During the Miocene period, about 24–25 million years ago, the first species that looked like deer appeared in the forests of tropical Asia. From where they came from, deer moved east and west across North America and Eurasia. About 4 million years ago, whitetails, mule deer, and blacktails first appeared.
The “Golden Age” of mammals was during the Pleistocene period, about 1.8 million years ago. During this time, almost every species of mammal was giant. There were many kinds of “megafauna” back then, such as giant sloths, rhinoceroses, mammoths, antelope, and more. Huge predators co-evolved with them so they could eat the large amounts of protein they carried.
Then, during the most recent cycle of “global warming,” the Earth went through a huge change that changed ecosystems from the Ice Age in a big way. Around 12,000 years ago, at least 90 genera of these big animals went extinct, along with about 8 of the estimated 23 species of mega-predators.
When the first people moved west in North America, there were only a few kinds of animals that ate deer. Some of them might be wolves, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, or bobcats. As you’ll find out below, each of them learned how to hunt deer well.
Predation should be seen as a “suite of predators,” based on what I’ve learned from my own research and life. When present, each predator increases the number of deer deaths. Let’s talk about the group of predators that are now thought to kill a lot of deer or have a good chance of doing so. People hunting other people
People are the main thing that eats deer in North America. Every year, between 5 and 6 million deer are shot in the United States alone. During the deer shooting season, between 500,000 and 700,000 deer are killed in Texas every year. This is by far the largest cause of deer deaths.
Hunting is important for the health of the ecosystem and for feeding many American families with deer meat. Most hunters kill adult bucks or yearlings on purpose so that the species as a whole can live and do well.
White-tailed deer are the most common type of deer in North America and the ones that people hunt the most. Even though so many of them are hunted, they are by no means an endangered species of deer.
Hunting Dogs Raised as Pets
They end up giving their dogs a lot of deer meat, just like people do. Raw meat is becoming more and more common for dogs to eat. It is lean and full of nutrients that are good for dogs. This is a good trait for hunting dogs, especially ones that help the hunter.
Dogs that have been trained to hunt will also actively help hunters kill deer. They lure animals close so hunters can get a good shot, but they don’t eat the meat right away. After a kill was made, the dogs could eat what was left.
There is one more thing that dogs and deer do together that is worth mentioning. Dogs that belong to people often kill wild deer without their owners’ knowledge. Even though it is against the law and punishable in many places, it is not uncommon for a protection dog to attack and kill a deer.
Most bears, like brown bears, grizzly bears, and black bears, will eat deer if they get the chance. Animals eat a lot of fawns because they are a good source of food. Bears often look for and eat a lot of babies in their first few days of life.
When polar bears are seen in Canada, it is clear that they will eat reindeer, moose, and other types of deer if they get the chance. Polar bears may hunt for fawns or eat dead deer even if deer aren’t their main source of food.
The omnivorous bear would like to get its protein from fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, among other simple foods. A bear is not likely to hunt down and kill a healthy adult buck or doe on purpose. Most bear species tend to eat deer that are hurt or otherwise weak.
The coyote is one of the main animals that eat young deer calves. When they are young, coyotes have been known to kill and eat up to 75% of the fawns in a certain deer population. The way coyotes affect the deer population is very worrying from the point of view of protecting wildlife.
Mom deer often leave their babies alone for periods after they are born. A fawn will hide alone in a tall patch of grass to avoid being found and eaten by a coyote.
The problem is so bad that every year the US government has to kill thousands of coyotes to protect deer and keep the environment in balance all over the country. Ecologists aren’t sure that “coyote elimination activities” will really help the number of deer grow.
A grey wolf kills about 20 white-tailed deer every year. There are about 78,000 wolves in North America, and each year they kill more than 1.5 million deer. This makes them the most important non-human predator of deer in the US and Canada.
Alaska is home to 65% of all grey wolves in the United States. This makes it the state with the most wolves. Washington, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota also have large wolf populations. In the summer, a single wolf is more likely to hunt. Lone wolves that hunt deer like to eat vulnerable newborn fawns because they are the easiest to find and kill.
Even though deer are herbivores, they have been known to eat their kind and usually eat meat. Other deer have been seen eating the organs of deer that have been shot. These places are called “gut heaps.” Also, a large number of studies have shown that antler cannibalism is real. Deer that eat antlers are more likely to get neurodegenerative diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and lose their antlers every year as adults.
