November 29, 2023

The Dangers of Feeding Deer

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Many people, hunters and non-hunters feed deer. Even though they have heard that there could be serious consquences for the animals they continue to feed them anyway. Most states have banned the feeding of deer but states like Maine and New Hampshire still allow it. Nearby states, Vermont and New York have banned feeding and chronic wasting disease has been reported in portions of up-state New York.

One of the biggest reasons, officials have stopped the feeding of deer is to reduce the spread of disease, namely CWD. Although much of what we assume to know about the disease is only theory, it is believed that CWD, along with other diseases such as demodectic mange and bovine tuberculosis, are passed on to each other through saliva, feces, urine and entrails left from hunters.

When deer congregate in numbers, it is much easier to pass disease by way of the methods explained. When people decide to feed deer, especially grain, deer will pick up grain in its mouth. Some of what they pick up will fall out, now covered with saliva. A deer next to them can then pick up and ingest the grain containing saliva from a diseased deer and the spreading continues.

One company has developed a grain feeding station that can actually help in fighting the diseases. It is designed in such a way that when a deer reaches in with its head to retrieve grain, the head and next areas get a coating of pesticides.

In the northern states where winters can be harsh, many people don’t understand the potential danger they could be causing to deer by feeding them. In winter when deer “yard up”, they congregate in larger numbers than normal. During the fall months a deer will eat to store up fat for the long winter months ahead.

When deer move into yards, this is a natural event. Deer yards are generally located in dense forests of balsams and evergreens. This helps to protect them from the harsh elements. Deer remain in these yards with a minimum of movement. This also helps them to not use energy to unnecessarily burn stored fat that will be needed later during the winter for survival. Deer in yards are able to browse on firs, cedar, etc. when available.

When people regularly feed deer, this brings the deer out into open territory exposing the deer to the elements causing them to use up stored fat to stay warm. Often times the deer must travel from their yarding areas to where the feed is. This too causes deer to expend more energy to get to the feeding ground than what they may get for nutrition.

Deer traveling to a feeding station also upsets the normal feeding process that happens within the winter yards. Often times at a grain station, the bigger dominant bucks will hoard the food, leaving the fawns still hungry and having expended too much energy to get to the feeding areas. This further exaggerates the survival of the fittest theory.
It is difficult to reason with people about the complexities of feeding deer. Many of these people have started feeding deer for several reasons. Sometimes people start a feeding program in an attempt to stop the deer from eating their shrubs and often just so they can look out their back window and see the deer. Although their intentions are good and usually they believe it is in the best interest of the deer, it in fact may be causing more harm than good.

So, the next time you are considering feeding deer, especially in the winter time, you might want to consider some of these things before you start. It should also be noted that if you are considering feeding deer legally, check with your fish and game biologists to make sure what you are feeding the deer is good for them. Some people feed deer table scraps, hay and corn. Many of these foods can make the deer very sick and cause death.
Tom Remington