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What NC’s growing white-tailed deer population means for drivers, hunting and the species’ survival

A family of deer grazing on plant life.
Erin Gillespie
submitted image
A family of deer grazing on plant life.

White-tailed deer are the only deer species in the state, 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 how the white-tailed deer survive, as the state continues to grow and develop.

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

N.C. State researcher Mikiah Carver said she and her team are trying to catch and tag deer in every part of Durham County.

“We've caught a lot of deer in the Eno River area and kind of up near Boheme,” Carver said. “But we're trying to get a pretty good range of different types of areas throughout the county.”

The team is still looking for more residents to take part in the study. Carver said residents who have deer that use their property can participate in the study by reaching out through Facebook. The N.C. State study will wrap up in 2026.

Researchers at N.C. State tagged this buck on its ear and attached a collar to keep track of it.
Erin Gillespie
submitted image
Researchers at N.C. State tagged this buck on its ear and attached a collar to keep track of it.

Hunting on the decline

According to more research from N.C. State, deer hunting is declining nationally and statewide.

Lincoln Larson — Associate Professor of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management — said since the mid-1980s, about 8 to 10% of the population hunts deer in any given year, and today, that’s down by 4%.

Larson said deer hunting is needed to prevent overpopulation. He adds if hunting continues to decline, then it could lead to having to turn to alternative factors like reintroducing predators or lethal sharp shooting programs.

The decrease in deer hunts also means there is a decline in deer hunting licenses, which affects the wildlife conservation budget for the state. But Larson said changing how conservation is funded could help with that.

“Fund conservation so that hunting isn't the centerpiece,” he said. “It is one of many pieces and a more diverse portfolio that might include alternative sources, like special taxes, which have been successful in a lot of states, or having industry and corporate partners contribute to conservation.”

Meanwhile, Larson said that 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, like Hunters of Color and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman.

Drivers beware

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

AAA spokesperson Tiffany Wright said during this time of the year, deer are the most active because it’s their mating season. She added that people should try to drive between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., since deer tend to venture near roads outside of those hours.

“If you have to be driving during those times, just make sure that you're paying extra attention,” Wright said. “Make sure you’re scanning the road ahead. A lot of times where there's one deer, there's more to follow.”

Wright said the main goal is to be a defensive driver. According to the state Department of Transportation, about 7% of all vehicle crashes in the state involve animal strikes. All deer involved in North Carolina auto-related collisions are white-tailed deer.

Sharryse Piggott is WUNC’s PM Reporter.
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