The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) developed Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the prevention, surveillance, and management of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) to provide guidance to fish and wildlife agencies as they address the growing threats of CWD to free-ranging cervid populations.
The BMPs are defined under the general headings of Prevention, Surveillance, Management, and Supporting Activities. A best practice is listed for each topic along with alternative methods that are less effective at mitigating the risks. Current National Deer Association (NDA) positions on Deer Farming and Importation and Translocation of Deer conflict with many of the alternative methods listed.
Position: The NDA endorses the AFWA BMPs (September 2018) with the following exceptions:
- The NDA does not support prohibiting the sale or use of natural deer urine products determined to be free of CWD prions based on independent laboratory testing, and
- The NDA does not support any of the three “Alternatives” listed for live animal movement.
In addition, we support inclusion of a cleaned lower jawbone to the list of items allowed to be moved from a harvested animal.
The NDA is dedicated to ensuring the future of deer, wildlife habitat and hunting. We are more interested in managing deer and habitat appropriately and protecting our hunting heritage than debating use of specific weapons. For the purpose of this Position Statement, air guns are defined as any pistol or shoulder-held device that propels a projectile (slug, shot, or arrow) utilizing unignited compressed air or gas. When used with common sense and in accordance with manufacturer guidelines, these weapons are more than capable of making ethical, humane kills. Therefore, NDA supports the inclusion of big-bore air rifles as a legal method of take for white-tailed deer within the appropriate seasons, wherever practical and possible.
Position: The NDA supports the use of big-bore air rifles, as defined by .30 caliber or larger utilizing a pre-charged pneumatic power source, for hunting big game.
The National Deer Association (NDA) examines each antler restriction and considers several factors, including if the area is in a disease management zone.
In general, NDA prefers the voluntary passing of yearling bucks to mandatory antler regulations. However, we recognize that mandated antler restrictions may be justified in some situations to achieve specific deer management objectives. Antler restrictions are generally based on number of points, beam length, inside/outside spread or a combination of these factors. Regarding our position on specific antler restriction proposals, NDA examines each on a case-by-case basis and applies a three-part test.
- Is the restriction biologically sound? This means the proposed restriction will protect the majority (>50%) of yearlings while allowing the majority of bucks 2½ years old and older to be eligible for harvest. This is always the goal of state-mandated restrictions, though voluntary antler restrictions on private lands may seek to protect some older age classes as well. In either case, the antler restriction criteria must be based on data collected from the affected deer population to ensure the correct bucks are protected.
- Is it supported by a majority (>50%) of affected hunters and landowners? Agencies considering antler restrictions should conduct surveys to determine support levels before enacting the mandatory restrictions.
- Will mandatory restrictions be objectively monitored to determine success or failure? Without monitoring, there is no way to know if the restriction should be altered to improve success or possibly removed altogether if it does not work or is no longer needed.
The NDA has supported some mandatory antler restrictions, opposed others, and taken a neutral stance depending on the situation. In the long term, NDA is optimistic that enough hunters will voluntarily pass young bucks that antler restrictions will become unnecessary.
In addition, we recognize that in some areas that have detected CWD, protecting yearling bucks is counter to the goals of preventing spread in CWD. Strong educational campaigns are important to convince hunters on the importance of increased antlered and antlerless harvests in disease zones. Acceptance by hunters and landowners and cooperation with state wildlife agencies will determine the success of managing CWD once it occurs on the landscape. Thus, monitoring of CWD management programs and prompt communication of results to all stakeholders will be of paramount importance.
Position: The NDA prefers the voluntary passing of yearling bucks to mandatory antler restrictions but recognizes that mandated antler restrictions may be justified in some situations and inappropriate in others such as some disease management zones.
Apprentice hunting licenses and/or programs are a tool used by wildlife agencies that provides both youth and adult novice hunters the opportunity to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter before they have completed their hunter education course. Data suggests new hunters that have been introduced by a parent or mentor tend to pursue the pastime longer and/or are more permanently converted. We offer numerous programs and efforts that encourage our general membership and other hunters to mentor youth and interested adults. We encourage all hunters to take advantage of these programs to help improve hunter recruitment and retention nationally.
Position: The NDA supports youth and adult apprentice hunting licenses and programs.
The practice of baiting and its role in deer management have grown in terms of controversy and complexity in recent years. The NDA acknowledges the available scientific data surrounding this issue is incomplete and, at times, inconsistent. Therefore, the NDA has used the available scientific data and the experience of professional wildlife biologists in formulating the following Position Statement.
