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Mammals

White-tailed Deer
(Odocoileus virginianus)

Photo: Adele Hodde, IDNR
White-tailed deer buck on a playground.

Did You Know?

  • The white-tailed deer is the state mammal of Illinois and is the only native deer.
  • A white-tailed deer can jump 8 feet high or 30 feet in length.
  • It is illegal to feed deer in Illinois because of concerns about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). (Part 635 of the Illinois Administrative Code)
  • You can learn a lot more about Illinois’ white-tailed deer at https://www.deer.wildlifeillinois.org/.

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Positive Benefits

White-tailed deer are the largest native herbivore in Illinois and are an integral part of the Illinois landscape. Many people enjoy watching deer. And deer hunting has a positive impact on Illinois’s economy. Many businesses such as hotels, gas stations and restaurants get a boost from deer hunters. And retail sales on outdoor gear contribute as well. Landowners who lease their property gain benefits, as do outfitters who provide guide services.

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Description & Identification

White-tailed deer stand three to three and one-half feet tall at the shoulder. Adult males (bucks) weigh 150 to 250 pounds, and adult females (does) weigh 100 to 150 pounds.

During the summer the fur of both sexes is reddish brown to tan, and in winter is grayish-brown. The upper throat, belly, inner rump and insides of the legs are white, as is the underside of the tail, thus the name “white-tailed” deer.

Young deer (fawns) have a reddish coat with white spots that they molt at three to five months of age.

Typically, only males grow antlers. Unlike horns, new antlers are grown and shed each year. Antlers begin growing in early spring and may be shed as early as December. However, deer with good genetics and proper nutrition may retain their antlers well into March. Click HERE to learn more.

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Size Class

Illustrator: Lynn Smith
Man and white-tailed deer illsutration
Size comparison of a six-foot tall man and a white-tailed deer.

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Signs: Tracks & Scat

The heart-shaped tracks of white-tailed deer are easy to identify. There are no other wild animals that make similar tracks in Illinois. On soft ground the dewclaws may also make a mark. Another sign that deer are in the area are the presence of deer beds and browse lines. Additionally, bucks will rub trees and may make scrapes (small patches of disturbed ground that the buck urinates on to mark his territory).

Photo: Ken Wick
Deer's hooves make sharp, heart-shaped tracks.
Deer’s hooves make sharp, heart-shaped tracks.

White-tailed deer droppings are easy to identify. Deer leave piles of dark, cylindrical pellets one-half to over one inch long. The droppings will look similar to those of rabbits, but deer will leave much larger deposits of droppings.

Photo: Jared Duquette
Deer pellets in the grass near a coffee lid for scale.
Deer pellets near a coffee lid for scale.

Click HERE to learn about other signs of deer such as rubs, scrapes, and browse lines.

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Distribution & Abundance

White-tailed deer occur in every county in Illinois. However, Illinois has not always had a large deer population. By the late 1800s, deer had been nearly eliminated from Illinois. Some small populations remained in the state and others likely moved in from adjacent states, but the deer population remained very small. Thus, a restocking effort was begun in the 1930s. The population grew quickly due to better habitat (more edge habitat created by humans) and the lack of predators (wolves and cougars had been removed and human hunting was banned).

By the late 1950s deer populations in Illinois had grown large enough to allow a hunting season. The first modern deer hunting season was held in 1957 in 33 counties. Some form of hunting, firearm or archery now occurs in every county, and the annual deer harvest often exceeds 150,000.

Photo: Chris Young
Deer doe standing in a bean field.

The highest densities of deer in Illinois are associated with wooded areas of the watersheds of the major rivers, especially the Mississippi, Rock, Illinois and Kaskaskia rivers, and in the Shawnee Hills in the southern area. The highest urban deer densities in the state occur in urban or suburban natural areas, remnant open spaces and forest preserves that prohibit hunting.

White-tailed deer are adaptable and opportunistic animals. They will take up residence in areas with little natural vegetation, such as intensively farmed regions and suburban municipalities where they feed in residential areas.

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Behavior & Ecological Role

Deer are often found together. Family groups include an adult doe, her fawn(s) and her female young from the previous year (matriarchy). Bucks do not typically associate with the does except during the breeding season. Bucks may group together in small bachelor herds. Large numbers of deer may be seen together at prime food sources, particularly during late winter when food can be in short supply.

