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Community Deer Management

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three deer running through a field with their tails raised
Photo by Dick Thomas

The highest deer densities in New York State can be found in urban and suburban areas, and many communities are experiencing severe impacts. Due to local firearms ordinances and restrictions by landowners there is typically little land accessible to recreational hunters in developed areas. Localized strategies developed and applied at the community level are usually necessary for effective deer management. Many communities are finding ways to address their problems with overabundant deer. However, it's important to recognize at the outset that it's a complicated process requiring a long-term commitment. Steps that are taken to reduce deer populations must be maintained, or the problems will quickly return.

Planning | Population Reduction | Fertility Control | Other Considerations


Gathering and Sharing Information

The first phase in developing a deer management program should be one of information-gathering, education, and outreach. Community leaders should inform themselves and their constituents about:

  • deer ecology (including the realities of predation, disease, starvation and other types of natural mortality);
  • the ecological and social impacts deer are causing in their area; and
  • possible methods for reducing those impacts.
cover of community deer management handbook
Click on the image above to view the
Community Deer Management Handbook (PDF).

To aid in this process, DEC has created a Community Deer Management Handbook (PDF, 3MB). DEC biologists can also provide information, advice, and resources; meet with municipal officials and citizens; and give presentations at public meetings convened to discuss deer issues.

The Community Deer Advisor website developed by Cornell University is another source of expert guidance for communities that are confronting deer issues. It contains links to a variety of resources and numerous examples to follow. The experiences of other communities1,2,3,4,7,8,9 can be tremendously helpful in developing strategies and evaluating the pros and cons of various courses of action. Examples include: Cornell University; Cayuga Heights, NY; Trumansburg, NY; Southold, NY; Hopewell Township, NJ; East Goshen Township, PA; Mt. Lebanon, PA; Baltimore County, MD; and Burnsville, MN.

It is critically important to publicize planning efforts from the outset to ensure that all members of the community have an opportunity to participate and voice their perspectives. Insufficient outreach increases the likelihood of negative backlash from groups or individuals who disagree with a plan that was formulated without their participation. An inclusive process:

  • provides valuable information to community leaders on deer impacts and stakeholder opinions;
  • allows stakeholders to increase mutual understanding by educating each other on their differing perspectives; and
  • establishes a strong foundation for defending deer management decisions and actions in the event of a subsequent challenge.

Communities also should consider reaching out to neighboring communities and public land managers to promote cooperation and coordination as they develop their deer management plans. Simultaneous action over a larger area will tend to increase the success of each program.

Plan Structure and Goals

Any community plan for deer management should focus on clearly defined and measurable goals. These goals should relate to the impacts that have been identified as being important to the community.

For example, goals might be to:

  • reduce deer-vehicle collisions to a certain number per year;
  • reduce to a certain level the number of landscaping plants that residents report killed by deer; or
  • allow a certain percentage of tree seedlings in forest patches to survive.

Baseline data should be collected for the chosen measures and a monitoring program established. Setting a goal of a certain density or number of deer in the community is not useful for several reasons:

  • By definition, the problem is the impacts the deer are causing, not the deer themselves.
  • There is no clear way to set a target number, because local conditions determine the number of deer that can live in an area.
  • It's very difficult to get an accurate count of deer populations.

The plan should include a timetable for periodic evaluation. These evaluations should involve the same diversity of stakeholder participation as did the initial planning process. Progress toward the program goals should be assessed and a determination made on whether approaches need to be modified. In some cases, it may be desirable to modify goals if initial goals have been achieved or are deemed deficient in light of new information or experience.

Deer management plans should include multiple components in an integrated strategy to achieve the identified goals:

  • a doe and fawn standing next to a house
    Photo by Kelly Stang
    Residents should be educated on and encouraged to adopt methods for reducing their vulnerability to deer-vehicle collisions, tick-borne diseases, and deer damage to their gardens. Useful information on these topics is available from Cornell University (nuisance wildlife fact sheets, deer-resistant planting) and the New York State Department of Health, among others.
  • Efforts should be made to increase awareness of and ensure compliance with the state regulation that prohibits feeding of deer.
  • In almost all communities with deer-related problems, using lethal methods to reduce the deer population will be a necessary plan component for management goals to be met.

Population Reduction

There are many different approaches that can be used to reduce deer populations in developed areas, and selecting and implementing one or more of these is typically the most complicated and potentially divisive aspect of community deer management.

