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Deer Population by State (Estimates and Info)

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Deer are one of the most populous and hunted big game animals in North America. Found in forests as well as the suburbs, deer are often thought to have spiritual meaning and can bring nature close to home since they are often seen in backyards and neighborhoods.  The total population estimate for deer living in the U.S. is approximately 35-36 million. Deer species in the U.S. are split into eastern and western groups, with some cross over in the middle.  That brings us to the topic of this article, where we will dive into what the deer population is in each U.S. state, and which types of deer you can find there.

Deer population in 50 U.S. states

White-tailed deer buck | image by Glacier NPS via Flickr

While caribou, elk and moose are all Cervids, that is members of the deer family, we are not discussing them in this article. We will be looking at the population of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and black-tailed deer. The following population estimates were taken from state government websites and other authoritative sources. They are accurate to the best of our knowledge.

State NameWhite-tailed DeerMule DeerBlack-tailed DeerOther
Alabama1.75 millionnonenoneN/A
Alaskanonenone333,000 - 346,000N/A
Arizona50,000 - 60,00085,000 - 100,000noneN/A
Arkansas900,000nonenoneN/A
Californianone460,420 (black-tailed and mule deer combined)noneN/A
Colorado427,500 (combined white-tail and mule deer)nonenoneN/A
Connecticut101,000nonenoneN/A
Delaware45,000nonenoneN/A
Florida550,000 - 700,000nonenone800 Key Deer
Georgia1.27 millionnonenoneN/A
Hawaiinonenone950 - 1,05090,000 - 110,000 Axis deer
Idaho520,000249,691noneN/A
Illinois660,000nonenoneN/A
Indiana680,000nonenoneN/A
Iowa445,000nonenoneN/A
Kansas646,00053,400noneN/A
Kentucky900k - 1 millionnonenoneN/A
Louisiana500,000nonenoneN/A
Maine280,000 - 300,000nonenoneN/A
Maryland207,000none10,000 (sika)N/A
Massachusetts95,000nonenoneN/A
Michigan1.7 - 2 millionnonenoneN/A
Minnesota900k - 1 millionnonenoneN/A
Mississippi1.75 millionnonenoneN/A
Missouri1.4 millionnonenoneN/A
Montana212,814293,950noneN/A
Nebraska300,00090,000 - 130,000noneN/A
Nevadanone84,000 - 90,000noneN/A
New Hampshire100,000nonenoneN/A
New Jersey125,000nonenoneN/A
New Mexiconone80,000 - 100,000none10,000 - 15,000 Coues & Texas white-tail
New York1.2 millionnonenoneN/A
North Carolina1 millionnonenoneN/A
North Dakota135,00021,000noneN/A
Ohio700,000 - 750,000nonenoneN/A
Oklahoma750,0001,750 - 3,000noneN/A
Oregonnone170,000 - 190,000320,000N/A
Pennsylvania1.4 - 1.5 millionnonenoneN/A
Rhode Island18,000nonenoneN/A
South Carolina730,000nonenoneN/A
South Dakota425,00080,600noneN/A
Tennessee900,000nonenoneN/A
Texas5.3 million227,392noneN/A
Utah1,000314,850noneN/A
Vermont133,000nonenoneN/A
Virginia850,000 - 1 millionnonenoneN/A
Washington90,000 - 110,00090,000 - 110,00090,000 - 110,0001,200 Columbian white-tailed
West Virginia550,000nonenoneN/A
Wisconsin1.6 millionnonenoneN/A
Wyoming72,900330,700noneN/A
*Populations estimates are believed to be accurate but not guaranteed as of 01/2022

1. Alabama

In the early 1900s not many deer remained in Alabama after overhunting, estimates were down to about 2,000. The Alabama Department of Conservation and other groups began restocking white-tailed deer as early as the 1930’s, with most of the restocking efforts happening during the 50’s and 60’s.

By 2000 the deer population in the state was estimated at 1.75 million. Deer hunting has become a major industry in Alabama, the state has 33 wildlife management areas totaling over 700,000 acres where white-tailed deer can be hunted with a permit. Upwards of 400,000 deer are hunted in the state each year.

Outdoor Alabama: Deer hunting information and regulations

2. Alaska

The Sitka blacktail deer is native to the coastal rainforests of southeastern Alaska, and has been introduced to areas of South Central Alaska. Trying to figure out their population in the state is challenging due to the remote and densely forested areas where they live.

Also, their numbers can fluctuate quite a bit based on how severe the winters are from year to year. This study from 2020 says that while imprecise, their best estimate is 333,000 – 346,000 black tailed deer live across Alaska.

Sitka Black-tailed Deer Range in Alaska | image by Alaska Fish & Game Department

White-tailed deer and mule deer are not native to the area. However the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says that they are both crossing the border with Canada and starting to colonize. We couldn’t find any hard numbers and it’s likely an estimate has not yet been made. It will be something the state keeps an eye on going forward.

Hunting of black-tailed deer is allowed, and at the time of writing this article so is hunting of mule and white-tailed deer, in order to help get more information on these new populations entering the state.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game: deer hunting information and regulations

3. Arizona

Arizona is home to two main types of deer, the mule deer and the white-tailed deer. Mule deer are the most populous with a 2020 estimate of 85,000-100,000 mule deer in Arizona. The state’s fish and game page describes mule deer as “boom and bust”, meaning their populations can vary quite a bit year to year based on environmental conditions such as drought.

