While hunters may see Mississippi's 1.75 million white-tailed deer as potential antlers on their walls, many farmers see reduced crop yields instead.
Bronson Strickland, associate Extension professor in the Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, said the impact of Mississippi's deer population varies depending on who is asked.
"It's a complicated issue that depends on perspective," Strickland said. "Most hunters in Mississippi would not consider white-tailed deer to be overpopulated, as they enjoy seeing a lot of deer while hunting. However, if you asked a soybean producer, you would likely get a different answer."
Strickland said deer consume millions of pounds of forage every day in Mississippi, and this consumption has a big impact on Mississippi's forest lands, prairies and crop fields.
Preventing crop damage due to deer can become costly if the crops cover a large area. Building a fence or spraying deer repellent is effective when protecting small areas like gardens, but these methods do little to help large farms, Strickland said.
"The larger scale issues are much more difficult and typically require a reduction of the deer population," he said. "In other words, building a deer-proof fence surrounding a 1,000-acre soybean field is simply not an economically viable option."
Trent Irby, soybean specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said deer often feed on soybeans, and soybean fields surrounded by areas with high populations of deer may be significantly damaged by such feedings.
"Generally speaking, deer will readily feed on soybeans if given the opportunity," Irby said. "The extent of the damage depends on the population and frequency with which the deer feed on a given field. In some cases, the only noticeable damage is around the field borders. But in extreme situations, entire fields may be completely lost."
Despite the negative effects on crop fields, Strickland said white-tailed deer remain an important species, both ecologically and economically to Mississippi.
"White-tailed deer have about a billion dollar impact to Mississippi's economy by generating revenues through hunting license sales, lease prices for land, hunting equipment and all the jobs created by these activities," Strickland said. "Ecologically, deer literally sculpt the function and appearance of Mississippi's landscape through their browsing."
"As long as we have white-tailed deer on the landscape, there will be conflict. But overall, the white-tailed deer is one of Mississippi's most prized wildlife resources, and the good far outweighs the bad," he said.