The NDA differentiates between baiting and supplemental feeding. Supplemental feeding is addressed in a separate Position Statement. The NDA defines baiting as the placement of food to concentrate wildlife (deer) for the purposes of hunting, trapping, or viewing.
- Camera surveys – Baiting is an effective method for conducting camera surveys which aid deer managers in determining densities, sex ratios, age structure, recruitment rates, and appropriate harvest rates.
- Achieving Harvest Goals – Baiting can be a useful tool to aid deer managers in achieving harvest goals, particularly in urban and suburban areas with high densities and limited hunting opportunities.
- Hunter Recruitment and Satisfaction – Baiting may increase the quantity of game viewed per hunt and therefore may enhance the hunting experience for some hunters.
- Scientific Research – Baiting is a common technique used by wildlife professionals and researchers to trap and study deer.
- Disease – Baiting increases density around a single food source and therefore increases the potential for direct and indirect contact among individuals. Currently there are 12 deer diseases that are thought to be spread by direct contact, two of which are bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease (CWD).
- Habitat Impact – Studies have shown that baiting can decrease the home range size of deer and therefore can also negatively impact the surrounding native vegetation. Secondarily, many wildlife professionals believe that a reliance on baiting for hunting purposes may reduce native habitat management efforts.
- Nocturnal Effect – Several studies have shown that baiting of deer increases nocturnal activity and decreases daytime activity.
- Non-target Species – Scientific data shows that baiting for deer can negatively impact several non-target species, such as songbirds, game birds, and small mammals. Baiting can also increase predation at and around bait sites.
- Artificial Increase in Carrying Capacity – Baiting can artificially increase a species carrying capacity. This problem is exacerbated when the bait is only available seasonally, especially in the fall (hunting season).
- Fair Chase – The ethical battle concerning baiting as fair-chase hunting continues to divide both hunters and wildlife professionals.
Position: The NDA opposes the expansion of baiting where not currently legal. The NDA will not work to repeal baiting where currently legal, except where CWD (or other known diseases) is present. The NDA supports the use of baiting by wildlife professionals conducting scientific research. The NDA supports continued research on the effects on baiting in deer management programs.
The term “canned” hunt generally refers to the practice of providing a hunting opportunity within a fence under controlled conditions in which animals do not have a reasonable opportunity to avoid the hunter. This may include situations that approach and include put-and-take hunting in which animals are raised in pens, habituated to feeders, and “hunted” after being released. Important issues include privatization of wildlife, transmission of diseases, genetic impacts, and fair chase and other social issues. Fair chase as defined by the Boone and Crockett Club is “the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage over such animals.”
Position: The NDA opposes the practice of canned hunts.
In many cases, the regulatory matrix of who oversees captive cervids within a certain jurisdiction is a direct result of lobbied and enacted law, transferring oversight from one agency to another. Inconsistencies across state or provincial boundaries can cause missed opportunities for communication between agencies responsible for regulating captive cervid facilities and certainly limits management efforts. There are also philosophical differences between wildlife and agricultural departments regarding captive cervid issues and free-ranging wildlife populations.
Position: Given the potential for disease transmission and the threat to our multi-billion-dollar hunting industry, the NDA advocates for sole regulatory authority of captive cervid facilities to belong to state/provincial wildlife agencies. These agencies have more experience with wildlife species, and have more at stake with wildlife disease issues, especially regarding transmission to free-ranging wild populations.
On a jurisdictional basis, the authority which oversees captive cervids may have the ability to classify them as either “wildlife” or “livestock”, and as of late there have been more deliberate efforts from special-interest groups to move captive cervids from the wildlife to livestock category. The problem is this inconsistency across state or provincial boundaries possibly creates missed opportunities for communication among agencies controlling and regulating captive cervid facilities and certainly limits management efforts. There are also philosophical differences between wildlife and agricultural departments regarding captive cervid issues and free-ranging wildlife populations, and when a public-trust resource like whitetails is legally considered livestock, ultimately control moves to the latter.
