Do Deer Contraceptives Work?

Ed W. from North Carolina writes to ask about controlling deer in his town. “We have a lot of deer in our small town, and some citizens went to the city council to try to get help. Deer are eating gardens and yard plantings, and these folks wanted fewer deer. However, those opposed to hunting stated that contraceptives should be used rather than hunting. Will contraceptives work?”

Dr. Dave Samuel

Ed, I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this problem and this proposed solution. Maybe the reason citizens believe this will work is because the website of the Humane Society of the United States says that contraceptive drugs work and that many communities have used them to control deer. Neither statement is true.

The EPA did recently approved Gonacon for use in stopping does from getting pregnant. However, the states also have to approve the use, and research shows several things. Most importantly, you have to capture the deer first (that’s expensive), then you have to hand administer the drug (for safety reasons). Second, research shows that you have to administer to 70 percent of all adult does just to stabilize deer numbers, and capturing this number of does is impossible in almost all situations. So, use of Gonacon, which is the only such drug given approval by the federal government to use, can’t be done to replace hunting. It’s too expensive, and you can’t treat enough does to lower deer numbers. It’s impossible!

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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for If you have a question for Dr. Dave, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, senior editor of‘s content at Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.

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