The white-tailed deer found in Arizona belongs to the subspecies called Coues. The Coues deer are most commonly found in the southeastern mountains but also up through the Mogollon Rim and White Mountains. This 2015 article states the Arizona Big Game Management estimated Coues population at about 50,000-60,000 deer.

They are small deer with fully grown males rarely weighing over 100 pounds. However they are a popular game species for the state, perhaps because they inhabit less hospitable terrain and are better at staying hidden than the mule deer, offering hunters more of a challenge.

Coues Deer | image by Mike’s Birds via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The distribution of hunted deer is about 60% mule deer and 40% Coues deer.

Arizona Game & Fish: deer hunting rules and regulations

4. Arkansas

Deer numbers in Arkansas significantly declined due to unrestricted market hunting during the 1800s until 1915. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission starting putting limits on hunting in 1916 to try and turn the tide, with an estimated 2,000 deer remaining in the state.

But things got worse. In 1927 a huge flood in the eastern part of the state forced deer into small areas of high ground where they were unfortunately picked off by opportunistic hunters. By 1930 less than 500 deer remained. Things began to turn around when state refuges were created and periodic deer stocking occurred. Today Arkansas enjoys plenty of deer, with a 2020 estimate of 900,000 white-tailed deer.

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission: deer hunting information 

5. California

California Deer Population Estimate | Graph via California Department of Fish and Wildlife

There are six subspecies of mule deer found across California.

  • California mule deer (Westside of Sierra Nevada down to south coast)
  • Desert/burro mule deer (southwest California, northwest Mexico and Arizona)
  • Southern mule deer (Southernmost California and Baja California)
  • Rocky Mountain mule deer (Northwest California, western and central North America)
  • Inyo mule deer (Sierra Nevada, California)
  • Columbia Black-tailed deer (Northern California and Pacific Northwest).

According to the state’s department of fish and wildlife, since the early 90’s the deer population has stayed between 400,000 and just under 700,000. A 2020 study by the Mule Deer Working Group put total deer population (including black-tailed and mule deer) in California at 460,420.

While overall the deer population is considered to be stable, the migratory populations in the Sierra Nevada and the black-tailed deer in the northwest are likely in decline, while suburban populations are increasing.

California Department Fish and Wildlife: Deer Harvest Requirements

6. Colorado

According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the deer and elk meat industry begun in Colorado as early as 1880. But by that time, damage to deer herds had already been happening for almost 30 years. Cattle and sheep began competing with deer for space and grazing by the 1860s, combined with the 1859 Gold Rush that brought 100,000 people into the state soon to be followed by a railroad bringing even more settlers. Habitat loss, decrease in forgeable food and hunting brought species to the brink by the early 1900s.

By the turn of the century people began to realize they needed conservation programs or the deer would go the way of the buffalo. There’s a lot more interesting history you can in Colorado’s Mule Deer Story. Long story short, conservation and advances in wildlife management brought the deer back.

While populations still continue to fluctuate due to habitat loss, weather, disease and other factors, it remains in the hundreds of thousands. The estimated population total today is 427,500 mule deer and white-tailed deer. Mule deer make up the majority, with white-tailed deer mainly found in eastern parts of the state and a few pockets in central and mountain areas.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife: Big Game Hunting

7. Connecticut

Due to many factors including over-harvesting, hunting and habitat loss the white-tailed deer became uncommon in Connecticut between 1700 – 1900. With laws enacted and amount of farmed land decreasing, deer began to rebound. In 1974 the state passed the Deer Management Act and had its first deer hunting season the following year.

Factors causing deer populations to grow in recent years include expansion of homes into rural areas that are hospitable for deer but are not suitable for hunting. An article published in November of 2021 in the CT Insider quotes the CT DEEP stating that the three year average for total deer population in the state is 101,000.

Connecticut DEEP: hunting and trapping information

8. Delaware

According to this article, the DNREC estimated the deer population at the start of the 2020-21 season at 45,000 white-tailed deer. They consider the population stable. The white-tailed deer is the most common game species in the state today, however hunting was banned between 1841 and 1954 to allow the population to rebound after a huge decline in the early to mid 1800’s. Hunting is now an important part in keeping populations managed in the state, especially to help reduce populations in urban areas.

Delaware’s White-Tailed Deer: Hunting and Management

9. Florida

White-tailed deer in Florida tend to be a little smaller than in other states, due in part to the warm climate. Deer are found throughout the state with three subspecies broken up by geographic location.

  • Florida Coastal White-tailed Deer (panhandle and northwestern portion of the state)
  • Florida White-tailed Deer (northwestern, central and southern portion of the state)
  • Florida Key Deer (keys)

Deer were in trouble in Florida with low populations between the 1700’s and 1940’s due to unregulated hide trading, hunting and a cattle-fever tick scare that caused mass deer removal. But numbers have been on the rise since then, from an estimated 20,000 in 1940 to 700,000 in 2014. I could not find an exact count that was more recent, however based on estimated deer harvest numbers the total population in Florida as of 2019 may be closer to 550,000.