Position: Given the potential for disease transmission and the threat to our multi-billion-dollar hunting industry, NDA advocates for captive cervids to be categorized as wildlife so they are protected under the Federal Lacey Act of 1900 and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
Certain parts of deer carcasses, most notably the brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, eyes, and tonsils, may be contaminated with prions that cause CWD. Deer may shed prions primarily through saliva and feces to other deer and the environment months or years before they exhibit any visible external symptoms. Thus, most states have adopted regulations restricting the transport of whole cervid carcasses or carcass parts harvested outside the state or in known CWD areas within the state. Carcass parts that can legally be transported into a state or from known CWD areas from within the state generally include:
- Meat that has been deboned
- Meat that has been cut and wrapped
- Quarters or other portions of meat with no spinal cord or head attached
- Hides or capes with no head attached
- Clean (no brain or soft tissue attached) skulls or skull plates with or without antlers attached
- Clean antlers with no meat or other tissue attached
- Finished taxidermy parts
- Upper canine teeth (elk ivories) with no tissue attached
Viscera, bones, skull, and other scrap/waste material should be left at the kill site for animals processed (deboned) in the field. Use of professional game processors and taxidermists is encouraged because they dispose of waste by approved methods that minimize the risk of CWD spread. Disposal of waste from cervids processed at home should be in an approved landfill that accepts these materials.
Position: The NDA supports state and provincial regulations that restrict the transport of cervid carcass parts into the state and from known CWD areas within the state. We also support regulations or recommendations for disposal of waste from cervid carcasses.
Controlled breeding is the practice of manipulating the reproductive process within a confined facility using specific males/females or using semen inserted via artificial insemination. Controlled breeding is practiced to assemble or sell breeding stock of known lineage and to alter the normal frequency of certain phenotypes (e.g., antler characteristics). Important issues include privatization of wildlife and other social issues, transmission of diseases, and genetic impacts.
Position: The NDA opposes the practices of controlled breeding and artificial insemination as a means to manage cervid populations.
The NDA is dedicated to ensuring the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat and hunting. We are more interested in managing deer and habitat appropriately and protecting our hunting heritage than debating use of specific weapons. For the purpose of this Position Statement, crossbows are defined as a bow-like assembly that is mounted horizontally, which is handheld in a similar fashion to the stock of a long gun and shoots arrow-like projectiles called bolts. When used with common sense and in accordance with manufacturer guidelines, crossbows are more than capable of making ethical, humane kills. Therefore, NDA supports the inclusion of crossbows as a legal method of take for white-tailed deer within appropriate seasons, wherever practical and possible.
Position: If the use of crossbows positively impacts a deer management program and helps recruit and retain more hunters, the NDA fully supports their use.
Deer farming or cervid propagation is the raising of native or exotic cervid species for pleasure or commercial production of antlers, venison, breeding stock, semen, or other salable parts. Cervid propagation has grown rapidly in North America over the past few decades. About 40 states and several Canadian Provinces permit cervid propagation, although regulations vary. In many states, considerable uncertainty remains regarding the legal and regulatory authority over exotic deer (see NDA Position Statements on Captive Deer Authority and Captive Deer Classification). Captively propagated cervids in North America include fallow deer, red deer, white‑tailed deer, elk, sika deer, and axis deer. Because of the potential negative effects, several states and some Canadian provinces have banned this practice. The most common concerns are introduction of novel diseases from captive cervids to native wildlife and domestic livestock, competition of escaped cervids with native species for space and forage, and hybridization between escaped captive and native cervids. Other concerns are conservation issues regarding the privatization of wildlife, fair chase issues related to commercial hunting, the inability to distinguish escaped captive cervids without ear tags from free-ranging species, and the wildlife agency’s responsibility to remove escaped animals not recovered by the owner.
Position: The NDA opposes captive propagation of deer and other cervids.
According to current research, the risk of spreading CWD to new areas through use of natural urine-based lures is extremely low, but it’s not zero. The accumulation of infectious materials is much higher in muscle tissue and organs than urine, so in NDA’s view, it is far more important at this time for all hunters and wildlife agencies to focus on stopping the two most risky activities: 1) all transportation of live deer and elk, and 2) transportation of infected deer carcasses out of CWD zones.
As of October 2019, 13 states have banned the use of natural deer and elk urine statewide, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. The Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and the Yukon Territory have similar bans. Michigan and Louisiana banned the use of urine products not participating in the Responsible Hunting Scent Association. Minnesota, North Dakota and Pennsylvania ban the use of urine in CWD zones.
Position: The NDA will not oppose state-mandated bans on the use of natural deer urine-based lures. In areas where natural deer urine has not been banned, we encourage hunters to only buy products from companies participating in the Responsible Hunting Scent Association or to use synthetic urine.
