- White-tailed deer are a popular game animal found in almost every part of the United States.
- They are most populous in states like Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and New York, but they are slowly infiltrating other areas like Alaska as well.
- The only state they haven’t established at least a small population is Hawaii.
Meet the White-Tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is one of the most populous animals in the United States, and it is found in almost every state. A popular game animal, it is so iconic to American forests that it has been named the official mammal of several states. The white-tailed deer gets its name from its white patches, which are behind the nose, around the eyes, inside the ears, over the chin and throat, and beneath the tail.
Where do white-tailed deer live?
They live in forests, prairies, coastal areas, and grasslands. They are adaptable to a wide range of climate conditions. Although they were once almost wiped out from many states, they have successfully repopulated most of their former territories. Conservation efforts, game management programs, and habitat protection have all helped them survive.
What do white-tailed deer eat?
They are herbivores who eat what is seasonally available. Depending on the time of year, they eat:
- Browse, which is a collective term for shoots, twigs, leaves, and buds.
What is the white-tailed deer population in the United States?
The total population of all deer in the U.S. is around 25 to 35 million. White-tailed deer are one of three deer species native to North America. The others are black-tail deer and mule deer. Some states also have small populations of endemic deer species found only in that state.
Please note that tracking wildlife populations is not an exact science. For our population numbers, we relied on official numbers from each state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, Department of Natural Resources, or another appropriate source.
Alabama: 1.5 million
Alabama has more than 1.5 million white-tailed deer. It is the only deer native to the state.
White-tailed deer are not native to Alaska and do not have well-established populations there. However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently added white-tailed deer to the state’s hunting regulations since the species is slowly migrating into the state. Officials are still unsure of the exact number of white-tailed deer currently living in Alaska.
Arizona: 50, 000 to 60,000
Arizona has a small population of whitetails, though they tend to prefer areas with more vegetation.
Arkansas nearly lost its deer population. In the 1920s, the population almost went extinct from hunting and deforestation. There were fewer than 500 deer left at the time. Today, the state enjoys a healthy population of almost 1 million white-tailed deer who live in each of its 75 counties.
Colorado: 450,000 Total
Colorado doesn’t count deer species separately. The state is home to more than 400,000 white-tailed and mule deer. Most of these are mule deer. Colorado’s white-tailed deer mostly live in the eastern and central mountain areas.
White-tailed deer were once common in Delaware, but hunting reduced their numbers. The state banned hunting in 1841, and the deer population increased. Today, it is thriving. Like many other states with healthy deer populations, Delaware uses managed hunting to control population levels.
Although we think of deer as a forest animal, they also thrive in Florida’s swampy coastal regions. White-tailed deer are an important game animal in the state. They are also an important food source for the endangered Florida panther. The state almost destroyed its deer population. In the 1950s, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission brought deer from other states to repopulate parts of Florida. The state is also home to the rare, endemic Key deer, which is the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer.
Georgia: 1.2 million
Deer are an important game animal in Georgia, and the state is among many that used conservation efforts to increase its population of these deer.
Hawaii does not have white-tailed deer or any native deer. In the 1800s, however, several Axis deer from India were sent to Hawaii. They now live on several Hawaiian islands, and their population is estimated at around 100,000.
The white-tailed deer is the state’s only native deer and is Illinois’s state mammal. They mostly live along the watersheds of the state’s major rivers. The Illinois Division of Wildlife Resources says deer are an important part of the state’s economy. Besides hunting, deer watching is a popular activity among visitors to the state’s parks and wildlife management areas.
Indiana had almost deer left in 1900. Since then, the introduction of white-tailed deer, habitat protection, and controlled hunting have allowed the deer to thrive again.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the return of this deer “is a tribute to good landowner attitude and progressive management, research, and enforcement programs.”
Although it has some mule deer, most of the deer in this state are members of the white-tailed family. They live all over the state, and the Department of Wildlife and Parks says the population is growing. The Department notes that deer live “in natural woodlands, shelterbelts, old homesteads, and grasslands” in every part of Kansas.
Kentucky: 1 million
Like many other states, Kentucky outlawed deer hunting in the early part of the 20th century. Combined with habitat protection measures, this ban allowed deer to thrive. Today, they are an important game animal and a key part of the state’s ecosystems.
The population is thriving, and Louisiana permits controlled hunting to manage it. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says they are “ an abundant and sustainable game species in Louisiana and the species most targeted by Louisiana hunters.”
Maine: 350,000 to 300,000
Maine’s many wild, pristine forests are a healthy habitat for deer. In some areas, state wildlife officials have increased the number of hunting permits to help bring down deer populations.