Key Deer | image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Key deer are the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America, weighing only about 55-65 pounds. They are only found in the Florida keys and are an endangered species. Their numbers rebounded through conservation efforts from 25 in 1955 to 800 in more recent years. However they are not out of the woods with continued habitat loss and disease (such as the 2017 screwworm epidemic that killed a large portion of male Key deer) threatening their numbers.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission: information for hunting in Florida

10. Georgia

In 2017 the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division reported an estimated population of 1.27 million. That’s an impressive comeback from the near extinction they faced in the state at the turn of the 20th century. As conservation efforts increased, deer restocking programs helped bring in just over 4,000 deer from other states between 1928 and 1992. Restrictive game laws also helped allow the population to grow.

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Georgia Wildlife Resources Division: deer hunting information

11. Hawaii

While deer are not naturally found in Hawaii, an invasive species has taken over in the last 150 years, the Axis deer. The Axis deer, also known as the chital, is native to the Indian subcontinent. They are an attractive deer with a bright orange-brown coat covered in white spots, much like the fawn of white-tailed deer.

In the late 1800’s, India gifted eight Axis deer to King Kamehameha V. These eight ended up on Molokai and have since been introduced to most of the other Hawaiian islands. With no natural predators the population boomed. According to this article current estimates are about 40,000 – 60,000 on Molokai, 20,000 on Lanai and 30,000 – 50,000 on Maui.

Axis Deer in Maui | image by Forrest and Kim Starr via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

It is a tough balance for the Axis deer on the islands. On the one hand they cause a lot of damage to crops and use up many natural resources. On the other hand, hunting them provides food for many and their meat is very prized.

There is also a small population of black-tailed deer on the island of Kauai that were introduced from Oregon in 1961. In public hunting areas the population is estimated at 950-1050 deer.

Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife: hunting rules and regulations.

12. Idaho

Idaho is home to both mule deer and white-tailed deer. Mule deer are native to the state, and the white-tailed deer were introduced by Idaho Fish & Game in the 1950’s to present more hunting opportunities. The 2021 estimate for mule deer is 249,691.

For white-tailed deer, the last mention I could find was about 520,000 around 2015. According to one source, the introduction of the white-tailed deer did not negatively impact the mule deer, elk or moose in the state as they occupy different types of habitat.

Mule deer are found in the central mountains and southern deserts of the state, while white-tailed deer are most populous in the northern forested areas.

Idaho Fish & Game: Deer Hunting information

13. Illinois

White-tailed deer were plentiful in Illinois during the early 1800’s, but supply began to dwindle by 1850 with the development of the railroads, cutting of timber and conversion of prairie land to farm land. The first game laws restricting hunting went into effect in 1853. There is a really nice timeline of events affecting the deer on the states history of deer management page.

As recently as 1968 the in-state population estimate was only 25,000, but through conservation and management by 1990 that number skyrocketed to 100,000. Today, the population sits around 660,000.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources: deer hunting information

14. Indiana

According to this article in the Washington Times Herald, as of 2020 the white-tailed deer population in Indiana was estimated at 680,000. That number sure has come a long way from 1900 when they were thought to have been completely wiped out with no wild populations left. Careful management slowly brought the population back and by 1985 hunters were able to harvest 32,000 deer.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources: White-tailed Deer History & Biology

15. Iowa

According to this article in the Des Moines Register, the state’s estimate for whitetail deer population in 2020 was 445,000. Like many other states, deer and other large game in Iowa was hunted to near extinction by the early 1800s. Iowa’s first conservation law came around in 1856, restricting what time of year deer could be hunted. Thing have come a long way from the first post-conservation deer estimate of 500-700 deer in 1936.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Deer hunting information

16. Kansas

Kansas is home to two kinds of deer, white-tailed deer and mule deer. The total deer population in Kansas was listed in this article as being 700,000. A separate mule deer survey put the mule deer population in 2021 at 53,400, so it would appear the large majority of deer in Kansas are white-tailed.

Mule deer are found in the western third of the state, mainly in the High Plains, Smoky Hills and Red Hills regions. White tailed deer are found throughout the state, with the highest numbers in eastern half. The Kansas DWP reports that white tailed numbers have increased dramatically in the last 20 years.

Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks: deer hunting information

17. Kentucky

The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife estimated a population of 1 million white-tailed deer at the start of the 2020-21 hunting season. Kyle Sams, a deer program biologist, says the population models still show an upward trend and favorable growth rate that will allow the number of deer harvested to continue to increase. Currently about 110,000 deer are harvested each year in the state. For many years deer hunting wasn’t allowed in the state in efforts to allow the population to recover from the overhunting of the 1700s and early 180os.

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources: Kentucky’s Deer Restoration

18. Louisiana

The estimated all-time low whitetail deer population numbers in Louisiana was about 20,000 in 1925. The state department of wildlife and fisheries began to manage deer by setting hunting seasons and restocking in the late 1940s. Their successful strategy has brought the estimated deer population today to about 500,000.

Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries: Deer Research, Management and Reports

19. Maine

A 2021 article in the Press Herald quoted a state biologist as saying the 2019 whitetail deer population estimate was 230,000 – 250,000 and that today the numbers are likely closer to 280,000 – 300,000. Recently the state has been increasing their “any-deer” (does or bucks) permits in an effort to bring down the population due to complains about “too many deer” and high levels of Lyme disease in certain areas.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife: White-tailed deer in Maine

20. Maryland

In the current Maryland white-tailed deer management plan the most recent population estimate I saw was 207,000 tailed deer in 2018.