Earn-a-buck (EAB) regulations are a highly effective tool used by wildlife agencies and managers to increase antlerless harvests but can be widely unpopular among hunters. Sportsmen and women should be well informed by their state/provincial agency on the annual target and achieved antlerless harvests and how they impact the agency’s deer management program. Hunters should have the opportunity to provide input on their desired strategy for achieving the target antlerless harvest, and state/provincial agencies should accommodate these desires where appropriate. In situations where the target antlerless harvests are not being reached, state/provincial agencies should employ additional measures and/or strategies, such as EAB, to ensure deer herds are being managed at levels in balance with what the habitat can support.
Position: The NDA supports Earn-a-buck regulations in situations where sportsmen and women are informed and a majority (more than 50%) support such regulations.
The NDA defines food plots as the planting of food resources for wildlife in accordance with normal agricultural practices. To gain support for the legalization of baiting programs, pro-baiting advocates often contend that the practice of baiting is analogous to the planting of food plots. For many years, state and federal wildlife agencies have distinguished between the placement of food for wildlife and the planting of food for wildlife. Example: Dove fields may be hunted if they are planted and harvested under normal agricultural conditions. They may not be hunted if the food resource is artificially placed at the site.
Position: The NDA supports and encourages the planting of food plots for wildlife. The NDA does not consider the planting of food plots under normal agricultural practices as analogous to the placement of food as used in baiting and supplemental feeding programs.
High-fence operations refer to properties that are enclosed with a retaining fence (height depends on state/local regulations) designed to keep cervids on a property and exclude cervids, predators and/or other wildlife/domestic species not on the property. The NDA supports the legal, ethical pursuit and taking of wild deer living in adequate native/naturalized habitats in a manner that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage and provides the animals with a reasonable opportunity to escape the hunter.
Position: The NDA opposes high-fence operations that do not meet the above conditions.
“Hunter orange” is a term generally used for the blaze or fluorescent orange clothing (or an alternative, legal color) hunters wear afield while hunting. Hunters who wear orange are seven times less likely to be shot accidentally than those who do not.
Position: The NDA strongly recommends that all deer hunters wear blaze or fluorescent orange clothing (or an alternative, legal color) when afield during firearms season, regardless of wildlife agency requirements. We urge states and provinces that do not currently require it to change their regulations so that it’s mandated in the future.
Translocation of cervids for restoration purposes has been a successful strategy in North America that gained widespread public approval. However, the need for restoration has passed and most agency restoration programs have been abandoned or continue as a result of political motivations. The current trapping and translocation of cervids to increase populations for hunting, provide trophy animals for canned hunts, or to alter the genetic characteristics of a herd raises ethical questions. There is increased pressure from the public to handle cervid overabundance problems with trapping and translocation rather than hunting or other lethal means. Important issues include a need for understanding the historical role of trapping and translocation of cervids, potential disease transmission (especially CWD), conservation and genetic issues, and legal issues. These issues are also relevant to movements of other cervid species that could potentially harbor CWD.
Position: The NDA opposes importation and translocation as means to manage wild cervid populations. In addition, NDA opposes all movements of live cervids, by private individuals or wildlife agencies until a reliable and practical live-animal test exists.
There are no scientifically documented health or growth benefits from use of mineral supplements by wild deer. However, there is no doubt that deer are attracted to mineral supplements throughout most of their range and are useful for concentrating deer for camera surveys.
Position: The NDA supports use of mineral supplements to aid in camera surveys but does not support their use in known CWD or bovine TB areas.
NDA is encouraged by the number of states implementing strategies (educational and/or- regulatory) to protect the majority (>50%) of yearling bucks due to the biological benefits associated with providing a balanced and natural age structure. We also feel there are social benefits as hunters become more engaged in deer management programs. Engagement of hunters creates buy-in and allows for better collaboration between wildlife agencies and hunters beyond manipulating age structure of the deer herd and even through management of other wildlife species.
However, in CWD management zones, we recognize that protecting yearling bucks may be counter to the goals of lowering/maintaining CWD prevalence rates, reducing population density, and preventing spread of CWD, especially in the initial stages. Acceptance by and cooperation with hunters and landowners will determine the success of managing CWD once it occurs on the landscape. Thus, monitoring of CWD management programs and prompt communication of results to all stakeholders will be of paramount importance.