Photo: IDNR image library

When deer are present in large numbers they can damage or destroy the understory of a forest and can suppress populations of rare native plants. It is not uncommon to see deer browse lines in natural areas or along fence rows in Illinois. Click HERE for more information about deer behavior.

Coyotes, and occasionally bobcats, prey on very young fawns, but white-tailed deer in Illinois have few remaining natural predators. Therefore, hunting is an important tool to help control deer numbers.

As deer populations have increased, citizens have become more concerned about damage to agricultural crops, deer-vehicle collisions, and damage to native ecosystems.

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Diseases & Public Health

Deer in Illinois are subject to a number of diseases, but only a few have public health implications. Click HERE for more information about deer diseases and parasites. In Illinois, deer-vehicle collisions pose a greater danger to people.

Diseases That Affect Humans

Lyme Disease

Deer are an important link in the life-cycle of the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) (also known as the deer tick). Deer serve as hosts for the adult stage of the tick. Black-legged ticks can be carriers of a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) which causes Lyme disease. Humans can become infected when bitten by a tick that carries the bacterium. Deer do not transmit the disease, but coming into contact with deer can increase the risk of exposure to ticks. Lyme Disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Click HERE for more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about Lyme Disease.

Diseases That Affect Deer

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is caused by a prion protein, not a bacteria or virus, that results in neurological degeneration and death in deer. All deer, regardless of age, can carry and transmit the disease. This disease was first found in Illinois in 2002 in Winnebago County. Since then it has been located in deer in 17 Illinois counties.

CWD is a fatal disease and poses a serious threat to deer populations in areas where it occurs. Studies to date have found no evidence that humans can contract CWD from contact with deer or from eating venison (muscle). However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance provide specific recommendations for minimizing the potential risk of human exposure to CWD.

 

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)

Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is a vector-borne viral disease of deer transmitted by insects of the genus Culicoides (often referred to as midges, gnats or “no-seeums”). The disease does not impact deer populations evenly across the landscape, changing with local vector abundance and differences in deer immunity and infectious status. Likewise, severity of disease can vary from year to year. The disease is often fatal and causes fever and severe internal bleeding. The impact on deer populations is not predictable because outbreaks depend upon weather conditions that influence the size of the midge population.

Report Sick or Dead Deer

Hunters or landowners who find sick or dead deer are asked to report them using this FORM. Please include your name, email address and phone number, as well as the county, the number of sick or dead deer and specific location details (distance/direction from the nearest town or intersection of two roads, etc.). Please indicate any obvious signs of sick deer and the proximity to water for reporting dead deer.

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Habitat & Food

Illinois deer occur in or near wooded areas, particularly those along streams or adjacent to farmland. Deer frequently forage away from woods but require wooded areas for survival. Deer are also found in very developed urban areas of Illinois.

Photo: Adele Hodde, IDNR
Deer will stand on their back legs to reach green vegetation.
Deer will stand on their back legs to reach green vegetation.

Researchers have reported average home ranges of 0.44 square miles for does living in agricultural areas of Illinois and 0.17 square miles for does living in forest preserves near Chicago. Bucks tend to have larger home ranges than does.

Deer are browsers in most of their range. Browsing is nibbling off the tender shoots, twigs and leaves of trees and shrubs with the deer’s lower front teeth. In Illinois, farm crops and waste grain can also be an important part of the deer diet. Additionally, deer eat many kinds of vines, grasses, and clovers. Acorns are a preferred food. In an urban environment, deer may damage plants in vegetable gardens or landscaping.

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Reproduction & Longevity

White-tailed deer mate from October through January, with the peak occurring in mid-November. Gestation is about 7 months, with most fawns born from late May through mid-June. Fawns weigh 4 to 7 pounds and can stand and run within a few hours of birth.

Does often use the same fawning areas they used in previous years. However, sometimes fawns end up in strange places, such as in window wells or on sunny porch steps. If you find a fawn by itself do not move it.

