The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for the
conservation and management of the state's native white-tailed deer
population. The department's primary deer conservation goals are to
ensure the well being of the species and its habitat while maintaining
populations at levels compatible with human activity, land use and
Hunting remains the primary method for maintaining deer populations at
appropriate levels, both in Maryland and throughout North America,
despite vocal and visible protests of animal rights organizations.
Through the early and mid-1900s, when native white-tailed deer
populations were being restored in Maryland (having been severely depleted by
settlers and habitat destruction during the preceding two centuries),
regulations restricted the taking of female deer to allow relocated populations
to proliferate and expand into vacant habitat. Since a single male deer can breed with multiple does, removing bucks does not
affect overall populations; however, if enough does are removed, the number of
fawns born is lowered and overall numbers are affected.
By the early 1960s, through relocation efforts of wildlife biologists
and sportsmen, deer populations occupied all available deer habitat. As
these new populations thrived with enhanced food and cover that occurred
during their earlier period of decline, it became necessary to alter
regulations and encourage the harvest of female deer.
Regulations that encourage the taking of antlerless deer — does and
young bucks without antlers — selectively remove females and help quell
reproduction. And studies have proven what common sense dictates: areas in Maryland with deer hunting have fewer deer than sections where hunting is
In suburban areas — where deer populations above the cultural carrying
capacity are increasingly involved in vehicle collisions and damaging
vegetation — special managed hunts (restricting harvests to antlerless
deer or requiring an antlerless deer be taken before an antlered deer may
be pursued) prevent the increased reproduction that would occur in a
non-hunted population. In Seneca Creek State Park, for example, the
section closed to hunting is home to approximately five times as many deer
as the area where hunting is permitted.
Contrary to what some may believe, deer will not leave their home
ranges in response to hunting. As a prey species, they have adapted to
predation by man, wolves and mountain lions over thousands of years. So,
while deer may run from predators, or seek out thick cover and remain
motionless to avoid them, they will remain within their home range.
The short answer is no. Deer move about more during the fall due to reproductive behavior. Seasonally, yearling bucks may travel many miles in a natural dispersal that reduces the chance of a young male interbreeding
with his mother or female siblings. At about six months, bucks experience
initial separations from their mothers and begin to explore new habitats.
Mature bucks and does increase movement in order to find breeding
Deer/vehicle accidents declined by more than one half as a result of
managed hunting programs in sections of Montgomery County. Lethal deer
control in Lynchburg, Virginia and at the United States Air Force Academy
in Colorado also reduced deer/vehicle collisions.
Deer thrive and find abundant food in habitats where woodlands are
interspersed with open areas. When wooded areas become housing
developments, some sections are cleared for roads and home sites, while
with others remain forested; new homeowners then plant ornamental shrubs
and seed the yard. When open farmland is developed, new residents plant
trees in addition to shrubs and seeded lawns. Both of these types of
development actually improve habitat for deer. At the same time, hunting
within the forested or agricultural landscapes is either eliminated or
restricted, affording deer both improved habitat with reduced mortality,
resulting in elevated deer populations.
Today, in Maryland, man — an integral part of nature and the food chain — is the only remaining effective deer predator. Spanish explorer Hernando
de Soto documented the use of venison and deer hides by Native Americans
in southeastern North America during the early 1500s. In 1634, Roman
Catholic priest Father Andrew White, an early settler in Maryland, wrote
that the bountiful white-tailed deer were "...rather an annoyance than an advantage."
Native Americans hunted deer year round across Maryland, using fires to drive deer which ultimately helped provide excellent habitat. When Europeans arrived on North America's shores, they learned to hunt deer
from the Native Americans. Early colonists used the venison to feed their
families and the hides for clothing. As the settlers' populations
increased, the demand for white-tailed deer rose above its reproductive
potential and the habitat's carrying capacity. The science of conservation with hunting seasons and bag limits did not exist.
Man also destroyed much of the white-tailed deer's habitat through the removal of trees when wood products were required for homes and heat sources. At that time, new trees were not planted to replace those
harvested as practiced in modern forestry science.
Interestingly enough, most humans can be classified as predators or
scavengers through their food habits. When people purchase meat at a
grocery store, they function ecologically as scavengers; someone else has
taken and processed a live animal. When an individual fishes for rockfish
or crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, or hunts for deer in Maryland's woodlands, he or she is functioning ecologically as a predator.
While all outdoor activities carry the risk of personal injury, hunting
ranks very low when compared with other popular pursuits. Swimming,
fishing, water skiing, bicycling, basketball and baseball all have higher
injury rates than hunting.
Many hunting accidents do not involve the discharge of a bow or firearm. Of the 10 hunting
accidents recorded in Maryland during the 2005 -2006 season, 6 resulted from falls out of tree stands. Maryland's Natural Resource Police
coordinate firearm and hunter safety instruction. Many special managed deer hunts require certification of this instruction in addition to a
special qualification test.
A survey by C. Mason Ross Associates, Inc. of Annapolis found that the
majority of Marylanders - 67 percent of Western Maryland citizens, 58
percent of central Maryland citizens and 7 out of 10 Eastern Shore
residents — support deer hunting for deer population control.
A recent survey by the Howard County Deer Task Force verified citizen support for regulated deer hunting. Citizens rated various deer management strategies on a scale from not acceptable (0) to most acceptable (5), and each strategy was given a total average score. Regulated hunting (3.05)
and experimental deer contraception (3.14) topped the list of all
potential strategies. A 2003 survey by Responsive Management regarding
Maryland citizen’s hunting attitudes also found broad-based support for
all legal hunting, with 78 percent of Maryland citizens approving of legal hunting.
C. Mason Ross Associates' survey reported that less than 4 percent of
Maryland deer hunters considered taking a trophy as the most important
reason for deer hunting. Deer population control, recreation and food
topped the list as the three most important reasons for deer hunting.
Responsive Management's national survey found that 43 percent of hunters hunt for recreation, 25 percent hunt for meat and 21 percent hunt to be close to nature.
Maryland's wildlife biologists possess degrees from many of the 43
universities that teach wildlife management and biology. Each graduate
must complete numerous courses in zoology, botany and wildlife management.In addition course work in agronomy, chemistry, physics, calculus,
statistics, technical writing and public speaking is required of
undergraduates. Many wildlife biologists hold master's degrees that
require planning, implementing and publishing original wildlife research
Some professionals are Certified Wildlife Biologists with The Wildlife
Society, publisher of the Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife
Monographs and the Wildlife Society Bulletin. These publications contain
peer reviewed papers regarding wildlife management issues including deer
Maryland's DNR wildlife biologists continue their educations by reviewing current, relevant published research and by regularly attending conferences relating to their specialties. Biologists from around the
country and Canada meet annually to exchange information regarding deer
biology and management.
About 73 percent of funding for all of Maryland's wildlife programs (including deer) comes from the sale of hunting and trapping licenses and fees from the Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax on sport hunting devices and ammunition. Less than 1% of funding for Maryland’s Wildlife programs comes from the State of Maryland’s general fund.
- L. Douglas Hotton, author
Contact: Brian Eyler
Deer Project Biologist
Wildlife & Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, Annapolis MD 21401