What North Carolina’s Growing Whitetail Deer Population Means for Drivers, Hunting, and Species Survival

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The white-tailed deer is the state’s only deer species, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Researchers at North Carolina State University are currently conducting a four-year study in Durham and Orange counties on white-tailed deer survival as the state continues to grow and develop.

The Triangle Urban Deer Study is a collaboration between NC State and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. The study results will help wildlife managers understand how deer live in urban and rural North Carolina. To collect data, researchers capture the deer and fit them with a GPS collar as well as yellow ear tags.

NC State researcher Mikiah Carver said she and her team are trying to catch and tag deer in all parts of County Durham.

“We caught a lot of deer in the Eno River area and a little bit near Boheme,” Carver said. “But we’re trying to get a pretty good range of different types of areas across the county.”

The team is still looking for other residents to participate in the study. Carver said residents who have deer using their property can participate in the study by reaching out through Facebook. The NC State study will end in 2026.

Erin Gillespie

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NC State researchers tagged this male on his ear and attached a collar to track him.

The hunt in decline

According to other NC State research, deer hunting is in decline nationally and statewide.

Lincoln Larson – an associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management – said that since the mid-1980s around 8-10% of the population hunts deer in any given year, and today today it’s down 4%.

Larson said deer hunting is necessary to prevent overpopulation. He adds that if hunting continues to decline, this could lead to having to turn to alternative factors such as the reintroduction of predators or lethal shooting programs.

Decreased deer hunts also mean fewer deer hunting permits, which affects the state’s wildlife conservation budget. But Larson said changing the way conservation is funded could help.

“Fund conservation so that hunting is not the centerpiece,” he said. “It’s one of many elements and a more diverse portfolio that could include alternative sources, like special taxes, which have been successful in many states, or the contribution of industry and business partners to conservation.”

Meanwhile, Larson said most deer hunters are white males and recruiting a diverse pool of new hunters through different programs could help increase deer hunting. He suggested reaching out to national organizations, such as color hunters and Become an outdoor woman.

Drivers beware

AAA Carolinas is warning drivers to be more careful on the roads, as October through December are considered the worst months of the year for animal-related vehicle collisions.

AAA spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said at this time of year the deer are most active because it is their breeding season. She added that people should try to drive between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., as deer tend to venture near roads outside these hours.

“If you have to drive during these times, just make sure you’re very careful,” Wright said. “Make sure you scan the road in front of you. Often when there is only one deer, there are more to follow.

Wright said the main goal was to be a defensive driver. According to the state Department of Transportation, approximately 7% of all vehicle accidents in the state involve collisions with animals. All deer involved in automobile-related collisions in North Carolina are white-tailed deer.

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