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Why there are so many white-tailed deer

  • Mar 3, 2016

White-tailed deer are some of the continent's most prolific animals, and have benefited from a number of different changes in the ecology and human relationship to the natural world over the past century. As a result, Americans need not grab a Pro Trek watch and head into the deep woods, because white-tailed deer now thrive in heart of suburbia.

According to the University of Nebraska, somewhere between 30 and 50 million deer populated North America prior the arrival of European colonists. By 1900, over-hunting and habitat loss had decimated the deer to the brink of extinction, but through conservation and hunting regulation, white-tailed deer have reached, and in some cases eclipsed, pre-colonial numbers.

The Bambi effect
Forest and Conservation History reported that the Disney movie "Bambi" may have actually played a major role in changing attitudes about hunting and man's responsibility to protect animals. The 1942 animated film dramatically captured the beauty of North American forests while depicting the cruelty of hunting.

Though the Disney film was an adaptation of a previous movie, it soon became synonymous with anti-hunting, Forest and Conservation History stated. According to the University of Missouri, white-tailed deer populations had been decimated by over-hunting and habitat loss in the early half of the 20th century. In Missouri alone, there were just a few hundred individuals in the 1920's. 

"Bambi" helped fuel a new appreciation for the natural world, and influenced the demand for better regulation on hunting. Starting in the late 1940's, new laws coincided with exponential growth in white-tailed deer populations across the country.

A lack of predators
White-tailed deer were not the only large mammals to have suffered massive losses at the hands of human population expansion and hunting. Most of North America's biggest animals were pushed out of their natural habitats, especially on the east coast, and as a result, entire species disappeared from certain ecosystems. Predators like wolves, pumas and bears were especially targeted as they were seen as a threat to livestock and human lives.

Yale University reported that until the 1920s, there was little knowledge or respect for the delicate balance of nature within a given habitat, and as new hunting laws targeted the white-tailed deer, there was still animosity toward predatory animals. As a result, deer were able to thrive and re-populate the east coast and beyond without wolves or pumas to monitor or regulate population growth.

As it stands, it seems unlikely that these predators would be reintroduced to the east coast given the fragmentation of wild spaces. While it may be possible for white-tailed deer to become comfortable in city parks or local green spaces, a pack of wolves or lone puma may not be as welcome to suburban families.

Remarkable adaptability
White-tailed deer have benefited from protection under the law and a lack of natural predators, but they have also become so ubiquitous because as a species the animals are incredibly adaptive. According to National Geographic, white-tailed deer are perfectly comfortable in a wide range of habitats, and can be found in the Canadian Rockies east to the swamps of the American south and all the way down to Patagonia. 

These animals can eat a variety of plant matter, making them perfectly at home in different ecosystems. As the forests of the east coast also recover under new protection, there is a growing amount of vegetation available to white-tailed deer that is high-energy. These animals are efficient breeders, and without any natural predators, they are capable of colonizing new areas in a short period of time. 

Go enjoy Mother Nature and try to spot a few White Tailed Deer on your hike! Most importantly before you leave, don’t forget to bring a ProTrek PRG270-7 with solar technology, built-in digital compass, barometric pressure/altitude and temperature readings to help you navigate the woods.