Many people firmly believe that hunting is an essential management technique for the white-tailed deer population in the Americas. There are many subspecies of White-tailed deer, mostly geographically distinguished, but the overall species currently inhabits almost all of North America and Central America and parts of South America and Canada. They range from as far north as Prince George and British Columbia in Canada and as far south as Peru in South America. Their total population size is estimated to be 25 million. White-tailed deer are able to survive in a variety of habitats from large woods of the north to deep saw grass and swamps in the south. They also inhabit farmlands, cactus and thornbrush desert areas. The ideal habitat for white-tailed deer is in dense forest for cover, but near edges for food. Deer are herbivores, but feed on a variety of plants including buds and twigs of many tree species, cacti in the south, and other tough shrubs that other mammals would avoid. Their ability to survive and adapt in a wide variety of habitats and their ability to forage on a wide range of plants makes it easy for this species to thrive. The constant development caused by humans increases the amount of edge present in the landscape which destroys habitat for many other mammal species, but it has little effect on the deer populations which makes it easier for white-tailed deer to outcompete other mammal species that need large forests.
White-tailed deer are native to North America, but their populations have not always been as large as they are today. They have an immense influence on the landscape as they change the composition of plant communities through their foraging and can often lead to over-browsing where their population is large. This can cause serious damage to the vegetation of forests and can also be destructive for crops, vegetable gardens, and ornamental plants when there are white-tailed deer living in close proximity to humans. Deer are also a large cause of car accidents and can cause serious injury to the occupants of vehicles. They also serve as important vectors for disease such as Lyme disease because they serve as hosts to the ticks which carry the disease. These are all very real problems that having a large white-tailed deer cause.
In Vermont, deer are found in mountainous areas, river valleys, agricultural lands, forests, and even in backyard suburbs. In their northern range, deer yards are a critically important habitat in order for them to be able to survive the winter. Only 7-8% of Vermont’s forests make up this critical habitat type and is possibly a limiting factor for their population growth. They may move 10 to 15 miles to reach a deer yard. Wintering deer yards must contain evergreen trees to catch the snow in their branches and keep the snow from getting too deep. The trees also provide a thermal cover to protect the deer from wind and below freezing temperatures. Deer hunting in Vermont is currently legal and thousands of people partake in the activity. Some hunters hunt for sport, while many others believe that it is an important way to control deer numbers which is important because an over-abundance of deer causes many problems. Hunting is a way to balance the needs of the deer and the needs of the people and is an important element in the cultural heritage of Vermont. The regulated deer hunting seasons in the fall of each year is how deer numbers are currently managed.