Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Published in Biology and Management of White-Tailed Deer, ed. David G. Hewitt (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2011), pp. 501-535. (Chapter 17)


This article is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


It easily can be said that the white-tailed deer is the most important species of wildlife in the midwestern United States. Approximately 10 million white-tailed deer inhabit the Midwest, which is more than any other region in North America. Further, many of the most impressive whitetails have come from the Midwest (Figure 17.1). Dramatic changes have occurred on the landscape since European settlement that influenced populations of white-tailed deer in this region. Timber harvest in the north and east and agricultural tillage and residential development throughout the region have had both positive and negative impacts on deer numbers. White-tailed deer were over-harvested through unregulated subsistence and market hunting in the 1800s and were nearly extirpated from many areas in the Midwest (Gladfelter, 1984; Menzel, 1984). Populations rebounded over time, however, to current record highs, due to an interested public and the diligent efforts of management agency personnel. White-tailed deer have also expanded their range westward and now occupy areas of the Great Plains that they never have before.

Public interests in whitetails are high, as over 4 million deer hunters and untold numbers of deer watchers take to the field every year in the Midwest. An entire culture has grown out of sport hunting of white-tailed deer, especially in the upper Midwest where it is not uncommon for schools to be closed on opening day of the firearm deer season. Traditional meat poles that were once the center of attention every autumn in towns across the upper Midwest still exist and are used in some communities. Deer camps, where generations of hunters congregate every autumn, are still common across the North Woods (Willging, 2008), carrying on the hunting tradition and keeping the interest in wildlife, the outdoors, and our natural world alive. Public concerns also are high, thus crop damage and deer-vehicle collisions (DVCs) are major drivers in the management of local deer numbers. Managers are also concerned about the impacts of high populations of white-tailed deer on plant communities, ecological succession, and forest regeneration. The times for those interested in white-tailed deer in the Midwest are better than ever and the outlook is good, but even greater diligence and effort will be required to properly manage populations of white-tailed deer in the future.