As the deer gun season approaches, there's a tendency to ignore predators as a factor that limits deer populations. And after reviewing deer harvest numbers released by several state wildlife agencies, it's no wonder.
Last year, for example, Pennsylvania hunters killed an estimated 343,110 white-tailed deer. The harvest included 133,860 antlered deer and 209,250 antlerless deer. Ohio hunters killed 218,910 deer during the 2012-13 seasons.
In West Virginia the total harvest of 131,444 white-tailed deer included 56,658 bucks, 45,169 antlerless season deer, 24,571 bow-killed deer, and 5,046 deer killed during the muzzleloader season.
Michigan sold 700,101 deer-hunting licenses last year, and those hunters killed an estimated 418,000 deer. Male hunters purchased 90 percent of those licenses.
In addition to the toll taken by hunters, white-tailed deer must also deal with a variety of natural predators.
Predation is the most interesting mortality factor because it involves large familiar animals. Though rarely observed and difficult to quantify, predation helps keep deer populations under control.
Where deer and wolves and/or mountain lions coexist, deer are big predators' most important prey. Mountain lions are solitary animals, and they kill a deer every four or five days. Wolves live in social packs and require more food to feed the entire pack on a regular basis. A pack of 10 wolves kills far more deer than a pack of four.
In the northern Rocky Mountains, lynx and wolverines can be added to a list of deer predators. Elsewhere, however, others fill the vacant niche once occupied by cougars and wolves.