By the time you finish reading this, you may start rooting for the hunter instead of Disney’s friendly fawn. Fair warning.
I promise that title’s not clickbait. Whitetail deer, once commercially hunted down to a population of a few hundred thousand, has made a greater comeback than Muhammed Ali. But at a cost.
Why is your average, run-of-the-mill whitetail the most dangerous animal in the United States?
Each year, deer-related accidents cause an average of 130 deaths, 29,000 injuries, and $1.2 billion in property damage.
Then there’s Lyme disease—300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease from ticks yearly, and large mammals like whitetails are an ideal carrier. Although attributing the percentage of those cases to deer would be impossible, Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Index has demonstrated a direct relationship between increasing deer population and cases of Lyme disease in regions across the United States. The more deer, the more disease.
The efficient four-chambered stomach of whitetail deer allows them to eat just about any vegetable matter in reach, including poison ivy and toxic mushrooms. Experts at both foraging and survival, deer will also munch on baby birds, mice and even rats when handy. Their serene grazing might seem emblematic of the Great American Woodlands, but in densities of 20 deer or more per square mile, whitetail deer can exterminate a thriving forest as easily as a cloud of Agent Orange.
Farmers regularly fall victim to the whitetail’s voracious appetite. Deer lay siege to corn and fruit crops across the United States, and since an adult deer can easily jump a six-foot fence, farmers have to create costly barriers or attempt to exterminate the invading population, which is easier said than done. Ask any hunter (or landscaping enthusiast)…deer can be wily.
With 30 million deer (only 10 million below their pre-Colonial population) now living on the four million square miles of the United States, roughly 7.5 whitetail deer cover each square mile. That’s not a comfortable margin from a tipping density of 20 deer per square mile.
Since settlers killed off the majority of the whitetail deer’s natural predators, humans have taken their place, using the hunting industry and population control strategies regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. In essence, we replaced bears with shotguns and bureaucracy—and are not half as good at it.
So car accidents, disease, deforestation, crop destruction…Oh, and a whitetail deer might just outright attack you.
In May, 2019, three deer invaded an elderly woman’s apartment in Decatur, Indiana, breaking through a large window and bounding inside. The deer, all does (female deers), kicked and leapt about the small apartment while she remained calm on her couch and called 911.
Police arrived and an officer immediately draped himself over her, shielding her from the dangerous, sharp kicks of the panicked animals. Although uninjured, the case demonstrates the risks inherent when worlds collide.
Direct aggression is not natural behavior for whitetail deer; their bodies are well-made for flight, capable of sprinting at speeds over 45 mph. Even the namesake part of their anatomy—the white tail—is used to warn others of a possible threat.
But if deer feel flight is impossible, they won’t hesitate to turn on a human with lithe, powerful legs tipped with hooves capable of fracturing a human skull. As deer populations grow more comfortable with humans, their territory overlaps ours, dangerous and possibly fatal encounters will increase.
That goes doubly true for does carrying for their young, which may see a human’s presence as a direct threat to her fawns. In that case…run. You never mess with a mommy.
Bucks are rarely as protectively aggressive, except for those few, furious weeks of rut in the autumn. At that time all bets are off. During rut, a mature buck boils with two hundred pounds of anxious muscle, a need to fight, and sports head-spears worn to a dull shine against antlers of competing males—few animals are as dangerous and unpredictable as a buck during rut.
This is all fine and good, but have deer honestly ever attacked or killed anyone?
~On June 4th, 2019, an aggressive blacktail doe stomped a family dog to death and chased several residents from their porches and patios into their homes. This has gone on for weeks.
~In April, 2019, a pet deer in Australia gored his owner of six years to death during a feeding. When the fatally-injured man’s wife came to help her husband, the deer attacked her as well. The woman barely survived after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.
~In 2011, an injured buck in Fort Wayne, Indiana, stabbed an approaching hunter through the liver, killing him.
~In 2006, a buck attacked a fisherman at a secluded reservoir in North Texas. Suffering several deep cuts and an impaled hand. The fisherman’s son luckily stepped in and killed the deer. The attack was unprovoked, except that it occurred during the rut.