Even though it’s part of nature, watching deer struggle through deep snow — trying to find something to eat — can be tough to watch.

As snow starts to fall in Utah, however, Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are issuing a plea: Don’t feed the deer.

In some cases, feeding deer can actually hurt the deer a lot more than it helps them. Biologists give the following reasons why feeding deer is a bad idea:

  • Deer have complex and delicate digestive systems. If you feed a deer food that its digestive system isn’t ready to accept, the deer can actually die even though its stomach is full of food.
  • Feeding deer congregates the animals in a small area. And that can lead to all kinds of problems for the deer:
    • Congregating deer in a small area increases the chance that the deer will pass diseases to each other.
    • When deer congregate to feed, it’s “every deer for itself.” The larger deer push the smaller deer — the fawns — aside. Fawns often end up receiving less food than they would have received if you had left the deer alone and not fed them.
    • Feeding deer near a road increases the chance that the deer will be hit and killed by cars.
    • In addition to eating what you’re feeding them, deer will also eat the other vegetation that’s in and near the feeding area. Too many deer eating vegetation in a small area can damage the plants in the area for years to come. When deer need those plants in coming years, the plants won’t be there for them to eat.
    • Even after winter is over, deer will often stay close to the area where you fed them instead of moving to their normal summer ranges.

Biologists are watching

As they do every winter, DWR biologists are monitoring deer closely. In addition to keeping any eye on the condition the deer are in, biologists are monitoring four additional things:

  • The amount of food that’s available to the deer
  • How deep the snow is
  • How cold the temperature is
  • The amount of body fat they find on deer that have been killed along roads.

If three or more of the five factors reach a critical point, biologists will consider feeding deer specially designed pellets. The pellets are formulated to fit the complex digestive system mule deer have and to give them extra energy, which is something deer that are struggling to find food can really use.

DWR biologists will monitor the conditions and the deer herds through the winter. If the deer need to be fed, biologists will make sure the feeding is done in the right way, at the right time and with food that is best for the deer.

Learn more

More information about why deer shouldn’t be fed is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/deer-winter-feeding.html.

Image courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

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