Why Manage?

Meet Deer Management Goals

In Illinois, deer management goals are to maintain a healthy and balanced deer herd that can exist in perpetuity and provide recreational opportunities while also balancing people’s broad range of values and their concerns about crop damage, deer–vehicle accidents, and damage to ecosystems.

Management of white-tailed deer in Illinois is the responsibility of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife Resources. The Division provides leadership to restore, manage, and protect deer and other wildlife populations and their habitats.

Include Multiple Perspectives

Input from a variety of stakeholders is necessary to manage deer populations.
Many stakeholders need to be included when addressing deer management issues.
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Marjanovic

Deer management must blend considerations of biological, environmental, and sociological factors.

People have different interests and values (aesthetic, moral, ecological, recreational, social, utilitarian, and commercial) that need to be considered when addressing deer management issues.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources values public involvement as an integral component of establishing deer management rules, regulations, and policies. In establishing harvest regulations, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources takes diverse, and often opposing, public input and works to maintain the deer population at a level that is acceptable to the majority of people in a given area.

Input is needed to develop and maintain a healthy and productive deer population at levels compatible with a variety of land uses and to provide Illinoisans the opportunity to participate in various deer-related recreational opportunities.

Maintain the Population

In Illinois deer can easily exceed their carrying capacity—the number of living organisms an area can support indefinitely without degrading the environment. This is due to mild Illinois winters and the abundant food sources available, particularly in agricultural areas where deer have access to corn and soybeans.

Also, in Illinois there are no longer populations of large carnivores, such as cougars or wolves, to naturally keep deer numbers in check. A well-managed state hunting program can help keep deer from becoming overabundant.

Reduce Issues Caused by Overabundant Deer

Keeping deer numbers in check is important because too many deer in an area can cause problems. In agricultural areas deer can damage crops and orchards. In urban areas they can quickly wipe out gardens or damage ornamental plants and other landscaping. And more deer on the landscape means a greater chance of deer–vehicle accidents.

In natural areas, deer can change the structure of the local plant community. When deer become overabundant they overbrowse, which reduces the regeneration of trees and allows more sunlight to reach the forest floor, thus changing the plant species composition.

Research has shown that deer can cause a reduced diversity of plants, virtually eliminate forest understory, and reduce the reproductive potential of rare plants. This alteration of plant communities also encourages the growth of exotic species such as garlic mustard that outcompete other native plants such as trilliums, orchids, and ginseng.

These negative impacts on the vegetation eventually impact the deer because there is no longer sufficient vegetation to provide them with enough food. The negative impacts on plants also negatively impact other species of wildlife that depend on them for food, cover, and nesting sites.

Another consequence of overabundant deer is possible disease transmission. Some diseases are spread from deer to deer by direct contact or at contaminated feeding sites.