Animals in the wild will do anything to save energy and keep from dying out. People who are very hungry or have the mind of an animal may sometimes think that cannibalism is a good idea.
The bald eagle is one of the most well-known birds in the world and a symbol of the United States. Most of the time, eagles use their strong claws and beaks to hunt for small food like fish, other birds, rabbits, and rodents. They often eat dead animals, such as those moose, elk, reindeer, mule deer, and white-tailed deer.
Bald eagles, on the other hand, are known to use their “bird’s-eye view” to find defenseless newborn fawns. Every year, when the new generation of deer is born in the summer (late May to early June), they will hunt and eat fawns.
Eagles can carry prey that weighs up to 12 pounds thanks to their strong claws (approximately 0.5 kg). If their prey is too big for them to carry, they will cut off pieces of the dead animal to take with them. Even though it does happen sometimes, bald eagles don’t usually kill deer.
Cougars and mountain lions are the best hunters on the North American continent. People have seen these things hunt and kill deer when they get the chance. On average, a mountain lion will kill and eat a deer once a week.
Mountain lions, which are also called cougars, are still around, but there are a lot fewer of them than there used to be. There are still between 20,000 and 40,000 people in the United States, and between 5,000 and 9,000 people in Canada.
Mountain lions are thought to kill between 1.25 million and 2.45 million wild deer each year, and each cougar eats about 50 deer each year. These animals include white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and reindeer.
Even though the bobcat is not very big, it can find and eat animals that are much bigger than it. Even though bobcats are known to eat deer, they don’t have much of an effect on the number of deer in North America.
Still, somewhere between 2 million and 3.75 million bobcats are free to roam North America. They can be found all over the continent in places like mixed forests, wetlands, and deserts, where their numbers are stable and growing.
Wildlife experts say that bobcats will hunt and eat wild deer if they get the chance, but this doesn’t happen very often. Since there are so many bobcats in the woods of North America, cat hunters don’t have much of an effect on the number of deer.
There are places in the United States where both alligators and deer live. Deer often live near water, which makes it more likely that a predator will catch one of them. It’s not rare for an alligator to eat a wild deer.
Alligators are dangerous animals that will use their powerful jaws to eat anything that gets too close to the water. The opportunistic predator wely pounces on deer or people who aren’t paying attention and swim to the other side of a river or lake to drink.
Even though alligators sometimes attack deer in the wild, deer are not their main food source. If people get too close to where the reptiles hide underwater, they are much more likely to eat fish, amphibians, birds, or other small animals.
Orcas, which are sometimes called killer whales, hunt animals like moose, elk, and deer that swim out into open water. Killer whales have been seen hunting, killing, and eating swimming deer, especially in the open waters of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada.
The very smart aquatic creatures rarely come across swimming deer. When they do, the orca sneaks up from below and pulls its target under the water to drown it. The victim doesn’t like it, but it works for the orca to get food.
Wolverines eat mostly small animals like rabbits and rodents, but they have been seen eating the dead bodies of deer, moose, and elk. A wolverine will eat a dead deer if it finds one. This is how it gets fat before the cold winter months.
Wolverines are known for hunting animals that are much bigger than they are. This is because they are very determined and aggressive. They can easily take on animals twice their size, like yearlings and even newborn fawns. Wolverines spend most of their time in the woods of Canada, but you can also find them in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington State. Alaska is also home to wolverines.
The wolverine population in the United States is small but stable, with only about 300 animals left in the wild. The animals are often much more common in Canada (15,000–19,000 people) and Alaska (>1,000 people).
Vultures are birds that feed only on dead animals. Turkey vultures eat dead deer when they can get their hands on them. People say that black vultures in the southern states of the United States eat dead deer.
Turkey vultures are a more common species in North America, so their homes reach into Canada. The US and Canada are home to far more than 18 million people, while the US states that border Mexico may have more than 4 million black vultures.
Even though there are a lot of them, these birds that eat dead animals don’t do much to “clean up” deer bodies. Undoubtedly, the most common way for vultures to eat wild deer is to eat the “gut heaps” that hunters leave behind.