Deer live in every county of the state. It also has a small but healthy population of sika deer (Cervus nippon yakushimae) They are not native to the state, but they were released into the wild from a private farm. They mostly live in the state’s coastal regions. State wildlife biologists were concerned about damage from these non-native deer, but monitoring programs have found they coexist peacefully with the state’s native species.
Most deer live in the western part of the state. Since losing its mountain lions and wolves, the state depends on hunting to keep the population under control.
Michigan: 1.5 to 2 million
White-tailed deer are an important game animal in Michigan. The population is mostly in the southern part of the state.
Minnesota: 1 million
This is the only deer species in the state, and it is a huge conservation success story.
Mississippi: 1.75 to 2 million
Like other states, Mississippi used conservation efforts to bring deer back from the brink of extinction.
Missouri: 1 million
This is the state’s only deer species.
Of the state’s roughly 500,000 deer, roughly 212,000 are white-tailed, and the rest are mule deer.
Nevada: 80,000 to 90,000 Total
The state does not count its two species separately. Nevada is one of the few states where deer populations have declined in recent decades. In 2021, the state launched a new initiative to enhance populations of mule deer and white-tailed deer.
New Hampshire: 100,000
New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department says human feeding has damaged its deer populations. Making deer dependent on human feeding can make them more vulnerable to predators, diseases, and vehicle collisions. Wildlife biologists suggest developing softwood, nut-bearing habitats as a better alternative to human feeding.
New Jersey: 125,000
State wildlife officials say the actual number may be higher. Deer are thriving in all parts of the state.
New Mexico: 10,000 to 15,000 Total
New Mexico has three native deer species. They are the mule deer, Coues deer, and Texas white-tail. Mule deer are the most populous, and the state combines its counts of Coues and white-tailed.
New York: 1.2 million
Deer are thriving in the state’s forested areas. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is concerned that this population may not be sustainable. Wolves and mountain lions, their natural predators, no longer live in the state. Bobcats and coyotes also prey on deer, but human hunting is the main way to control their populations.
North Carolina: 1 million
The state says its population is well-managed and sustainable.
North Dakota: 135,000
The state is also home to mule deer.
Like many states, Ohio successfully reintroduced deer, and they are now thriving.
Oregon: 170,000 to 190,000
The deer mostly live in the northeastern part of the state.
Pennsylvania: 1.5 million
The state attracts more deer hunters than almost any other. Despite this, the deer population has remained stable for many years.
Rhode Island: 18,000
White-tailed deer have bounced back from near extinction in Rhode Island.
South Carolina: 730,000
The state’s population declined when coyotes returned to South Carolina in large numbers, but it remains stable.
South Dakota: 345,000
Once present in only a few counties, they are now abundant in each of the state’s 95 counties.
Texas: 5 million
As the largest of the lower 48 states, Texas has lots of room for deer. White-tailed deer populations are growing at a steady pace in Texas. They are largely concentrated around the so-called Hill Country and Edwards Plateau regions.
Vermont has more deer hunters than any other New England state. Controlled hunting laws have kept the population stable.
Virginia: 850, 000 to 1 million
The state’s only deer species is thriving in every region.
Washington: 90,000 to 100,000
Washington’s deer thrive in the mountain regions.
West Virginia: 550,000
The state’s Department of Natural Resources says these deer are abundant in every county and habitat of West Virginia. They are the most hunted big game in the state. There are more than 490,000 acres of wildlife management areas in West Virginia.
Wisconsin: 1.6 million
Some conservationists think the number of deer is too high. Overpopulation of deer can damage ecosystems by preventing forest regrowth and causing declines in plant diversity. The state’s Department of Natural Resources and other groups want to attract more hunters to reduce deer populations.
White-tailed deer and mule deer roam the grasslands and prairies of Wyoming. It is one of the few states where mule deer are a more popular game animal than whitetails. The Wyoming Fish & Game Department notes, “Many hunters choose where they hunt deer based on the type of terrain and scenery they want to experience in Wyoming.”
Ready for more deer facts? Try these articles next!
Fallow Deer vs. White-Tailed Deer: Key Differences – Discover the different traits between the white-tailed and fallow deer species.
Deer Gestation Period: How Long Are Deer Pregnant? – Learn more about the gestation period of fawn in this article.
The Largest Deer in the World – Do you know which species of deer are the largest?
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Paul Tessier/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Which states have named the white-tail deer their state animal?
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
Which states have the most white-tail deer?
- Georgia: 1.2 million
- Kentucky: 1 million
- New York: 1.2 million
- North Carolina: 1 million
- Pennsylvania: 1.5 million
- Tennessee: 900,000
- Texas: 5 million
- Virginia: 850,000 to 1 million
- Wisconsin: 1.6 million
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.