The fawn and doe make sounds and use their sense of smell to help them locate each other. If the fawn is threatened, the doe will snort and stamp her front feet, and will charge the predator to drive it away. As the fawn grows and gets stronger, it will begin following the doe as she forages. Fawns are weaned at 4 to 5 months of age.

Fewer than 25 percent of does breed in their first year. Bucks do not typically breed until their second year. Deer density and food availability help to determine whether or not young deer will breed. Adult does that receive adequate nutrition will produce twins, and may have triplets or quadruplets. Thus, it only takes a few years for deer populations to grow considerably in the absence of control measures.

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Damage Prevention & Control Measures

Deer sometimes cause damage by browsing trees, shrubs or other plants. Bucks may also damage woody plants by rubbing their antlers on them. Deer are generalists and eat a tremendous variety of plants. When food is abundant, they will feed heavily on plants they particularly like, but when food is scarce they will eat almost any plant.

Habitat Modification

If adding ornamental plantings to your yard, select plant species that are less susceptible to deer browsing. The Morton Arboretum has produced a list of plants that deer tend to avoid. Some of the plants that seem to be less susceptible to deer include ornamental alliums (Allium), daffodils (Narcissus) and wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Also try planting thorny, prickly or smelly plants. However, this approach does not always work. For example, deer will eat the buds, blooms and smaller stems of ornamental tea roses. They also eat raspberries, blackberries and poison ivy. Plant boxwood or short-needle spruces instead of yews or arborvitae. Illinois natives such as black-eyed susan and foxglove do not seem to be preferred by deer.

For a more complete list of perennials that are deer-resistant, visit the Gardening with Perennials website. Pachysandra is a good ground cover, and ferns tend to fair better than hostas. Deer love apples and cherries, so you may have to use tree protectors or fences to protect your fruit trees. If food is scarce due to a severe winter, or if the population of deer in your area is high, the deer may eat plants they do not normally prefer and usually leave alone. A deer will eat just about any plant if it is hungry enough.

Exclusion

White-tailed deer are excellent jumpers. In order to keep deer off of your property a fence will need to be at least eight feet tall. Electric fences can help minimize deer damage. They can provide a less costly alternative and can be erected seasonally prior to predicted deer damage. There are a number of possible fence designs depending on the size of the area to be protected and the population of deer in the area. Specific fence designs can be obtained from your local Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. For more information about deer fences, visit the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.

Individual trees or plants can be protected by placing a five-foot tall wire cylinder around the plant. Tree protectors such as Vexar, Tubex, plastic tree wrap or woven wire cylinders can all help protect new plantings. Placing netting over bushes or other plants can also be used temporarily on a seasonal basis to deter deer.

Repellents

There are several products approved for use in deer damage control. Repellents will reduce the damage that deer cause to vegetation but will not eliminate it. The repellents’ effectiveness depends upon local deer density, the availability of other foods, the palatability of the plants being protected, and the regularity with which the repellent is used. Repellents may prevent deer from eating the plant, but they will not deter damage caused by antler-rubbing.

Repellents can be expensive and must be reapplied as the plant grows and after heavy precipitation events. Always read and follow label instructions of the product. Some repellents are not for use on plants intended for human consumption. Below are some commonly available repellents. To be most effective, it is best to start using repellents before damage begins. Researchers have found the following products to be effective at reducing deer damage.

  • Deer Away® Big Game Repellent (powder or spray) The active ingredient in these products is putrescent whole egg solids.
  • Deer Away® Deer and Rabbit repellent (Get Away Deer and Rabbit Repellent) The active ingredient in this product is capsaicin and isothiocyanate.
  • Plantskydd™ The active ingredient in this product is edible animal protein.
  • Bye Deer® Sachets The active ingredient in this product is sodium salts of mixed fatty acids. To be fully effective, this product should be placed at the top of the plant so that rainwater that dissolves the product will fall onto plant surfaces.
  • Deerbuster’s™ Sachet The active ingredient in this product is meat meal and red pepper. To be fully effective, this product should be placed at the top of the plant so that rainwater that dissolves the product will fall onto plant surfaces.
  • Hinder® The active ingredient in this product is ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids. This product is the only product approved for direct application to plants intended for consumption. However, this product was not as effective in trials as the products listed above.

