Information About the Whitetail Deer


The White-tailed deer is one of the smartest and most elusive of all the big game animals in the world.  No hunter can match it's stealth or it's uncanny ability to avoid danger.  For this reason, the hunter must do everything he or she can to familiarize themselves with deer behavior and habitat preferences.  Without some type of this knowledge the hunter is not "hunting" but simply walking through the woods depending on luck to be successful.  Below are some topics that will help you the get to know the White tail deer a little better.

The White-tailed deer,  who lives in good habitat,  can be expected to occupy an area of approximately 300-400 acres.  This changes as the year goes by.   Ranges are usually large in the Summer months and smaller in the Winter months. Other factors that may affect the deer's behavior regarding it's home range is during the rut.  This is the time of the year (Autumn) when the doe comes into heat .  If this doe passes through a buck's home range he may follow her until she is receptive to him.  Also, hunting pressure and domestic dogs may cause the deer to leave their home range.  They will return as quickly as possible to their home range because this is where they feel safe.  When the hunting pressure is on and you know that there are buck in the area, find the thickest area that you can and hunt there. 

The White-tailed deer has very specific habitat requirements.  They prefer wooded areas, especially hardwoods like oak trees, with lots of borders or edges created by natural breaks between different types of vegetation or by fields or small clear-cuts.   This is referred to as the "edge effect" by biologists.  A good example of edge effect is the sharp edge which exists between a clear-cut forest and an uncut forest. Many animals and plants do not thrive well near the edge of a forest and thus have less habitat to occupy.  But, the white-tailed deer seem to thrive.   For example, in the more heavily farmed areas of the country, deer feed on the crops adjacent to the woodlands and use the woods as a resting place and for escape cover.

The average life span of the white-tailed deer is between 4 and 5 1/2 years old.  Some live longer if they learn how to avoid danger.  Whitetails do have a   potential life span of 11 or 12 years , but seldom live longer than 5 1/2 years.   The age of a mature deer can be determined by trained individuals by examining the teeth in the lower jaw for replacement and wear.  The molars wear down as they age.   The deer's teeth may be completely worn out by the time the deer is about 7 years of age.  The age of deer younger than 12 months of age is easier to determine.   At 6 months of age a deer's first molar is fully erupted and at 9 months a second molar has appeared.  Among year old deer a third molar is partially erupted.

The breeding season is the beginning of the life cycle of the white-tailed deer.  Depending on where you live, this cycle may occur anywhere from September to February.  The peak of the breeding cycle is known as the "rut".  This is the time when most of the breeding activity occurs.  The length of the rut is generally determined by latitude and the length of the day.  In the northern areas and the shorter days of Fall the rutting activity increases and ends within a relatively short period of time.  In the southern states differences in the length of the days are not as pronounced and the breeding activity lasts for a longer period of time.    When the doe fawn breeds is usually dependant o their physical condition.   Large doe fawns can breed as early as 6 months old.   Weather, range condition, growing season and heredity all play a roll in the overall picture of the breeding cycle. 

From the time the buck sheds it's velvet until the actual breeding takes place, he under goes a series of changes.  As the buck's level of testosterone ( the principal male hormone) increases he goes through physical and behavioral changes, he becomes less wary and more vulnerable to accidents and hunters.  This does not mean that he presents himself as an easy target only the chances of seeing a buck are better during times of peak rutting activity.  During the rut the buck actively scent marks his area making his presence known.  This is done to attract does and to warn off or challenge rival bucks. 

The heat or estrus period in the doe lasts about 24 hours.  If the doe is not bred during this time period the doe will come into heat again in about a month.   A doe that has not bred is capable of coming into heat about 5 times during the year.  The gestation period of the typical white-tailed deer is about 7 months.   If a doe is giving birth for the first time she will usually have 1 fawn.   Older does usually give birth to twins and when conditions are really good, triplets.

The newborn fawn is extremely vulnerable for the first 48 hours of it's life.   Fawns that survive the first two days have a good chance of making it into the deer population the following year.   The fawn can weigh anywhere between 4 and 7 pounds at birth.  For the first 3 to 4 weeks of it's life it will stay in one location which is determined by the doe.  The doe will come to the fawn during this time so it can nurse.   The fawn is completely odorless for the first few days of it's life and will lie motionless when danger is present.  Other than when she returns to nurse, the doe will stay away from the fawn so her odor does not give away the fawn's location to possible predators.   At around 4 weeks the fawn is now eating solid foods and is able to travel with it's mother.  Fawns lose their spots at about 3 months of age when they start to take on the colors of an adult deer.   Hopefully, if all goes well, the deer will be around next year when the cycle begins anew.

The antlers of the mature white tail buck are of extreme importance to hunters but how many of us know much about them.  First of all antlers are shed every year.   Bucks shed their antlers after the breeding season is over.  Depending on the condition of the buck and the quality of the food it has been eating it would not be uncommon for the deer to begin growing new antlers right after he sheds his old antlers.   The antlers stem from pedicles on the skull.  They grow very rapidly reaching their maximum in about 12-16 weeks.  During this time the antlers are covered in velvet, a skin like covering that protects a  thin lattice like work of connective tissue that supplies blood to the antlers.  Once fully formed the tissue under the velvet solidifies and forms into what we call antlers.  Since the velvet is no longer needed to supply nutrients to the antlers it is rubbed off.   The buck rubs his antlers on bushes and small trees and gradually removes the velvet and polishes the antlers.  The size and shape of the antlers is determined by the deer's genetics, the quality and quantity of the food that it eats and by some degree it's age. 

Ask any experienced hunter what make the deer so elusive and you will probably get the same answer.  Their senses (hearing, sight, and smell).  Deer have extremely keen senses which help them survive.  The deer's large ears act as radar and are always tuned in to any sound that may be out of the ordinary.  Deer also listen to the other creatures around them, their calls may alarm them to possible danger.   The eyesight of a deer is not particularly good for seeing stationary objects but are extremely adept at picking up movement.  This is why hunters need to more slowly and to avoid making any quick movements that may attract the attention of the deer.   The whitetail's strongest sense is it's ability to smell.  A deer is constantly sniffing the air for danger.  As hunters we must learn to hunt with the wind in our favor and to avoid contaminating our clothing with human scent.  If you smoke the only way you will get a deer is by sheer luck.  Also, the coffee you drink on stand or your deodorant may give your presence away.  Try to make yourself as scent free as possible.  There are many products on the market that can help you do this.

Deer are very vocal and social creatures.  Many times you can locate deer by pinpointing their calls.  A fawn trying to locate it's mother makes a bleating sound somewhat like a sheep.  A hurt or  wounded deer will make a sound not unlike that of a goat.  All deer will snort. either when alarmed or to try to get an unidentified object to move.  The sound is like that of air expelled under pressure.   And be aware of the low guttural grunt of a buck in rut.  It is similar to the low grunts of a hog.

When a deer is confronted with danger it has two choices, to run or to hold tight.   Deer can run for short distances in excess of 40 miles per hour or 20 miles per hour for 3 miles or so.  They can also clear an 8 foot fence and broad jump a 25 foot wide stream.  But, a deer can also hold tight and let danger pass right by them.  Most hunters do not realize how often they walk right by a deer during the course of a season and never see it.   When the hunting pressure is on a buck will let the hunter pass within a few feet.  To overcome this obstacle the hunter should spend more time looking and less time walking.  Hunters should also remember that deer are excellent swimmers and do not hesitate to cross beaver ponds and rivers to avoid hunters.  The whitetail is one of the most fascinating creatures on earth. You can never learn too much about them.  If you get to know the whitetail deer like a good friend the better your success will be.


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