Maryland also has a population of sika deer. These sika deer were originally from Japan and were released from private property in Maryland during the early 1900s. White-tailed deer prefer the more agricultural and upland areas of the state, whereas the sika deer prefer marshes and forested wetlands.

The sika deer population is mainly found along coastal regions and is much lower than the white-tailed deer. The only population estimate I could find for sika deer was approximately 10,000 in 2016. They are allowed to be hunted and in the 2017-2018 season just over 3,000 were harvested.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources: hunting in Maryland

21. Massachusetts

According to the state of Massachusetts deer management page, there are an estimated 95,000 white-tailed deer in the state. Historically mountain lions and wolves helped to control the deer population, but with the absence of those predators today hunters are the only real population control.

The state reports that in areas where hunting is allowed and accessible, deer numbers are well balanced. However in many areas of eastern Massachusetts where hunting is restricted by town firearm laws or land closures, the deer population is not well controlled.

Mass.gov: deer hunting regulations

22. Michigan

According to a quote in the Michigan Bridge made by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there may be as many as 2 million deer in the state today. That is up from an estimated 1.7 million ten years ago. Most of the population growth in recent years has occurred in the southern half of the lower peninsula.

Unfortunately, this is also where the majority of the state’s human population live, and too many deer can increase car crashes and crop loss. Many towns are trying to figure out programs that will work for them to keep the deer population in check.

Read more about white-tailed deer in Michigan at Michigan.gov

23. Minnesota

In a 2020 article the state DNR estimated a white-tailed deer population of about 900,000 – 1,000,000. This number can drift up and down depending on the severity of the winter and how many harsh or mild winters there may be in a row.

As part of the states deer management plan, the state is divided up into numbered permit areas, each with their own deer population goal. They have made most of this information available online at Minnesota DNR  Deer Populations & Goals.

24. Mississippi

The most recent number listed on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks site estimates 1.75 million white-tailed deer in the state. It also says hunters harvest a whopping 280,000 deer each year, on average. Deer where nearly extirpated from the state by the early 1900s, with only a few thousand left in remote pockets. A deer stocking program began in 1932 and continued for nearly 30 years. This coupled with careful management clearly has allowed deer in Mississippi to make an impressive comeback.

25. Missouri

Missouri’s white-tailed deer population sits at about 1.4 million. Market hunting decimated the state’s population by the late 1800s. In the early 1900s laws regulating deer hunting were passed but did little good as they went unenforced for the most part. It is estimated by 1925 only about 400 deer remained. Strict measure were taken to improve this, including closing all hunting for many years, restocking from other states, and cracking down on enforcing regulations.

Missouri Department of Conservation: deer hunting regulations

26. Montana

Montana has a large population of two types of deer, the mule deer and the white-tailed deer. 2021 population numbers listed by the state estimate 293,950 mule deer and 212,814 white-tailed deer.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks: deer information and hunting guide

27. Nebraska

Nebraska is another state that is home to both white-tailed and mule deer. After gathering 2020 data the state reported “stable mule deer herds and slightly increasing whitetail herds”. A 2021 estimate puts mule deer at a population of between 90,000 – 130,000.

The most recent data I could find for white-tailed deer reported around 300,000 in 2016. The good news seems to be that the white-tailed deer numbers have recovered from the hit they took in 2012-2013 from a bad outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD).  White-tailed deer are statewide but more populous in the east, while mule deer are found in the western two-thirds of the state.

Nebraska Game & Parks: deer hunting in Nebraska

28. Nevada

2021 data shows an estimated mule deer population of about 84,000 – 90,000 in Nevada. This is quite a noticeable decline from the population high of 250,000 seen in 1988. While populations often have good and bad years, the state feels it’s time to step in and try to improve the situation.

Mule Deer in Washoe Valley, Nevada | image by Ken Lund via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2021 the Nevada Department of Wildlife started the Mule Deer Enhancement Program to bring together people from all areas of the state to look at and address causes. The program aims to address many factors impacting mule deer such as “post-fire rehabilitation, pinyon-juniper removal, invasive weed abatement, re-establishing beneficial shrub/grass/forbs to compromised habitats, water development, spring protection, highway crossings, migration corridor protection, disease surveillance, assessing and trying to mitigate impacts from mining/energy development, predator management, and collaring and monitoring mule deer to identity limiting factors/mortality/habitat selection, etc.”

29. New Hampshire

The New Hampshire Fish & Game page lists the population estimate for the state at 100,000 white-tailed deer. They also state the greatest density of deer can be found in Rockingham, Hillsborough and Cheshire counties, as well as along the Connecticut River Valley in Grafton County.

Apparently people feeding deer, especially during the winter, has been an issue in the state. Enough that the Fish & Game Department created a pamphlet outlining why too much food assistance from humans is problematic for people and deer alike. Other deer related concerns in the state include Lyme disease and deer-vehicle collisions, which are taken to account in the state’s management practices.

New Hampshire Fish & Game: Deer Hunting in New Hampshire

30. New Jersey

Estimated White-tailed deer population in New Jersey | map created by NJDEP

This graph published by the NJDEP Division of Science and Research shows the 2018 population estimate at just over 125,000 white-tailed deer. However the accompanying article states estimates are likely conservative. While overall population is down from the peak years of the mid to late 1990’s, density of deer still remains a problem in many suburban parts of the state.

2021 seemed to show a higher-than-usual occurrence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), but at the time of writing this article is is unclear if it will significantly impact the state’s overall deer population.

