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White-Tailed Deer Facts, Findings and Numbers

By Stephen Webb, Ph.D.
Ag Systems Technology Manager

Posted Oct. 1, 2018

Studying trends in data can tell us a lot about the success (or lack thereof) of a management program. Below is a look at the 2016-2017 deer harvest numbers and trends for Oklahoma, Texas, the Southeast and the nation. You can evaluate where you are along the management continuum in terms of meeting your population management goals by comparing these harvest trends to your individual property or deer management units/associations.

Much of the information reported was gathered by the Quality Deer Management Association for their annual report (2018), which reports on the status of white-tailed deer, arguably the species that provides the foundation of the hunting industry in North America. White-tailed deer are the most common big game species, most widely hunted and generate the greatest financial revenue to the hunting industry.

White-tailed deer grazing

$887B
amount that was spent on outdoor recreation in 2016.

$87B
amount that is generated nationally from hunting deer species.

$43.5B
amount that is generated nationally from hunting white-tailed deer.


Chronic wasting disease

Oklahoma is surrounded by states that have found chronic wasting disease (CWD) in captive and/or free-ranging populations. Oklahoma reported one captive deer facility with CWD that has been depopulated.

Arkansas

Free-ranging

Colorado

Captive and free-ranging

Kansas

Free-ranging and captive facilities that were depopulated

Missouri

Free-ranging and captive facilities that were depopulated

New Mexico

Free-ranging

Estimated doe harvest

    Oklahoma: 36,428 (doe harvest is lower than buck harvest)
  • Texas: 322,557
  • Southeast: 1,293,821
  • National: 2,830,264

Coyote Depredation

The nationwide average for coyote depredation of white-tailed deer fawns is 27 percent.

Number of deer hunters (percent increase from 10 years ago)

9% Increase in Southeast: 3,116,363

16% Increase in Oklahoma: 367,311

28% Increase in Texas: 738,713

Deer Hunting Trends

Estimated buck harvest (≥1.5 years)

Texas
  • 2018: 399,487
  • 2015/2016: 290,590
Oklahoma
  • 2018: 62,595
  • 2015: 51,495

Southeast (includes 11 states): 1,293,030

National (includes 37 states): 2,818,571

An International Meeting of Deer Experts

The International Deer Biology Congress (IDBC) meeting is held every four years. In 2018, it took place in Estes Park, Colorado. Attendance was above average with 215 attendees from 19 different countries.

The goals of the IDBC are to unite professionals interested in wild deer biology, management and farmed deer production, and to provide a forum to discuss common problems and share knowledge and experiences.

Some of the major topics covered during the Congress included general deer biology and ecology, evolution, genetics, management, conservation, veterinary aspects, antler biology, and antler and venison production.

What follows are findings from the latest research on white-tailed deer across their range.

Individual Deer Behaviors Influence Survival

Deer are individuals just like humans, so we expect deer to behave differently in their selection for resources (food, water and shelter) and how they move, which can influence whether or not they live or die. For wild animals, survival and reproduction are fundamental to population dynamics. However, few studies have linked individual behaviors with the likelihood of survival or reproduction. Although this study wasn’t on white-tailed deer, researchers found that individual elk survival was influenced by what habitats they chose to use. Basic habitat features had little influence on elk survival, whereas human factors were the main drivers of survival.

Elk had greater survival around human residential structures and much lower survival when using habitats associated with oil and gas development.

White-Tailed Deer Harvest on Public vs. Private Land

Oklahoma and Texas are composed primarily of private land, which can offer hunters (if provided access) a “refuge” from high hunter densities that are typical of public land hunting.

However, a recent study by Jacob Haus, Ph.D., University of Delaware, found that harvest of fawns, does and adult bucks were similar between public and private land. The one difference that Haus found was that sub-adult bucks using public land had a much greater harvest rate (73 percent) compared to sub-adult bucks using private land (20 percent).

Hunters Are Impacting White-Tailed Deer Behavior

Hunters directly influence population dynamics of white-tailed deer, primarily through harvest, which is the most significant form of deer mortality. Besides direct impacts, hunters also influence deer behavior from their mere presence across the landscape. Bucks changed behavioral patterns such as movement and habitat use to avoid being detected or observed by hunters. Bucks moved less as the hunting season progressed and used habitats that provided greater security cover, along with avoiding areas most frequently used by hunters. For more information on these findings, please see the October 2017 article “Deer Stay One Hoof Ahead of Hunters,” available at www.noble.org/deer-one-hoof-ahead.

White-tailed deer in pasture

Percentage of yearling, 2.5-, and ≥3.5-year-old bucks in harvest

*Oklahoma and Texas were among the top five states with the greatest percentage of ≥3.5 year old bucks in the harvest.

Oklahoma
  • 17 Yearling Percentage
  • 24 2.5 Year Percentage
  • 59 3.5 Year Percentage
Texas
  • 22 Yearling Percentage
  • 27 2.5 Year Percentage
  • 51 3.5 Year Percentage

Southeast
  • 22 Yearling Percentage
  • 27 2.5 Year Percentage
  • 51 3.5 Year Percentage
National
  • 35 Yearling Percentage
  • 31 2.5 Year Percentage
  • 34 3.5 Year Percentage

Percentage of deer harvest by weapon type

RegionBowRifleMuzzleloader
Oklahoma 26 62 12
Texas 8 91 1
Southeast 15 76 9
National 23 65 11

(“other” accounts for additional 1%)

Bucks Alter Habitat Use and Movement to Find Does During Rut

Continuing with the theme of individual deer behaviors, white-tailed deer bucks should adopt movement strategies that enable them to find mates during the rut. In a study conducted in Georgia, bucks and does used different habitats prior to the rut. However, once the rut rolled around, buck habitat use mirrored that of does. Bucks also altered their movement behavior to increase encounters with does. First, bucks used spatial memory of what habitats does used to begin their search. Next, bucks refined their search behavior using information of doe habitat use during the rut. Generally, bucks moved rapidly through areas where does were known to use. Then, once bucks encountered a doe or other cues (for example, smell or sight), the buck slowed down and searched more intensively until it found a mate.

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647)

One of the greatest conservation threats in America is the decline of fish and wildlife populations and their natural habitats, which will influence people, industries and the economy. Without additional funding for these natural resources, many species and their habitat will be in danger.

The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) would redirect $1.3 billion from existing royalties derived from energy and mineral development on federal lands. This act does not require taxpayers to pay more. It simply redirects funds that are not currently earmarked to states for fish and wildlife conservation.

The allocation size to each state would be based on the state’s human population size and land area. However, the act requires a 25 percent nonfederal match. As an example, Texas would receive approximately 5 percent (or $63 million), and when combined with the nonfederal match, Texas would have approximately $80 million for research, habitat management, land acquisition, education, law enforcement and similar conservation activities.

This is exciting news for conservationists and anyone who enjoys America’s natural resources. This bill may be as important to wildlife conservation as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (commonly referred to as Pittman-Robertson Act) and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Recreation Act (commonly known as Dingell-Johnson Act) have been for providing financial assistance to states for conservation efforts. For fiscal year 2018, the Pittman-Robertson funds have been lagging behind what they were one year ago, while the Sport Fish funds are above where they were one year ago. For more details, visit bit.ly/3rd-quarter-excise-tax.

If the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is passed, it would amend the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to “make supplemental funds available for management of fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need as determined by state fish and wildlife agencies, and for other purposes.”

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