Does Hunting Mountain Lions Help Mule Deer?

Efforts have been made time and time again throughout the American West to boost mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) numbers by removing predators like mountain lions (Puma concolor) and coyotes (Canis latrans), but how effective are these measures in increasing deer populations on the landscape? Are there other factors that may have more of an influence on deer numbers than carnivores?

Due to pressures from concerned sportsmen, biologists in states like Idaho and Colorado have conducted experiments where mountain lions and coyotes were removed in hopes that it would bolster deer numbers. Their efforts ultimately yielded mixed results. Interestingly though, researchers have known for decades that removing mountain lions had little influence on deer numbers on the whole.

A recent study by Panthera offers new insight on the old rationale that hunting mountain lions will help increase mule deer populations. The study found that heavy hunting pressures on mountain lions may be having the opposite effect and may actually be hurting deer. Hunters typically seek out the older and larger cats, leaving younger lions on the landscape. The study found that younger mountain lions generally prey upon deer, while the more mature cats target elk. And since hunting doesn’t necessarily reduce the overall number of mountain lions in an area — only the age structure — hunting may be having unintended consequences.

Read more about the study here!

Instead of predators, biologists agree the weather and food are the primary drivers that affect mule deer populations, while habitat loss and degradation also have a role to play.

Denise Peterson

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