  • Landowners, including municipalities, or groups of landowners, including homeowners' associations or consortiums of municipalities, can facilitate an increase in local recreational hunting by simply allowing hunters access to parcels of land that have previously been closed to hunting.
  • If they wish, they can employ a controlled-hunt format by imposing restrictions such as:
    • limiting times or days when hunting can occur;
    • specifying the types of weapons that can be used;
    • requiring proficiency tests or other qualifications of participating hunters; or
    • limiting the number of hunters that can use an area simultaneously.
  • More intensive population reduction approaches that require a DEC permit are likely to be needed in most cases. One low-cost approach is an extension of the controlled-hunt concept using trained volunteers and techniques not allowed for recreational hunting, such as baiting and shooting at night. Even in densely developed areas, such programs can be carried out effectively and unobtrusively using archery equipment.
  • If a community prefers not to utilize volunteers for their deer population reduction program, they can hire professional shooters.
  • Professionals can also be hired to capture and then kill the deer if a community feels more comfortable with that approach or if deer inhabit parts of the community where other techniques can't be safely used.

Municipalities with ordinances restricting the discharge of firearms usually need to modify or rescind those ordinances, or allow variances, for any of these population reduction approaches to be employed. Communities wishing to explore approaches that require DEC permits should contact the deer biologist for their region.

Any community implementing deer population reduction should strive to ensure that none of the resulting venison goes to waste. There are charitable organizations that will help get it processed and donated to food banks. Some municipalities opt to collect and distribute venison themselves, making it available to all residents.

Fertility Control

Most communities have some members who are distressed at the idea of killing deer. They often advocate fertility control, either immuno-contraception or surgical sterilization, as an alternative to direct population reduction. However, communities that have tried fertility control have found it inadequate for reducing deer numbers. Most have turned to lethal methods within a few years. Examples include: multiple case studies in Community-Based Deer Management guide, Cayuga Heights, NY, and Cornell University. There are several reasons for this5,6:

  • Fertility control methods are extremely labor-intensive and expensive, because deer must be captured for treatment and virtually all female deer must be treated to prevent population growth.
  • Immuno-contraception requires frequent booster shots.
  • Surgical sterilization activities also need to be conducted frequently to ensure that new females moving into the area are treated.
  • Any population reduction that occurs will happen very gradually as deer die, usually from vehicle collisions, so a reduction in impacts of deer may not appear for many years.

Despite all of these shortcomings, some communities may still decide to pursue fertility control in small highly developed areas where shooting deer doesn't seem feasible. They may receive a DEC permit to use surgical sterilization as part of a deer management program provided that lethal population reduction methods are being used concurrently in nearby areas. Immuno-contraception can only be performed under a research permit. There are no contraceptive agents for deer commercially registered in New York, and continued development is needed before they can be effective management tools.

Other Considerations

4-Poster devices for tick reduction

Communities may consider applying for a permit to deploy "4-Posters" if tick population reduction is one of their goals. 4-Poster TickicideTM is a pesticide and 4-Posters are the devices used to apply it. They are baited with corn to attract deer. When a deer sticks its head into a 4-Poster to eat, the pesticide is applied to its head and neck. 4-Poster deployment will not alleviate any of the non-tick-related impacts of deer. On the contrary, it has the potential to exacerbate them if the availability of corn increases local deer density or alters deer behavior. For this reason, communities deploying 4-Posters are required to also implement measures to control deer populations and ensure that impacts do not increase.

State Environmental Quality Review

Before undertaking or funding deer management activities, municipal governments should consult their legal counsel regarding any obligations they may have under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Literature Cited

1Doerr, M. L., McAninch, J. B., & Wiggers, E. P. (2001). Comparison of 4 methods to reduce white-tailed deer abundance in an urban community. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 29(4), 1105-1113.

2Hygnstrom, S. E., Garabrandt, G. W., & VerCauteren, K. C. (2011). Fifteen years of urban deer management: the Fontenelle Forest experience. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 35(3), 126-136.

3Kilpatrick, H. J., LaBonte, A. M., & Barclay, J. S. (2010). Use of bait to increase archery deer harvest in an urban-suburban landscape. Journal of Wildlife Management, 74(4), 714-718.

4Kilpatrick, H. J., & Walter, W. D. (1999). A controlled archery deer hunt in a residential community: cost, effectiveness, and deer recovery rates. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 27(1), 115-123.

5National Park Service. (2015). Fire Island National Seashore Final White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, Appendix D: Review of White-tailed Deer Fertility Control.

6Raiho, A. M., Hooten, M. B., Bates, S., & Thompson Hobbs, N. (2015). Forecasting the effects of fertility control on overabundant ungulates: white-tailed deer in the National Capital Region. PLoS ONE 10(12), e0143122.

7Rudolph, B. A., Etter, D. R., & Schaefer, S. M. (2011). CPR for urban deer management objectives: clarity, practicality, and relevance. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 35(3), 161-167.

8Stewart, C. M., Keller, B., & Williamson, C. R. (2013). Keys to managing a successful archery deer hunt in an urban community : a case study. Human-Wildlife Interactions, 7(1), 132-139.

9Wiggers, E. P. (2011). The evolution of an urban deer-management program through 15 years. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 35(3), 137-141.