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New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife: White-tailed deer hunting and harvest

31. New Mexico

There are three main types of deer in New Mexico, the mule deer, the Coues deer and the Texas white-tailed deer. Mule deer make up the largest portion of the population and 95% of the annual deer harvested. New Mexico’s game & fish page states that while poor conditions in the early 2000’s suppressed deer numbers, things have since improved and today populations are stable with most experiencing growth. Recent estimates indicate about 80,000 to 100,000 mule deer, and 10,000 to 15,000 Coues and other white-tailed deer.

32. New York

This 2021 article in the Observer-Dispatch reports a white-tailed deer population of approximately 1.2 million. While nobody knows exactly what the deer population was before the European settlers showed up, it is believed there are many more today than there were historically. This is due in part to lack of predators and changes in land use (less mature forest, more transition zones).

This booming population now has deer in overabundance and the state DEC aims to control this with managed harvesting. Thus far they report that the harvest has not met the numbers they want, and the state is continuing to work on management strategies. Read more about New York’s deer abundance on the DEC site here.

33. North Carolina

The North Carolina Wildlife Commission estimated the white-tailed deer population in the state to be around 1 million. This has rebounded from the estimated 10,000 deer in 1900. Overall the state reports the population is currently stable or slightly declining. However in localized urban and suburban areas, many populations are increasing. To try and combat this, the state has a community deer management assistance program, that includes additional licenses hunters can obtain to harvest deer on private properties, with landowner permission.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission: white-tailed deer overview

34. North Dakota

North Dakota is home to both white-tailed and mule deer. The 2021 big game outlook states that the white-tailed deer population is stable to increasing. Mule deer are primarily found in the badlands alongside the Little Missouri River. Their population is recovering due to prohibiting antlerless harvest for a few years and milder winters. The mule deer working group lists the 2021 population in the badlands at 21,000. Based on hunting data the white-tailed deer population in 2017 was about 135,000.

North Dakota Game & Fish: deer hunting information 

35. Ohio

Ohio had lost most of its deer by 1900 due to habitat loss and hunting. Hunting controls, restocking and improved habitat brought the deer population up to about 17,000 by 1965. Growth has boomed since with an estimated population today of 700,000 – 750,000 white-tailed deer. In fact the 2020-21 hunting season is reported as one of Ohio’s most successful with 197,735 deer harvested.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources: hunting and trapping regulations

36. Oklahoma

Like many states, Oklahoma had nearly lost all its deer by the early 1900’s. Efforts at management started as early as 1917 to save the remaining population. By 1990 the population had grown to 250,000. There is a great timeline of deer management through the years on the wildlife department’s website. The Oklahoman reports the estimated deer population today at around 750,000. This is mainly white-tailed deer however there is a small population of mule deer in the state also, about 1,750 – 3,000.

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: deer hunting resources

37. Oregon

You can find blacktail deer in western Oregon, whitetail deer in northeastern Oregon and mule deer east of the Cascade range. The mule deer population has been in decline since 1980, decreasing from 300,000 to todays estimate of 170,000 – 190,000 in 2020.

Mule Deer at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon | image by USFWS via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The mule deer working group states it is difficult to estimate black-tailed deer numbers, however the 2004 estimate of 320,000 is likely close as the population has been stable since then. I could not find a specific estimate for the smaller white-tailed deer population.

Oregon Department of Fish & Game: how to hunt deer and elk in Oregon

38. Pennsylvania

White-tailed deer population in Pennsylvania has been 1.4-1.5 million for the last few years. Deer hunting is a huge sport in the state, and the 2020-21 season saw a whopping 435,180 deer harvested, one of the largest in the country. Despite these high harvests, the population still remains pretty stable. Because of this permits and licenses are becoming more flexible opening up new opportunities for the state’s hunters.

Pennsylvania Game Commission: hunting and trapping resource page

39. Rhode Island

A 2018 estimate puts the white-tailed deer estimate around 18,000 for Rhode Island. Population has been on a slow increase for many years.  That is a quick comeback from the estimated 662 that were left in 1941. Part of what helped this rebound was less agriculture, which allowed the land to revert back to mixed woodland which deer prefer. Deer hunting in the state is an important tool to raise money for wildlife management and land acquisition.

40. South Carolina

A 2019 study by the South Carolina department of natural resources estimated the white-tailed deer population in the state to be about 730,000. After many years of stability, the state reports deer population trended downwards between 2003 and 2015. They theorize “habitat change, two decades of aggressive antlerless deer harvest, and the complete colonization of the state by coyotes and their impact on fawn survival” as possible causes. Deer harvests began to increase again in 2016, possibly due to coyote densities declining.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: deer hunting resources

41. South Dakota

South Dakota is home to both the white-tailed and mule deer. White-tailed deer can be found throughout the state while mule deer are mainly found around and to the west of the Missouri River breaks.

The most credible white-tailed estimate I could find came from the 2017-2023 South Dakota white-tailed and mule deer management plan, which listed the 2016 preseason population estimate at 425,000. The more recent 2021 mule deer survey (linked at bottom of article) lists about 80,600 mule deer.

South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks: deer hunting information

42. Tennessee

This 2021 article in the Greenville Sun quoted the state’s wildlife resource agency as estimating 900,000 white-tailed deer in the state. They also said that a significant portion of that population was found in east Tennessee. The TWRA page states that the deer population has expanded from just a few counties in eastern Tennessee during the 1940’s to being present in all 95 counties state-wide today.

