Due to the severe winter conditions in many parts of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is warning people that there may significant be losses to wildlife this year. Weeding out of weaker individuals may ultmimately strengthen the population and Game and Fish recognizes that this may be difficult for the public. People commonly make the mistake of thinking feeding mule deer is just as beneficial as feeding other wildlife. However feeding deer will only lead to their suffering and potential death. 

  • ‚ÄčMule deer will likely still starve when fed in the winter.  Mule deer are highly selective foragers, at least in part due to their specialized digestive system. Specific types of bacteria in their rumen are required to aid in the digestion of naturally occurring foods. Often, because their digestive system can’t adapt quickly enough, supplementally fed mule deer die with stomachs full of undigested feed. Supplemental feeding programs have been effective for other species like elk because their digestive systems are more adaptable to different kinds of forage.
    • Unpalatable foods include hay, corn, apples, birdseed, pumpkins, pelletized deer feed and any other foods that are not naturally in their browse diet this time of year. 
  • Supplemental feeding may increase predation and prevalence of disease and parasites. Winter feeding programs create artificially high concentrations of mule deer at feeding stations or locations, creating ideal conditions for increased loss due to predation, diseases, and parasites.

  • Supplemental feeding can reduce the winter range’s carrying capacity.  If mule deer numbers remain artificially high through supplemental feeding, it can result in habitat degradation where feeding occurs creating a situation where these habitats support fewer wildlife.

Both proponents and opponents of winter feeding have the deer’s best interest in mind. However, even well designed and executed winter feeding programs do not significantly increase mule deer survival. It’s necessary to consider the biological impacts to the habitat, to other species, and to mule deer in the long-term. We must focus on the sustainability of the mule deer population for generations to come – not just one winter.

2022 Montana Outdoors Magazine Death by Feeding article
Feeding Deer is Not the Answer Video
Understanding Mule Deer and Winter Feeding
Keeping Mule Deer Wild Talking Points
WAFWA Summary
WAFWA Mule Deer Working Group

Regional Wildlife Agency Links on Mule Deer Feeding

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Summary
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Summary
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Summary


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