Home Remedies

Home remedies are not generally effective, but do work in some cases. Some people have had success in deterring deer browse by hanging bars of deodorant soap around valuable plants. While bars of soap can be effective, the protection they offer extends only about three feet around the bar. Human hair, blood meal and bone meal all weather very quickly and lose their effectiveness.

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Removal Permits

Deer Removal Permits are generally issued to landowners for properties that are not incorporated within municipal boundaries to help reduce damage caused by deer, where excessive damage to agricultural crops, nurseries, orchards and/or vineyards is current and ongoing. Deer Population Control Permits are issued to agencies, organizations, associations and municipalities, but are not issued to individual landowners.

Deer Removal Permits (DRPs)

Deer Removal Permits (DRPs) allow individuals to protect crops and other plant life from deer that are causing severe damage.

  • DRPs are issued to individuals, organizations or agencies to authorize the removal of individual deer causing excessive damage at that time of year when damage is actively occurring. These permits are issued to assist landowners in abating deer-related damage. They are not issued for deer population reduction and control. DRPs are issued to augment other deer-damage abatement techniques currently used by the landowner.
  • There is no application form for a DRP, but a site-evaluation must be performed by an IDNR biologist to document/verify the occurrence and extent of deer damage.
  • DRPs are generally issued for properties not incorporated within municipal boundaries unless the municipality will grant the permittee a waiver of any pertinent firearm ordinances. However, DRPs can be issued to a municipality.
  • DRPs are issued for a maximum of 30 days and 10 deer. Permit extensions are possible, but these permits are not for deer population control.
  • Permittee can specify up to two shooters on a permit. Shooters must have a valid Illinois Firearms Owners Identification (FOID) card and must carry a copy of the DRP when afield. There is no proficiency testing of shooters on a DRP, and the safe conduct by shooters is the responsibility of the permittee. The IDNR permit issuer may further restrict allowable removal activities to insure public safety. DRPs will not authorize the use of archery equipment, handguns or muzzle-loading rifles.
  • IDNR recommends that deer collected under authority of a DRP be used for human consumption, but carcass disposition is at the discretion of the permittee. Disposition must comply with provisions of the Illinois Dead Animal Disposal Act (i.e., burial or incineration).
  • Permittee must return the carcass disposition report form (on the back of the permit) and any unused leg tags within 10 days after permit expiration.
  • Permits may be issued upon initial complaint, but subsequent years’ permits require proof of additional abatement techniques (i.e., increased doe harvest; fencing; etc.) and that those techniques have failed to reduce damage to acceptable levels. Landowners applying for such permits should be ready to explain what techniques they have used to help reduce damage.
  • Permits are not issued for fence damage, as compensation for past or anticipated crop damage, nor are they issued during or between Illinois’ firearm deer seasons.

Finding deer tracks in a field does not always indicate that deer caused the damage. In many cases, damage is caused by blackbirds, raccoons, or species other than deer. An on-site inspection will determine if deer are the source of the damage.

How to Obtain a DRP

  • CONTACT your local IDNR district wildlife biologist (DWB) and describe the type of damage (crop, nursery, orchard, etc.).
  • The DWB will contact you to set a date for an on-site inspection.
  • At the on-site inspection with the landowner or tenant, the DWB will: 1) determine the magnitude of the damage; 2) discuss the landowner’s current and past damage reduction efforts; and 3) determine the factors contributing to the damage. Such factors might include:
    • the hunting history on the property and on neighboring lands,
    • recent land use changes (such as addition of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices, timber harvest, etc.),
    • or flooding or drought.
  • Emphasis is placed on reduction rather than total elimination of damage.
  • On-site inspections usually occur within five working days. If the deer damage is determined by the DWB to be “excessive” (see below) a DRP can be issued for the harvest of a maximum of 10 deer within a 30-day period.
  • Permits are issued at the discretion of the biologist. DRPs may be issued only if other damage reduction techniques have been previously attempted without adequate damage reduction or are on-going in conjunction with the removal permit. DRPs are not a long-term solution to damage control.

