Whitetail Populations in 2014: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Dan Perez's Whitetail Properties is at its core a business, but they're not only making money, they're making a difference in the whitetail industry.

This nation has always treasured the white-tailed deer. There's no arguing that. But it seems that we are more than willing to argue about the immediate future of the deer population.

Some experts will tell you that hunters should be thrilled with the big buck outlook for this season; others highlight the impending doom spelled out by the combined effects of winter kill, predation, and diseases like EHD. Whom do we believe?

As is usually the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. With that in mind, let's take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly for whitetails as it stands right now.


The Good  


"The whitetail hunting industry is stronger than ever before," Whitetail Properties CEO Dan Perez told me. "We're armed with more tools now than we've ever had to help us match wits with the toughest and smartest creature in North America.... It's the golden age of whitetail hunting."

Perez and his cohorts are at the forefront of that golden age. He has harvested more than 350 whitetails with his bow, including over 50 bucks that qualify for Pope and Young record books. Perez's company, headquartered in famed Pike County, Illinois, sells land in over 20 states. His agents (often fanatic whitetail hunters themselves) act as brokers for buyers and sellers of prime deer real estate. Since its founding in 2007, Whitetail Properties has sold more than 1,500 properties encompassing nearly 300,000 acres of hunting, ranch, and farm land.

This is no small impact. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hunter surveys, whitetail hunting in the East and Midwest is largely done on private land, while a Quality Deer Management Association survey showed that "90 percent of the land in these regions is privately owned."

As companies like Whitetail Properties expand, so does the amount of manicured big buck real estate. It's a great thing for the whitetail in general, as landowners work to create ideal habitat to grow healthy local populations and giant mature bucks. Loss of habitat is still a major issue for some areas, as suburbs expand and cohabitation becomes exceedingly difficult.


But, as always, hunters (and businessmen) like Perez are the key to continued abundance of our deer hunting opportunities. As long as big bucks and big buck land remain valuable commodities, healthy populations will remain top priority.

"The hunting land business is strong," Perez said. "More and more people are turning to land as an investment, and more and more landowners are realizing that hunters add value to land."

As this acreage is doled out to focused hunters backed by conscientious landowners, the quality management of deer herds is becoming engrained in the fabric of key whitetail states. Score one for the good guys.


The Bad

Even though populations are generally healthy, most studies have overall whitetail numbers in a slight decline in recent years. Some states are suffering, while most are thriving. Whitetails can be found in every state in the Lower 48, with the total nearing 30 million. But as they say: more deer, more problems.

Go back 40 years or so, and there were parts of the U.S. — especially the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast — where whitetails had almost no natural predator, save a few bobcats.

Coyotes can now be found in every state that holds whitetails, though they aren't indigenous to areas east of the Mississippi River. As the adaptable scavengers they are, coyotes are thriving in rural, suburban, and even urban areas. Their numbers are growing, and that has spelled trouble for whitetail populations. That comes specifically in fawn recruitment.

"Many states are reporting lower fawn recruitment rates, often a result of predation by coyotes and even bears," says QDMA Outreach and Education Director Kip Adams.

Many other experts and detailed studies back up this major issue. The findings most often quoted on the coyote's effect on fawn recruitment originated in Dr. John Kilgo's 2009 report entitled "Coyotes in the East: Are They Impacting Deer?"

Kilgo, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, studied a 300-square-mile area in South Carolina where there were significant concerns over the possible effects of coyotes on deer.

He wrote: "Of 60 fawns monitored over the course of the work, only 16 have survived until autumn, when they are old enough to be safe from predation and can be considered part of the huntable population. That means that 44 fawns, or 73 percent, did not survive. Predation by bobcats and coyotes has accounted for all but one of the deaths."

While this study is now five years old, many others have been completed in the subsequent years. All have parroted Kilgo: A healthy coyote local population kills 70 percent of fawns on average. This is not an immediately solvable problem, either. Coyotes are here to stay, and deer (and deer hunters) will have to continually look over their shoulder.

