Predators, Diseases, and Other Dangers to Whitetail Deer

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Predators & Diseases

Whitetail Deer
Thanks to the deer's keen senses, they have a good perception of when danger is near. When faced with a predator, the deer's only defense is to run away. Luckily, they are one of the fastest animals in the forest, so this tactic often proves successful.

Although deer live fairly peaceful lives, they must live cautiously and with a degree of alertness in order to notice approaching danger. In the wilderness, the most obvious danger comes from predators (meat eating animals that rely on deer and other forest creatures for sustenance). The main predators of the deer are mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes; although, in some areas, the chief predators are bears, bobcats, dogs and alligators.

Thanks to the deer's keen senses, they have a good perception of when danger is near. When faced with a predator, the deer's only defense is to run away. Luckily, they are one of the fastest animals in the forest, so this tactic often proves successful. However, if caught by a predator, deer have no other method of defense, and therefore succumb and eventually die. Bucks are sometimes able to use their antlers to ward off predators and have even been known to kill a few wolves in a pack before being devoured by the remaining members. Deer are also great swimmers; often taking to the water to evade predators who can't swim.

Humans are also a threat to deer. Although human intervention has not affected deer populations significantly, hunting has. However, hunting helps keep deer populations in check. Automobile accidents also kill a fair share of deer.

Even though there is not one “big disease” which is an annual threat to deer; disease is still a menace nonetheless. If a deer is stricken with disease, it must bear it for the rest of its life. One thing that seems to be a big problem for deer is tapeworms. Tapeworms are usually contracted when deer eat questionable plants, or those that, if they had a choice, would not eat. Once a tapeworm enters a deer, the deer becomes greatly malnourished, until it dies.

Lyme disease is a disease which affects humans and not deer. It is contracted from the deer tick, which is a parasite which lives off deer. About 1 to 2 percent of deer ticks are believed to have Lyme disease. The disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut, where in 1975 the disease was first discovered after there was an epidemic of the disease.

Deer Predators

Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion
Once it spots a deer, the mountain lion will quietly stalk it until it slowly closes the distance to within about 10 yards. Then, with a swift charge, it will pounce on the deer's back, attempting to sink its sharp teeth into the deer's neck.

Once mountain lions inhabited the entire US it was believed that whitetails were a big part of their diet. Today, most mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, solely inhabit the Western US, where they prey upon the mule deer. However, in the Northern US and other isolated areas, mountain lion still stumble upon a few whitetails from time to time. Whitetail deer are also beginning to more westward and as a result, may become a larger part of the mountain lions diet in a few years.

Once it spots a deer, the mountain lion will quietly stalk it until it slowly closes the distance to within about 10 yards. Then, with a swift charge, it will pounce on the deer's back, attempting to sink its sharp teeth into the deer's neck. The weight and strength of the lion, along with the delivered wound, render the deer dead in a few minutes. Mountain lions usually attack from above in an effort to knock the deer on the ground.

Immediately after killing the deer, the lion will usually expose the guts and eat them. It will then drag the carcass to a safe hiding place where it will feed on it over the course of a few days. On average, a mountain lion needs to kill a deer every 4 to 6 days.

Although they are capable of killing the largest bucks with ease, mountain lions will usually target younger, weaker, and malnourished deer first. This helps the lion conserve its energy, especially during the winter, when energy is precious. A lion will only attack a large deer if it absolutely must.


Wolves are slow compared to deer, but their superior teamwork and tactics can turn a fleeting deer herd into the packs meal for the night.

There are three main species of wolves in the US: the Mexican wolf, the red wolf and the gray wolf. The Mexican and red wolf, inhabiting the southern US, were once fervent deer predators, but are now pretty much extinct in the wild. When it comes to the grey wolf, the advent of humans has severely limited their territory as well. However, where they do survive, whitetail deer are one of their top favorites to feed on.

Wolves travel in packs, which makes their method of hunting very different from other predators. Even though a deer can easily outrun one wolf, hunting in packs places the odds in the wolves favor. Upon spotting a deer, the wolves will slowly sneak up on it. If they are able to get close enough to the deer without being spotted, they will immediately pounce on the deer. The deer can fight back, with what little means it has, but it doesn't stand much of a chance.

If a deer detects the wolves approaching, which is usually the case, it will dart from the area, bringing the wolves with it. Wolves usually begin the chase slowly. By doing so, they can test the speed of the animal. If the deer is slow, the wolves will speed up the chase; if the deer is faster than the pack, the wolves give up their chase. Since wolves are slow, they target young, weak, and malnourished deer first.

