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What Happens When Deer Starve to Death

A number of times, I’ve mentioned how cruel it is when deer starve. Most people probably have never seen it, personally, so it lacks an impact. However, it is a terrible thing to see and it impacts a lot more than just the deer.

Deer tend to travel in herds of just a few to over 50 individuals, except during certain times of the year. In a typical herd of 20, there may be one or two bucks or males, 10-12 does or females, and the rest are fawns, less than a year old.

The land can only support a certain number of deer. Deer eat vegetation such as grasses, leaves, and forbs (weeds). Many other wild animals also eat these things. This is important to note, as will be seen.

If the area can only support 15 deer and there are 20, there isn’t enough food for all of them. This is rather obvious, but most people don’t think about the consequences and sequence. Namely, this doesn’t affect just the five extra deer, it impacts them all.

All of them are eating the same foods, so every mouthful that one deer eats is one less mouthful that the other deer in the herd can’t eat. Again, this is obvious. This means that every deer in the herd is gradually becoming malnourished. They become weaker, yet they have an overpowering hunger.

The deer in the herd begins to eat less nutrient-rich foods, such as tree bark. If they chew the bark off all the way around a tree, they kill the tree. Additionally, since the bark has very little nutritive value, the deer continue to get more malnourished. They can’t digest the bark very well, so it just fills their belly without helping the deer.

Day after day, the deer in the herd become weaker. After a few weeks, the first deer begin to die of starvation, no longer having the strength to even stand. The weakest deer perish first and this is usually the fawns. This means that there are fewer mouths to fill, but by this time, there is virtually nothing to eat. Even other animal species, those that eat the same things the deer eat, are beginning to starve to death because they don’t have enough to eat, either.

In a vain attempt to survive, the deer started eating anything they can eat. If there is a house in the area, they will even eat the siding off the walls, which has no nutritive value at all. More deer in the herd begin to die of starvation, sometimes having no strength to even stand. They may lay down in one spot and many days might pass before they die, often crying out in pain. (Deer do make sounds when they are in pain and it is a heart-wrenching sound.)

If there is snowy or cold weather, the deer suffer even more because their bodies can’t produce enough heat. They shiver in the cold but don’t have the strength or the food to do anything about it.

A month and a half or two months after it began, it is over. The herd is dead, along with countless other animals. That is 20 deer and many other animals that had to die very painful deaths.

The saddest part is that if five deer had been removed from the herd at the beginning, the other 15 would have survived. This is only one herd, but it is often repeated in one area after another with other herds, so the result is that hundreds of deer end up perishing and a far larger number of other animals do, too, and this is an agonizing drawn-out type of death.

  • Question of

    Have you taken any time to really think about what starving deer go through before death?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I don’t care, they are just animals
  • Question of

    Do you see how this sort of death of entire herds is often preventable?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Hunting shouldn’t be allowed even if a whole herd suffers this sort of death

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Written by Rex Trulove

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8 Comments

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    • I felt the need to post it because some people have a hard time accepting the reality of it. It is an out of sight, out of mind thing, so they sometimes don’t think that starvation is so bad, so hunters shouldn’t hunt deer, even though that can help prevent the issue from happening.

    • Unfortunately, not a great deal can be done except to try to make sure that there are fewer deer than the maximum that the land can support. The easiest way to do that is through hunting. However, the population increase is so great that currently not enough deer are harvested to make up for the population increase. The number of deer hunters in the US is growing, but at a much slower rate than the deer are reproducing.

    • Absolutely, it is necessary. I wasn’t purposely trying to depress anyone, but I also wanted people to understand the reality of what it means when animals like deer starve. It isn’t something I’d wish to happen to anyone or anything. It allows a person to empathize with the animals. Too often, people refuse to give it any thought at all.

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