The Ugly

There's nothing more damaging to any wild population than widespread disease. In the case of the white-tailed deer, one such recent outbreak is at the forefront: epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD).

According to the QDMA, the summer of 2012 had the second worst hemorrhagic disease outbreak of all time.

Hemorrhagic disease was confirmed in nearly 30 states, and tens of thousands of deer succumbed to the disease.

EHD is transmitted by biting midges or flies and can have a 90 percent mortality rate in deer, the highest among any animal susceptible to the disease.

"Unfortunately, in the last couple years we've experienced widespread drought across the middle U.S., including many of the nation's best hunting areas," Perez said. "And no amount of technology can make it rain more. This drought has lead to EHD certainly affecting deer numbers....We encourage every hunter to have a 'take less and give more' philosophy."

There is really no concrete way to stem the tide of EHD, because it is a blood-borne disease spread by insects. The epidemic has spread from New York and Maryland all the way to Colorado and other Western states. While it might be fairly minor as far as a total loss of overall populations, this disease can be truly deadly on local levels. Whitetail hunters and land managers can only sit back, count the death toll, kill less does, and pray for cold weather.

Time will tell how ugly this will get. Still, unless things change dramatically the whitetail will remain at the top of the heap.

2. Kansas

Kansas may rank at No. 8 in B&C trophy production, but the sheer potential to knock down a giant this season is overwhelming. On the heels of the palmated 312 1/8-inch, 51-pointer found dead in Kansas last season, we should all be excited to see what 2014 has to offer.

3. Ohio

Ohio comes in as the No. 3 overall B&C trophy state in the last decade with nearly 450 entries. Last season was highlighted by Mark Owen's 256-inch Ohio monster, killed in Wayne County on the third day of bow season. More good things to come in the Buckeye State.

1. Wisconsin

Wisconsin leads the pack in overall entries in the Boone & Crockett Club's record books and has produced some stellar deer in the last few years, including Jim Baker's 260 5/8-inch gross-score buck in Waukesha County last September.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Venison Cheeseburger Bites Recipe

Venison Cheeseburger Bites Recipe

If you're tired of the same old jalapeno and cream cheese poppers, here's a completely different take on the popular party appetizer. Easy to make, and incredibly delicious, these mini cheeseburgers, wrapped in bacon, make the perfect one-bite-fits-all snack for your next tailgate party or hunting camp.

B&C Typical Mule Deer

B&C Typical Mule Deer

Doug Burris Jr's typical mule deer taken in 1969, could just be one record that will never be broken.

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

Smith & Wesson's Tony Miele and host Kevin Steele track an African lion across the Kalahari for the ultimate handgun showdown with the King of the Beasts.

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Former Delta Force Operator Kyle Lamb hikes the rugged desert mountains of northern Sonora in pursuit of the diminutive Coues species of whitetail.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success. Whitetail

Daylight Deer Movement During the Rut

Jeff Johnston

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success.

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the 6.5 PRC. Guns

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC: Rifle Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 26, 2020

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the...

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are created equal. Recipes

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot. Guns

The Return of Lever Action Rifles

Craig Boddington - May 26, 2020

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Killing a smart old bruiser is a lifelong endeavor for most of us. Whitetail

Tips for Hunting Mature Whitetails

Craig Boddington

Killing a smart old bruiser is a lifelong endeavor for most of us.

There's much more to killing massive whitetails than being lucky. Whitetail

5 Principles To Kill Giant Bucks

Jeff Johnston

There's much more to killing massive whitetails than being lucky.

Mike Schoby takes his nephew, Mitchell on his first-ever whitetail hunt in Nebraska. Whitetail

A Boy's First Whitetail Hunt

PHTV Adventures - July 25, 2018

Mike Schoby takes his nephew, Mitchell on his first-ever whitetail hunt in Nebraska.

Buck patterns change in the late season, so here's what to look for when old brutes go into hiding. Whitetail

Where to Find Whitetails in the Late Season

Jeff Johnston

Buck patterns change in the late season, so here's what to look for when old brutes go into...

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now