As hunters, we love to see both elk and deer on the landscape.  An ideal trip to the mountains for us would include giant mule deer running around, and 400″ bull elk bugling through the trees.  Although an amazing thought, we rarely see elk and deer thrive in the same area.  This begs the question, can deer and elk cohabitate?

Who Gets To Be Fat?

In an extensive research project completed by the University of Wyoming, it has been identified that deer and elk may not be able to cohabitate.

“More is not always better,” University of Wyoming ecology professor Kevin Monteith told WyoFile. “In this situation, with deer and elk, we may not be able to have our cake and eat it too. We may not be able to have robust, large populations of elk and robust, large populations of deer.”

The reason these two populations struggle to live with one another is due to the impact elk have on deer fat.  In the study, the researchers found that when elk lived near deer, the deer’s fat percentages went down.  Oddly enough, they didn’t go down by a little.  They went down by about 2%.

“How fat animals are plays a pretty key role in their survival,” Monteith said. “Two percentage points of body fat in autumn could influence overwinter survival by 10 percent. For an adult female, that’s a pretty big deal.”


And for a mule deer herd it’s a big deal, too. Even a 5 percent downward swing in overwinter survival among female deer, Monteith said, can have a “legitimate effect on a population.”

Winter Kill

Winter kill has had a significant impact on the elk and deer herd populations across many states this year.  Videos and pictures have emerged from many people in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Montana, etc. showing the devastating impact on the herds.

Elk and deer carcasses have been hauled off by the truck loads from areas that biologists can access, but there is still some unknown in areas that are still inaccessible.  As we move further into spring, more news will continue to come out on the toll this heavy winter has taken.

What Are The Next Steps?

Although the final reports haven’t been released, the proof is there that something needs to be done to save the deer herds in some of these areas.  Each state is looking into solutions to not only reduce winter kill, but to help animals prepare for winter conditions.

In the state of Wyoming, the Game and Fish department is looking at several solutions.  One solution is controlling large predators where possible.  Another solution is targeting elk to help the deer populations.  Although this may not be the most popular solution, as Monteith stated above, “we may not be able to have our cake and eat it too.”

Do you agree with the solutions that Wyoming as attempting to help the mule deer population?

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