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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

The BIGGEST Game Animal

If you're driving along a country road almost anywhere in the lower 48 states, the wild animal you're most likely to see is the whitetail deer. No other animal puts as many dreams into hunter's heads as the whitetail deer. Whitetail deer are the most popular big game in America. And wherever they live, they drive the economics of wildlife management.

Do away with hunting whitetail deer, and you do away with wildlife management. My July 10 column in the Jamestown Gazette explains more of why the whitetail deer is “The BIGGEST Game Animal” in North America.

To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

Photo caption: Every deer, even if it isn’t this big, represents the biggest game animal on the continent. This big buck was killed by my friend Jim Riggle in one of the remotest parts of Forest County, Pennsylvania. (Steve Sorensen photo)


The BIGGEST Game Animal

Steve Sorensen

Among North American game animals, the biggest is the whitetail deer. I know what you’re about to say. Moose can be ten times the size of an adult whitetail buck. Elk are also bigger, and even mule deer are bigger than whitetail deer. And if you really want to get nit-picky, brown and grizzly bears are bigger, and black bears can reach more than double the size of a really big whitetail deer. Most whitetail deer really don’t get very big.

If “bigger” only referred to the size of an individual animal, you’d be right, but I’m not talking about individual size. “Bigger” is also a word that describes something other than how hefty a critter is. Whitetail deer are a really big deal—definitely bigger than moose, elk, or anything else in terms of importance—no matter what state they live in.

The mighty Alaska-Yukon moose is arguably the king of all deer species and the hunt of a lifetime for lots of hunters, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the importance of whitetail deer. In any crowd of 100 hunters, ask how many have hunted moose and you’ll see one or two hands raised.

“What about turkeys? There’s nothing like calling a big gobbler in to shotgun range.” I agree. That’s a thrill, but in that same crowd of 100 hunters, a minority will be turkey hunters.

Let’s ask that same crowd of 100 hunters another question. How many are whitetail deer hunters? About 80 hands will go up. Add all the deer hunters together, all across the continent, and the number is huge. They provide far more dollars for the conservation of wildlife—all wildlife—than hunters who pursue any other game animal. That’s the sense in which whitetail deer are by far the BIGGEST game animal. Whitetail deer are so big, so important, that wildlife conservation as we know it would grind to a halt if nobody goes deer hunting this fall.

Whitetail deer hunters are so passionate that when hunting licenses went on sale in Pennsylvania near the end of last month, the same online license sales system that’s used in many other states nearly ground to a halt that day. Never mind that those hunters don’t all need to buy their licenses on day one. They don’t need to, but they want to. Deer hunters are devoted, and they want not only their license to shoot a buck, but almost every hunter wants an antlerless tag too.

And it’s not just about license sales. When a hunter buys his firearms and ammunition, and when he purchases his bows and arrows and other gear, a portion of the dollars he spends on that equipment goes to the United States Department of the Interior and is then funneled back to his state to add to the dollars for wildlife management.

Now for some numbers.

  • About six million whitetail deer are harvested every year. No other big game species beats that.

  • Whitetail deer are hunted in 44 of the 50 states, and in 8 of 10 Canadian provinces.

  • The number of hunting licenses sold in the United States annually is about 15 million.

  • Since only about six million whitetail deer are harvested, that’s a lot of unfilled tags. No matter. Those unsuccessful hunters will continue to buy licenses.

  • Less than 5% of the American population buys a hunting license, so almost the entire system of wildlife management falls on the shoulders of hunters.

Yes, whitetail deer are the biggest—the most important—game animal in North America. More hunters pursue whitetail deer than any other species. Whitetail deer finance the entire hunting industry to the extent that if you take away whitetail deer, hunting revenue and wildlife management will collapse. The BIGGEST game species, the most important game species to the wildlife management system in North America, without a doubt, is the whitetail deer.

If you think we have lots of deer now, we’ll have a lot more if deer hunting came to an end. And a lot fewer other animals because too many deer destroy habitat for other species. Too many deer mean lower birth weights and lower adult weights due to malnutrition. And too many deer mean more disease because of overcrowding, and more conflict with humans through car collisions, landscaping damage, and farm crop destruction. If those things matter to you, thank a hunter.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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