Population expansion is expected at about 1-2% each year in the near future, how some areas of middle and west Tennessee may be trying to lower the deer numbers to a more manageable level.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: deer hunting guide

43. Texas

White-tailed deer dominate Texas, being found in 252 out of 254 counties across the state with an estimated population of 5.3 million. They remain an important part of the state’s economy, generating an estimated 1.2 billion dollars through hunting. However Texas is also home to mule deer, who live in the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle regions. The 2021 mule deer survey put their population within the state at 227,392.

Texas Hunting Information

44. Utah

The main deer population in Utah is mule deer, with a 2021 estimate of 314,850. There is also a population of white-tailed deer in Utah, however I could not find any credible estimates other than 1,000 back in 2008. It may be that monitoring of this species separate from overall deer in the state has not yet been established.

The first recorded sightings of the white-tailed deer in Utah happened in the northern part of the state, Cache county, in the late 1990’s. There is some concern that in the long run, they may outcompete the native mule deer.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: hunting in Utah

45. Vermont

Vermont White-tailed deer population (pre-hunt estimate) | image by Vermont Fish & Wildlife via Flickr

The Vermont fish & wildlife page reports that the pre-hunt estimate for white-tailed deer population in the state was approximately 133,000. This remains pretty average for the state’s deer population over the last 20 years which has ranged from about 115,000 to 160,000.

Vermont is near the northernmost part of white-tailed deer’s range, and the deer must look for areas of shelter with mature evergreen trees to withstand the low temperatures and deep snow of winter. In Vermont they also prefer the valley areas that have a mix of forest and fields.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department: white-tailed deer hunting information

46. Virginia

Population estimates for recent years put the white-tailed deer numbers around 850,000 – 1 million. The lowest estimate in the state came around 1931, when Virginia was down to just 25,000 deer after over 100 years of hunting and habitat loss.

Clearly restocking, management efforts, and the shift away from clearing land for agriculture have worked, to the point where many counties are now trying to lower the number of deer to a more sustainable number. While statewide estimates are gained mainly through harvest data, in 2021 a thermal imaging drone was flown over Arlington in efforts to gain more accurate data.

Virginia DWR: deer hunting regulations and seasons

47. Washington

Washington state is home four subspecies of deer. Three of those are abundant enough to hunt, the white-tailed deer, mule deer and black-tailed deer. The Columbian white-tailed deer is an endangered species so is protected rather than hunted. In general, black-tailed deer occur in the western half of the state, while white-tailed and mule deer occur in the eastern half. The total deer estimate for the state in recent years is about 280,000 – 300,000. It was hard to find a species break-down, but in general it appears each of the three main species make up a fairly equal portion of that total, about 100,000 each.

The endangered Columbian white-tailed deer are only found in the far southwestern corner of Washington along the lower Columbia River. A spring 2020 estimate put their population at about 1,200.

48. West Virginia

The most recent estimate I could find for West Virginia’s white-tailed deer population was about 550,000 in 2017. That is a far cry from nearly zero in 1890. Importing of white-tailed deer from Michigan began in 1930 to strategic habitats. It was sometimes an up and down battle for the deer, but things really began to improve in the early 1970’s when management of deer was turned over from the state legislature to the department of natural resources. Today it’s hard to image they weren’t always so abundant.

West Virginia Department of Natural Resources: big game hunting information

49. Wisconsin

Wisconsin white-tailed deer population (post hunt) | image by WDNR

Wisconsin is having a deer boom, with this 2021 article reporting the state’s population of 1.6 million is the highest it’s been in decades. Sounds good for hunters, but populations this high can be problematic. Deer overpopulation causes “habitat destruction, crop damage, vehicle collisions and disease – all of which threatens the long-term survival of white-tailed deer in Wisconsin.” Biologists believe a new framework for deer management is in order, and one that takes into account the ecological capacity of the current ecosystem.

50. Wyoming

Wyoming is home to both mule deer and white-tailed deer. The mule deer working group estimates the 2021 mule deer population at 330,700. Deer friendly reports a white-tailed deer population of 72,900 in 2019 based on hunting data. White-tailed deer are mainly found in the Black Hills, Bighorn Basin and Riverton regions.

Wyoming Game & Fish Department: Deer Hunting


A Quick Look At Deer Species

1. White-tailed deer

Female white-tailed deer | image by Fyn Kynd via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description

The white-tailed deer has a reddish-brown coat in the spring which fades to a grayish-brown coat during the fall and winter. Newborn deer, or fawns, have white spots on their coats that help camouflage them in the forest. They will lose these spots after a few months.

The top of their tail is brown, but the underside is very fluffy and white. When alarmed, white-tailed deer will raise their tail straight up, flashing the white. This flash can alert other deer that danger has been spotted, and is known as “flagging”. If you ever see a deer in the woods and they spot you, you might catch them flagging as they run away.

The male white-tailed deer will grow a new set of antlers every year. The overall size, length, and branches on antlers depends on how well-fed the deer is, how old it is, and some is just genetics. The antlers grow in late spring, and are covered with tissue called velvet during this growth period. The antlers are used during the breeding season to compete for breeding females. After the breeding season is over males will shed their antlers during the winter.

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Their size can vary greatly dependent on their location. On average in North America, males weigh 150-300 pounds and females weigh 88 – 198 pounds. The largest deer are often found along the northern portions of their range, while the tiny Key Deer of Florida barely make it to 100 pounds.

