Whitetail Hunting History


The history of hunting whitetail deer stems from a long and necessary tradition that dates back to ancient man. For thousands of years, deer have been used for food as well as trophies. Archaeological evidence reveals cave paintings more than 30,000 years old that depict humans hunting herds of deer. In the Americas, the whitetail deer is the dominant species along the East Coast, and hunting these animals incorporates many native and European traditions. The whitetail population has fluctuated widely as a direct result of hunting, creating a range of rules and regulations throughout the centuries. However, one thing about whitetail deer hunting remains the same--humans desire meat, trophies and the thrill of the hunt.

Early American History

  • Early settlers found that whitetail deer were plentiful and utilized Native American hunting knowledge in tracking and taking down the deer. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the hide of a whitetail deer was highly prized, especially as an export, and demand for whitetail deer helped create a booming hide and fur trade. By the mid-1700s, the whitetail deer population was dangerously low, and many states took action to restrict or ban hunting until the numbers could rebound.

Hunting in the 1800s

  • As the fur trade decreased, the whitetail deer population rebounded, and in the 1800s many of the hunting laws and restrictions were repealed in an effort to control the deer populations. Market hunting swung the whitetail deer population back to the thin side, with some states reported there were no longer whitetail deer left in certain regions.

Lacey Act

  • In 1900 Congress signed a bill into law, known as the Lacey Act, that would protect bird and game species that had been depleted through hunting and introduce wildlife back into areas where they had once lived. It also banned poaching and other resource-depleting activities. It was the first federal wildlife protection legislation, and as a result, many whitetail deer were reintroduced into areas that no longer supported a population. Hunting was generally restricted until a state could show that deer numbers were at a sustainable level. The next 20 years included other legislation on both state and federal levels that regulated wildlife and promoted conservation efforts.

Mid-Century Boom

  • Booming deer populations led to more regulation and more active whitetail deer management by state fish and game departments. Hunting rules expanded to include taking down does, an act previously against the law and a subject of overriding superstition among many hunters. Allowing does to be taken helped control the whitetail deer population, and by the middle of the 20th century, deer management tactics succeeded in finding a good balance between hunting and conservation.

Modern Whitetail Hunting

  • In the 21st century, whitetail deer are among the most popular animals to hunt, with more than 11 million hunters making an annual attempt to bag a trophy. Today's hunting restrictions include specific hunting seasons for different weapons, weapon limits, a deer weight limit and a limit to the number of animals that can be taken by any one hunter. Some areas also have a lottery system of hunting permits where hunters are randomly assigned a limited number of licenses.


  • Photo Credit Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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