Position: NDA recommends that state and provincial wildlife agencies conduct extensive education and outreach programs to inform hunters about the benefits of protecting yearling bucks and to garner their support for sound deer management programs. While we believe in the value of managing for a balanced age structure, including in disease areas, with respect to CWD or bovine TB management zones we will review each situation on a case-by-case basis to assess the value and risk of protecting yearling bucks.
Quality Deer Management (QDM) is a management strategy that unites hunters, landowners, and resource managers in a common goal of producing healthy deer herds with balanced adult sex ratios and age structures. This approach typically involves protecting young bucks while harvesting an appropriate number of antlerless deer to maintain herds within existing environmental and social constraints. A successful QDM program requires an increased knowledge of deer biology and active participation in management. This level of involvement extends the role of the hunter from mere consumer to manager. The progression from education to understanding bestows an ethical obligation on the hunter to practice sound deer management. Consequently, to the majority of hunters, landowners, and deer managers, QDM is the preferred deer management philosophy over traditional and trophy deer management.
Position: The NDA supports the QDM philosophy as the preferred deer management strategy.
Sharpshooting or “Targeted removal” is the procedure of removing deer from an area to monitor disease prevalence rate and spread, to enable research, and/or to expedite the local reduction of deer density in a quick fashion. These are not “deer eradication” efforts; too many hunters see these techniques collectively as an attempt to remove all deer from their hunting area. When CWD is confirmed in an area it is vital to determine the prevalence rate and distribution. Targeted removal allows a wildlife agency to determine whether the disease is likely new to the area and only found in a small number of deer or has likely been in the area for several years and has already impacted a much larger percentage of the deer herd. Knowing this is important, and it identifies the next best step to fight the disease.
Targeted removal can help reduce spread of CWD and/or keep it at a low prevalence rate as demonstrated by the Illinois CWD Surveillance and Management Program. This is because strategic removal from a known CWD area increases the odds of removing additional CWD-positive deer. Research from Wisconsin shows adult does are 10 times more likely to be CWD-positive if they have a CWD-positive relative nearby. Thus, concentrating population reduction efforts in areas known to contain CWD-positive deer is a sound strategy to slow the increase in prevalence rate and spread across the landscape.
Position: The NDA supports the use of sharpshooting and targeted-removal strategies in CWD management. We encourage that hunter harvest be used in CWD population reductions to the greatest extent possible and that agencies provide educational information on its benefits. Sharpshooting should be conducted on private lands only with permission of the landowner. All collected deer should be tested and those with results of “Not Detected” should be processed and donated to charity. Public acceptance will be necessary for these programs to be successful.
As of April 2020, Sunday hunting restrictions remained in several states. These prohibitions are remnants of the historical “Blue Laws” which were designed to regulate morality on the Sabbath. There are no adverse biological effects of hunting on Sunday. Studies indicate that hunters will take advantage of Sunday hunting opportunities, if legal. The NDA believes that allowing Sunday hunting will help provide economic benefit to rural communities, help with hunter recruitment and retention, and provide hunters more opportunity to help state agencies reach their harvest objectives.
Position: The NDA supports repeal of Sunday hunting prohibitions where applicable.
The practice of supplemental feeding and its role in deer management have grown in terms of controversy and complexity in recent years. The NDA acknowledges the available scientific data surrounding this issue is incomplete and, at times, inconsistent. Therefore, the NDA has used the available scientific data and the experience of professional wildlife biologists in formulating the following position statement.
The NDA differentiates between baiting and supplemental feeding. Baiting is addressed in a separate Position Statement. The NDA defines supplemental feeding as the act of placing quality food resources for the purpose of increasing dietary quality.
- Agricultural Damage Avoidance – Supplemental feeding can reduce the impact on crop damage in agricultural areas.
- Physiological Characteristics – Supplemental feeding during the growth season can have a positive impact on a variety of physiological characteristics in deer including increased body weights, improved nutritional condition of lactating does, more rapid growth rates for fawns, increased reproductive condition, and increased antler development. The primary growth season for the deer in the United States is April through August.
- Disease – Supplemental feeding increases density around a single food source and therefore increases the potential for direct and indirect contact among individuals. Currently there are 12 deer diseases that are thought to be spread by direct contact, two of which are bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease (CWD).
- Habitat Impact – Studies have shown that supplemental feeding can decrease the home range size of deer and negatively impact the surrounding native vegetation. Secondarily, many wildlife professionals believe that a reliance on supplemental feeding may reduce native habitat management efforts.