Habitat

One of the things that makes white-tailed deer so widespread is their ability to adapt to many environments. Many white-tailed deer live in forests and prefer habitat with young growth and forest edge. However in parts of their range, populations have adapted to prairie and savanna land (such as Texas, Arizona and Mexico), tropical or subtropical forests in Central America, and mountain grassland in the Andes of South America.

Diet

These deer are ruminants, which means they have a four-chambered stomach. This not only allows them to digest a wide variety of foods, but they can eat and wait until later to digest. A useful trick if they are grazing and need to quickly flee from a predator. White-tailed deer are mainly herbivores and will eat what they can find during each season. This includes plant shoots, legumes, cacti, leaves, grasses, fruit, corn, acorns and mushrooms. They may occasionally eat small animals like mice or birds, but it isn’t very common.

Deer eat a lot, about 2,000 pounds of plant matter each year. When too many deer are in one environment, they can be a detriment by not allowing plants to grow to maturity or even completely wiping out a species of plant from an ecosystem.

Range

The white-tailed deer is native to North America, Central America and parts of South America. The majority of the North American population lives east of the Rocky Mountains.

Subspecies

White-tailed deer are classified as the species Odocoileus virginianus, the Virginia white-tailed deer. However world-wide there are 26 known subspecies, with 17 of those occurring in the U.S.

White-tailed deer subspecies in the United States

SpeciesCommon NameGeneral Location
O. v. borealisNorthern white-tailed deercentral to eastern Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Nova Scotia
O. v. carminisCarmen Mountains white-tailed deerTexas-Mexico border
O. v. clavium Key deer / Florida Keys white-tailed deerFlorida keys, mainly from Sugarloaf Key to Bahia Honda Key
O. v. couesi Coues white-tailed deer / Arizona white-tailed deer / fantail deerArizona and parts of New Mexico into Mexico
O. v. dacotensisDakota white-tailed deer / northern plains white-tailed deerwestern and central Canada, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, North & South Dakota and western Minnesota
O. v. hiltonensisHilton Head Island white-tailed deerHilton Head Island, Beaufort County South Carolina
O. v. leucurusColumbian white-tailed deersouth-central Oregon and southern Washington/northern Oregon border
O. v. macrourusKansas white-tailed deerU.S. central plains including Texas panhandle, parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska
O. v. mcilhennyi Avery Island white-tailed deerGulf coast of Louisiana
O. v. nigribarbisBlackbeard Island white-tailed deerBlackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, McIntosh county Georgia
O. v. ochrourusRocky Mountains white-tailed deer / northwestern white-tailed deerwestern Canada and northern Rocky Mountains
O. v. osceolaFlorida coastal white-tailed deerGulf coast of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida
O. v. seminolusFlorida white-tailed deerGulf coast of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida
O. v. taurinsulaeBulls Island white-tailed deerBulls Island, South Carolina
O. v. texanusTexas white-tailed deermost of Texas
O. v. venatoriusHunting Island white-tailed deerHunting Island, South Carolina
O. v. virginianusVirginia white-tailed deer / southern white-tailed deersouth eastern United States

2. Mule Deer

male mule deer with antlers standing on hillside
Male Mule Deer at the National Bison Range, Montana | image by Astrophoto Andy via Flickr

Description

The main noticeable difference between the mule deer and the white-tailed deer are ear size, tails, and antlers.

These deer gained the name “mule” due to their elongated ears that resemble a donkey. Their tail is thinner than the white-tailed deer, with a distinctive black tip at the bottom.

Unlike the white-tailed deer’s antlers which branch out from a single main “beam”, the antlers of mule deer are bifurcated. This means they fork as they grow. Like other deer species they grow new antlers each spring and shed them during the winter. The rut, which is their mating season, occurs in the fall and the fawns are born in the spring.

Whereas the size of white-tailed deer can vary greatly, mule deer don’t show as much of a difference across their range. On average in North America, males weigh 121 – 331 pounds and females weigh 95 – 198 pounds.

Migration

Unlike white-tailed deer, some mule deer are migratory. They will spend the summer in higher elevations, then travel down to lower elevations during the winter. This helps them avoid the harsher high elevation winter conditions such as deeper snow that covers up food. The longest known mule deer migration occurs in Wyoming where deer travel 150 miles from the Red Desert to the mountain slopes around the Hoback Basin.

Diet

The mule deer is a generalist and will forage on whatever is available. Studies of mule deer populations have shown that they have been recorded as eating nearly 800 different plant species. This includes flowers, grass, tree and shrub fruits, nuts, acorns, berries and lichen.

Range

While the white-tailed deer more or less stop east of the Rocky Mountains, the mule deer take over west of the Rockies. They are most populous on the western Great Plains, in the Rocky Mountains, the southwestern states, and on the west coast of North America.

Subspecies

Mule deer are classified as the species Odocoileus hemionus, the Rocky-Mountain mule deer. There are eight accepted subspecies in the U.S., including the two black-tailed species. Even though black-tailed deer are considered subspecies of mule deer, there is still some debate on their origins and they are often counted separately.

