Whitetail deer herds are managed primarily by selective removal through whitetail hunting. Unlike other game animals in the United State, deer have few natural predators to keep populations in check. Sport hunting takes the place of natural predators. The hunting tradition continues to be passed on generation to generation, but recently hunting in conjunction with focused deer management programs have become more common.
Whitetail deer increase rapidly if unhunted until their numbers exceed available food supplies. In short, they can exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat. As this occurs, preferred foods are eliminated, herd productivity is reduced, and the health and size of the animals begin to decline. Eventually, the deer population will go through a die-off.
Continued population increases often cause long-term habitat destruction. The incidence of disease and parasites increases. Ultimately, natural mortality rises and, occasionally, widespread die-offs occur.
Once a deer population reaches the carrying capacity of the habitat, the growth must be stabilized. About 35 percent of a deer population must be removed annually to stabilize the population. Intensive buck-only hunting rarely removes more than 10 to 15 percent of a population. Removing significant numbers of antlerless deer (does) is necessary to keep a deer herd from becoming overpopulated.