National Whitetail Deer Hunting and Management Survey Results
This survey of whitetail deer hunters from across the U.S., undertaken by Outdoor Life Magazine, aims to give a broad and detailed picture of the condition of the whitetail deer population across the country, which the magazine describes as “at a crossroads.” Though there have been numerous environmental factors that have impacted whitetail populations, the survey concentrates on hunters’ perceptions to gauge how healthy the deer population is on the ground. The result is a comprehensive survey of hunters’ views, not only of deer populations, but also how they are being “managed” by state agencies.
According to Outdoor Life Magazine, “from a national perspective, whitetail hunting and management seem to be at a crossroads. Not too many years ago whitetail powerhouse states like Wisconsin, Alabama, and Nebraska were seeing all-time record harvests. […] But, now a handful of indicators are suggesting that the deer hunting bubble is about to burst — or maybe that it already has.” Due to various environmental factors such as increased predator numbers and deer diseases, as well as human pressure from years of high “antlerless harvests,” many deer herds are seen to be on “unstable ground.” However, according to the magazine, “we’ve never known more about deer biology and management than we do today. Game agencies using strong science and working with educated hunters utilizing proven management methods could help us avoid a deer depression.” To avoid this “deer depression,” the magazine sought to survey deer hunters around the U.S., so that they could “start answering questions about how to manage the country’s favorite game animal. We sent the survey out to online readers, our Facebook fans, friends, and contributors and when the dust had settled, almost 4,000 deer hunters had responded.”
Their findings paint a picture of what motivates hunters, and how they view their relationship to deer and the state agencies that “manage” deer. The survey finds that there is a pretty even mix of hunters who use public land vs. private land, and that even though it is an “easy assumption” to think “that private land hunters would have consistent seasons year after year while the guys slogging it out on public lands are seeing fewer and fewer deer,” that isn’t the case. “41% of public land hunters said they saw the same amount of deer as they did in the previous year. That number was the same for landowners and essentially the same (46%) for the guys [sic] who hunt leases.” Though the majority of hunters surveyed were hunting for meat, “the trophy hunters and guys just looking to spend time with friends and family weren’t far behind.” Interestingly, the survey looked at the “self-regulation” of hunters, and found that considerable percentages (20-33% of hunters) self-regulate their hunting as opposed to going strictly by law. That being said, overall the respondents were “sympathetic” to state game agencies, with 64% saying that their state agency is doing an adequate job with the resources they have.
Of course, with all of this it is worth noting that the survey is of hunters, and that it records only their impressions and observations about the deer in their area, not actual deer numbers. It doesn’t comprehensively cover all regions. Additionally, it should be remembered that hunters have a particular vested interest in the responses they give, which may affect the accuracy of the research. Still, the study does offer some conclusions that advocates should take note of, especially when it comes to the motivations of hunters (meat, sport, time with friends), where hunting takes place (an almost even split between public and private land) and how much hunters are willing to admit that they do engage in illegal shooting.