources that have been provided to us and enjoy it . We are not content with the supportive system that the modern world constructs for us . Is hunting for everyone, no and I respect that but really do your research before jumping to the conclusion that population control is not a valid reason behind hunting. Yes hunters want populations of game to be plentiful but they also want the game to be healthy as well.

    • Meat on December 6, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      Well at least somebody is making sense in this thread.

  8. Bekka on October 16, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you so much for this Emily. I recently went back to school, to study wildlife care to hopefully be a wildlife rehaber someday, or have more experience to work at a farm animal sanctuary. The school I attend has a LARGE number of hunters, and yet the school’s focus is on conservation science. I often hear the deer overpopulation argument and I just knew in my bones it was dead wrong, but didn’t have the ability to articulate why. I will definitely be using your information, as well as doing some more primary source research, to increase my vegan arsenal. I also think it’s important to remember that not only do hunters target males, they often target large and old males, who have been proven themselves to be more genetically fit, and this throws off the positive aspects of natural selection.

    • Emily Barwick on October 25, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      SO glad to hear this is helpful. And also very glad to hear you’re going to be helping with wildlife or farmed animals (and especially not in a “wildlife rehab” in a zoo type of situation).

      And appreciate the additional info! Many thanks and all the best with your studies! Feel free to share more anytime.

  9. Diane Petruzzelli on December 13, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    I found your article incredibly informative. I am attending the freeholders meeting in NJ to argue against the deer hunting in public parks and am so grateful to have this information. If you have any additional information /statistics in this I would love if you could share that. My heart breaks for these beautiful innocent animals that have had their home taken from us and then are killed by these hunters who are doing this as a sport. On the days I know there is hunting in my town, I can’t sleep or eat. It is so inhumane. I greatly appreciate what you are doing for these helpless animals.

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