Deep snow poses many problems for both the wolf and the deer. Their abilities in different types of snow are almost opposite each other. In thick, soft snow, the deer has the advantage since it is able to leap across the snow, whereas the wolf will sink into the snow and is severely limited in its ability to keep up. On the other hand, if the snow if frozen over, the advantage goes to the wolf. The wolf's feet have broad pads, which makes walking across the ice very easy. The deer's thin, pointed hooves, along with its own weight, put too much pressure on the ice, which causes their feet to fall through, making travel slow.


Coyote usually hunt alone or in pairs, although they can sometimes be seen in small groups of as many as five.

Unlike most of the predators which are confined to one region, coyotes inhabit most of the US. What is most interesting is that the coyote once only inhabited the Western US, and has now increased its range over time, which is the exact opposite of how mountain lion and wolf populations have developed. Also, unlike the previous mentioned predators, coyotes are very territorial animals. This limits the ranger over which they can hunt.

Coyotes are ultimately scavengers. They will usually feed upon the carcass of deer hidden by other predators, even at the risk of being caught by that predator. If a coyote happens upon a deer unable to stand due to starvation, it will begin feeding on the deer immediately, without even making sure it is dead.

Coyote usually hunt alone or in pairs, although they can sometimes be seen in small groups of as many as five. Coyotes hunt deer with the same method used by wolves; although, they usually resort to scavenging rather than hunting.

They begin their hunts by flushing the deer out of hiding and then chasing it for a short while. If the coyote feels it can outrun the deer, the chase will continue. Once it is close to the deer, it will leap at the side of the neck and attempt to bring the deer down by force. Due to their smaller size, coyotes usually go after fawns. In some regions, it is suspected that coyotes are responsible for the majority of fawn deaths. However, during the fall, coyotes won't hesitate to attack an mature buck that has been weakened by the deer rut.

Other Predators

There are many other predators which don't pose a serious threat to the deer population. But nonetheless, deer must be wary of them. These animals include bears, bobcats, dogs, and alligators. Although bears inhabit most of the US, their population has decreased over the past few years. The Grizzly Bear and the Black Bear are the two main threats to the whitetail deer. Bears are not strictly meat eaters; thus the bear's diet will often consist of the same berries, grass and trees that a whitetail eats.

Much like a coyote, a bobcat is generally too small to capture any deer larger than a fawn. Typically, a bobcat will hunt by circling a single deer in an area that it has plenty of cover to stalk in closely. It will then pounce, forcing it to the ground. Once dead, a bobcat will stick close to the deer's carcass, guarding it from other predators and scavengers. Bobcat have been known to guard and feed on a single deer carcass for as long as two weeks.

Alligators are more of a threat to deer in the swampy, Southern regions of the US. However, deer are much too fast for an alligator to capture on land. Therefore, most predation of deer by alligators occurs when deer are crossing waterways which alligators inhabit.

Wild dogs can also pose a threat to whitetails. Wild foxhounds and coonhounds in the Southeast are effective deer hunters. Quite often, wild dogs will chase deer until they are too tired to run, and then kill them. In some areas dogs will chase deer to cliff edges forcing them to jump and fall to their deaths. The most serious predation of dogs on deer occurs in the winter. Heavy snow and smooth ice limit a deer's ability to move, making easy prey for a pack of wild dogs.


Few subjects have the ability to produce as much controversy as hunting. The reasons for this widespread debate include improper media coverage, improper knowledge of hunting, and the simple lack of team effort in properly projecting the good that hunting does to society. Through the years hunters have strived to maintain a certain level of respectability. To a certain extent, this level of respectability has diminished a little. Hunters can attribute this loss of creditability to one thing….poaching. For a true hunter, this is a very serious topic.

"Poaching" is defined as the illegal taking or possession of game and non-game animals. A few forms of poaching include: hunting at night, hunters killing more than the legal limit of game, and hunters not reporting every animal they take. In addition to the bad name that poaching brings to a legitimate and necessary sport, there are many other adverse ramifications.

In order to properly maintain a balanced ecosystem among predator-prey relations, we must be able to accurately determine how many game animals we have and how many must be taken. Wildlife officials cannot properly monitor this complex process in the ecosystem if hunters are taking game illegally. Consequently, everyone will suffer from this illegal activity.

It is the duty of hunters as a collective society to report destructive activity that will harm our hunting season and damage our reputation. Some sure signs of poaching are: slow moving or hidden vehicles, shots sounded in the night or during the off season, or concealed game. If you suspect that hunters are violating our hunting rights, please contact your local law enforcement agency. It is our one chance to make a difference. If we can all make an effort in putting an end to poaching, we will be creating a better name for sportsman and saving our hunting environment.



Russell, MB
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