Mule deer subspecies in the United States

SpeciesCommon NameGeneral Location
O. h. californicusCalifornia mule deercentral to eastern Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Nova Scotia
O. h. eremicusdesert or burro mule deerlower Colorado River Valley
O. h. fuliginatussouthern mule deerfar southern California, Baja California
O. h. hemionusRocky Mountain mule deerwestern and central North America
O. h. inyoensisInyo mule deerSierra Nevada mountains of California
O. h. peninsulaepeninsular mule deerBaja California
O. h. columbianusColumbian black-tailed deerPacific Northwest and northern California
O. h. sitkensisSitka deersoutheastern coastal Alaska, south central Alaska, coastal British Columbia

3. Black-tailed Deer

Sitka black-tailed deer | image by Forest Service Alaska Region via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Description

Coat color tends to be more reddish-brown in the spring and grayish-brown during winter. Sitka overall have a darker coat than the Columbian. Black-tailed deer have a white patch on rump, which their tail mostly covers. The tail is straight and black on top with white underneath. Sitka are the smaller subspecies weighing between 80 – 120 pounds. Columbian weigh between 88 – 180 pounds. For both species females are smaller than the males.

Habitat

Black-tailed deer in their native Pacific northwest range live in dense coastal rainforest and semi-open habitats including riparian forest (along river banks) and areas of tangled shrubs and thicket. It is important they have access to both the cover provided by the forest and the grazing in open areas and along the forest edge.

Diet

Like most deer, black-tail browse on what vegetation is available in each season. This includes during the winter and early spring, they feed on Douglas fir, western red cedar, red huckleberry, salal, deer fern, and lichens growing on trees. Late spring to fall, they consume grasses, blackberries, apples, fireweed, pearly everlasting, forbs, salmonberry, salal, and maple.

Range

While their historic range expanded further east, today you can find them in western Oregon, northern California, Washington, the Alaskan panhandle and areas of British Columbia. A small population has also been introduced on the island of Kaui, Hawaii.

Subspecies

Which came first, the black-tailed deer or the mule deer? I have seen some debate on this but at the time of writing this article the consensus is that black-tailed deer are a subspecies of the mule deer.

Black-tailed deer subspecies in the United States

SpeciesCommon NameGeneral Location
O. h. columbianusColumbian black-tailed deerPacific Northwest and northern California
O. h. sitkensisSitka deersoutheastern coastal Alaska, south central Alaska, coastal British Columbia

Deer Overpopulation

Quick History of Deer in America

When Europeans first came to America, they found deer a plentiful resource in most states. During this time anyone could hunt deer and they were often a life line, providing meat and skin to the early settlers. As the population grew, the demand for market hunting increased and deer were hunted in greater and greater numbers. Animal husbandry and agriculture also grew, removing forested land in favor of farming. Over time this heavy hunting and habitat loss took a real toll. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, deer populations had plummeted across the country and some states were in danger of loosing deer entirely.

Fortunately, the early to mid 1900’s is when most management programs began to try and reverse this population loss. Hunting seasons, bag limits, deer restocking and habitat restoration are just a few of the management practices that sprung up. Also the growth of suburbs that broke up large swaths of forested land into smaller chunks actually benefited the deer. Deer rely on young forest and forest edge habitat.

The Problems of Deer Overpopulation

mule deer crossing the street in front of an oncoming car
Mule deer crossing the street | image by State Farm via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

All this brings us to today. Deer populations are actually higher than they were historically in many areas, or they are at the point of exceeding the carrying capacity of their local environment. So what are the problems that come with too many deer?

  • Native plant suppression – when there are more deer than the ecosystem can sustain, native plants may be grazed to the point where they are never allowed to grow, reducing food for other animals and allowing invasive species to thrive.
  •  Vehicle collisions – as population density increases, so does the likelihood of deer-vehicle collisions. Insurance provider State Farm estimated there were 1.5 million deer claims in just one year (2019-2020). Being such large animals, damage to the vehicle and the passengers inside is often severe.
  • Damage to landscape – overpopulation of deer in the suburbs makes them more and more apt to use your flower beds and gardens as a snack station.
  • Damage to crops – deer can cause huge amounts of crop damage, eating not only parts of mature plants but also destroying plants at the seedling and budding stages.
  • Loss of habitat – too many deer in a forested area can completely eat through the green understory. Many animals, such as songbirds, rely on this understory habitat. Studies have shown that areas of high deer population tend to have fewer birds that need forest shrub habitat.

Tips to Keep Deer Out of Your Yard

Deer eating landscape plants | image by Images Alight via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Deer in the suburbs are well-known for eating the nice flowers and shrubs you’ve spent time planting in your yard. While there is no one fail safe solution to keep them away, here are a few top tips.

  • Focus on plants that aren’t as attractive to deer (marigold, verbena, snapdragon, butterfly bush, boxwood, juniper, bee balm)
  • If you do plant deer favorites (fruit trees, sunflowers, peas, lettuce, tulips, hosta, berry bushes), do so strategically. Plant them closer to your house, and put a border around them of stronger smelling plants such as lavender, mint or garlic.
  • Put up a fence – but it has to be tall. Ideally 8 feet and solid (not opaque).
  • If it is just a garden you are trying to protect, you can net off that specific area rather than your whole yard
  • Motion detecting sprinklers can work great to startle them away
  • Purchase a deer repellent – there many on the market based on scent or sound. You can also try spraying plants with hot pepper oil, scattering or hanging small bags of human hair (to them it smells like an unfamiliar animal), or let your dog out in the yard often.

Additional Sources used in this article :

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