DRPs Are Not Currently Authorized to:

  • Remove more than 10 deer.
  • Be valid for more than 30 days.
  • Remove deer during or between firearm deer seasons (except in closed counties). A “hazing only” permit may be issued in some circumstances.
  • Remove deer damaging wildlife food plots or plantings.
  • Remove deer damaging family garden plots, and/or farms less than five acres, unless other techniques that were recommended by the authorizing agent and were used by the landowner have not addressed the problem.
  • Remove deer damaging Christmas tree plantings, orchards or nurseries less than 10 acres in size (individual field) unless the techniques suggested were applied but have not addressed the problem.
  • Remove deer that damage residential ornamental plantings (recommend fencing or “less palatable” plants).
  • Remove deer as a form of compensation or as a substitute for obtaining deer permits. DRPs will only be issued at the time of actual depredation.
  • Access property other than the complainant’s.
  • Discharge a firearm within 300 yards of an inhabited dwelling without first obtaining permission from the owner or tenant; or within city limits unless the complainant can provide a copy of a written waiver (of any ordinances precluding firearm discharge) from city officials/managers.
  • Allow removal by a method other than firearm. Live capture and relocation are not allowed.
  • Allow the permittee to keep deer parts other than meat for personal consumption. Hides and antlers must be disposed of according to the Illinois Dead Animal Disposal Act.
  • Control deer damage to unharvested crops when 75 percent of that specific crop has been harvested in that agricultural district unless extenuating circumstances (wet conditions, etc.) prevent harvest.

DRP Issuance Criteria

  • DRPs are not issued:
    • just because deer are regularly seen in crop fields.
    • when damage is restricted solely to the outer 15 feet of crop fields.
    • when less than 5 percent of the corn field is browsed.
    • when less than 67 percent of soybean leaves are browsed prior to the plant’s five-leaf stage.
  • DRPs are issued when deer damage threatens to:
    • substantially reduce crop yields.
    • negatively impact the success of a tree stocking program.
    • negatively impact the livelihood of tree nurseries, orchards, or vineyards.

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Deer Population Control Permits (DPCPs)

Deer Population Control Permits (DPCPs) are issued to agencies, organizations, associations and municipalities, but are not issued to individual landowners. These permits authorize the reduction or control of deer numbers by non-traditional or non-hunting methods.

The application process for DPCPs is essentially a deer management proposal which documents the need for deer herd reduction by nontraditional means such as sharpshooting. The prevailing objectives for most current deer control programs under DPCPs are to:

  • reduce damage to native plant communities or ecosystems,
  • reduce deer-vehicle accidents on the property or adjacent roads, and
  • reduce damage complaints from residents or neighbors.

DPCPs are issued for a maximum of 90 days, although time extensions are possible. There is no limit on the number of deer that can be taken, but the number proposed to be collected must be justified and documented.

If the permit applicant is proposing to take deer at bait stations via sharpshooters, all sharpshooter candidates must be tested and seasonally-approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) prior to deer program implementation. There is no limit on the number of sharpshooters, but all sharpshooters, who are Illinois residents, must also have a valid Illinois Firearms Owner’s Identification (FOID) card. Also to insure public safety, all proposed shooting or bait sites must be viewed and approved by IDNR prior to their use.

Under a DPCP, the permittee must:

  • Use lethal techniques that result in deer carcasses that are suitable for human consumption. Providing carcasses suitable for human consumption means that most DPCP programs take place during the cooler late fall and winter months (November to March).
  • Have all usable deer carcasses processed at an IDNR-approved meat processing facility and to donate the processed venison to a bona fide charitable organization.
  • Dispose of unusable deer carcasses in accordance with the Illinois Dead Animal Disposal Act.
  • Only utilize modern rifles or shotguns for sharpshooting programs; the use of archery equipment, handguns, muzzle-loading rifles, etc. are not authorized.
  • Not utilize experimental techniques (e.g., sterilization or immunocontraception) or for the live-capture and translocation of deer.
  • Return all unused leg tags along with a deer removal summary within 30 days after permit expiration. The removal summary must list the tag number, location, sex, age and physical condition of each animal collected as well as the total amount of processed venison donated to charity (and to which charities).
  • Be responsible for all costs associated with the deer reduction or control program.

To apply for a DPCP, or for more information about applying, contact IDNR’s Urban Deer Biologist at (847) 798-7620.

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