- Migration Disturbance – In areas where deer exhibit migratory behavior, supplemental feeding can delay or prevent migratory patterns which can lead to starvation if supplemental feeding is discontinued.
- Artificial Increase in Carrying Capacity – Supplemental feeding can artificially increase a species carrying capacity.
Position: The NDA supports providing adequate food and cover for deer through habitat management programs. The NDA does not support supplemental feeding in known CWD and bovine TB areas or where this activity may disrupt natural migratory patterns of deer.
Trained dogs can be extremely effective at locating wounded or dead game and thus can help reduce the rate at which wounded animals are not recovered. Tracking dogs locate specific animals by following blood and scent of the wounded individual rather than haphazardly searching for other animals, and their use has received overwhelming support in many states. This common-sense measure has also helped improve hunting’s public image by providing ethical hunters with another tool to demonstrate their dedication to and appreciation of the wildlife resource.
Position: NDA supports the use of tracking dogs and encourages all states and provinces to provide this opportunity to sportsmen and women.
Few pieces of technology have positively impacted our knowledge and enjoyment of deer more than infrared-triggered trail-cameras. Researchers, deer hunters and wildlife enthusiasts nationwide have embraced the use of trail-cameras, and advancing technology has resulted in models that are smaller, higher in resolution, more affordable, and with longer battery life than ever before. Cellular cameras that can instantly send pictures via text, e-mail and mobile apps have also become increasingly common and affordable.
The widespread use of trail-cameras has benefitted the way many hunters and non-hunters spend their time outdoors. Trail-cameras have connected people with wildlife in new ways, and many research efforts have relied on trail-camera data collected by “citizen scientists.” From a hunting perspective, there is no data to suggest the use of trail-cameras has had a negative impact on deer populations. Rather, deer hunters today are more active in wildlife and habitat management, and trail-cameras are an excellent tool for monitoring a deer population and setting management objectives. Trail-cameras are useful for deer hunters as well as professional deer managers and researchers.
The NDA supports ethical, lawful pursuit and harvest of deer in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper or unfair advantage. To our knowledge, there is no evidence trail-camera use threatens these values. In limited instances, particularly in the arid West, we have witnessed bans on trail-camera use that originated out of social and ethical conflict. Certainly, as hunters continue to adopt rapidly expanding technologies that raise questions about fair-chase, we must consider the ethical and social constructs surrounding the technology.
Position: The NDA supports the use of all trail-cameras as hunting, wildlife observation and deer management tools. As trail-camera technology advances and social/ethical issues arise, we will evaluate them on a case-by-case basis and, where necessary, support standards and regulations that are science-based and ensure fair-chase hunting.
The practice of feeding deer in winter and its role in deer management have grown in terms of controversy and complexity in recent years. The NDA acknowledges the available scientific data surrounding this issue is incomplete and, at times, inconsistent. Therefore, the NDA has used the available scientific data and the experience of professional wildlife biologists in formulating the following Position Statement.
NDA defines winter feeding as the placement of food (corn and pelleted rations) specifically during winter months to deer in northern environments for the purpose of increasing nutritional quality and survival.
Deer in northern environments survive winter by balancing the energy they receive from fat stores and winter foods against their daily energy costs. Adult deer get as much as 50 percent of their daily nutrition during winter from fat reserves, and they can maintain that level of fat use for about 90 days. Adult deer can increase body weight 20-30 percent during fall, then lose 15-30 percent during winter regardless of the amount of food present. Even in captivity with an unlimited food supply, adult deer do not eat enough forage to maintain body weight.
Unfortunately, the negatives associated with winter feeding often outweigh any potential benefits. Winter feeding makes deer more vulnerable to predation, disease, starvation, intra-herd competition and vehicle collisions. Feed sites congregate deer, and congregated deer negatively impact surrounding vegetation, increase disease transmission and attract predators. The energy costs of predator avoidance can exceed the energy gained from the feed, assuming the deer escapes from the coyote, bobcat, domestic dog, or other predator.
The NDA much prefers providing for whitetails during winter through habitat enhancement. Proper forest, early successional vegetation, and food plot management provide year-round needs for deer. These allow deer to enter winter with an abundant fat supply, and winter habitat projects such as timber stand improvement can immediately provide natural winter food to slow the use of fat reserves.
Position: The NDA opposes winter feeding programs of corn and pelleted rations in the Northern U.S. and Canada.