White Tail Deer
Age / Antlers / Sight & Hearing / Smell / Track & Tracking
What Whitetail deer look like:|
The whitetail deer is one of the best known and easily recognized large mammals and can be found throughout North America. The whitetail is one of five members of the deer family living in Minnesota. The others are moose, elk, mule deer, and caribou. Deer weigh from 100 to 350 pounds. Mature males are generally larger than the females. The whitetail is a hoofed animal, with each foot ending in a cloven or two piece hoof. A deer's hoof is divided in two and spreads like two fingers to make it easier to walk in mud. Deer use their hooves to dig through snow to find nuts and acorns.
The underside of the tail is also white. The upper body parts are colored reddish brown during the warmer months but in the fall, whitetail deer molt into their winter coats of darker, gray brown.|
Fur coats help deer survive cold weather. Hollow brown hairs trap air and act like insulation. A thick layer of underfur adds extra warmth. Snow, wind, and water cannot penetrate these hairs to the skin, so deer stay warm and dry.
The male deer (also known as a buck) usually weighs from 130 to 300 pounds (60 to 130 kg) but, in rare cases, bucks in excess of 375 pounds (159 kg) have been recorded. In 1926, Carl J. Lenander, Jr. took a Whitetailed buck near Tofte, MN that was estimated at 511 pounds live weight.|
|The young deer (known as fawns) have white spots on a reddish brown coat help to camouflage the fawn on the sun dappled forest floor where it spends much of it's time hiding from predators.
Relation of size for a doe and young fawn.
Whitetails in History
Whitetail deer have played a very important role in the history of our country. Deer were an item of trade between Indians and European settlers. The American Indians and early settlers depended on the Whitetail Deer for food, clothing, implements, ornaments, ceremonial items, used the bones of the whitetail deer to make harpoons, picks, and needles. The hides provided shelter year round. They utilized deer hides, hooves, and antlers. Native American's believed the moon, wind and rain affected deer movements. Current studies confirm that deer activity indeed varies depending on temperature, moon phases and even barometric pressure. The Native Dakota Tribe in southern and western Minnesota, sold the furs to traders for additional supplies. There is evidence that Indians used hides to cover themselves to avoid detection and attract deer at the same time. Deerskin was used in making clothing such as moccasins, leggings, pants, shirts, coats, shoelaces, hats, and gloves. Even today, deerskin is considered valuable for clothing. The valuable skins were called bucks, a nickname we still use for money today. Next time you say "five bucks," you will have a good laugh at yourself for actually saying "five deerskins".
Lewis and Clark might never have been able to finish their journey from St. Louis to Oregon if the hunters they took along had not furnished them with deer meat along the way. These hunters were like the hunting guides and outfitters of today. For four months, while they wintered in Oregon, they had little to eat except deer meat. Deer meat is a quite flavorful meat, known as venison, was/is very useful because it can be preserved by “jerking” and saved for future use. Jerking means “smoking or sun-drying”. When deer meat is jerked, it is light in weight and a large supply can easily be carried.
In many parts of the United States extensive clearing of land, unregulated hunting, and loss of habitat brought the whitetail deer population to a record low by the late 1800's. Changing land uses, introduced game laws, and for a time a lack of natural large predators caused the whitetail deer population to rebound dramatically (1930's to 1950's). In Minnesota the wolf & cougar population is being replenished (2000) and the coyote population has increased, other preditors include bobcat, lynx and bear. Many scavengers rely on deer as carrion, including turkey vultures, hawks, eagles, foxes, raccoon & skunk. Whitetails are the number one game animal in the United States.
Here in central Minnesota where Deer Trail is located before the logging took place the forests were mainly large fir trees which shed deep layers of pine needles, so the deer were actually scarcer back then in this area. After the logging began and smaller undergrowth began with clearings added the deer could forage on the smaller brush, and acorns that began to fall when oaks began to grow.
After the young (fawns) are born each spring, there are between 900,000 and 1,000,000 deer in Minnesota. The hunting season is important to keep the deer population from getting too large. Each year, Minnesota hunters harvest between 150,000 and 200,000 deer.
A family of 4 can eat very well on a couple of deer, fish from the many lakes in Minnsota, grouse, ducks & geese from the swamp lands, and the family garden. If one learns how to can and freeze the meat and vegetables and raised a few chickens for eggs, all one would need to do is pick up some bread and milk at the gas station once a week on their way home from work.
|Whitetail deer are extremely cautious and wary animals with highly developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing. When threatened with danger, they will often attempt to quietly sneak away. If seriously frightened however, a whitetail deer will often utter a loud, snorting or blowing sound, and then quickly run away while raising the tail upwards like a flag, exposing the white underneath as a visual alarm to other deer nearby. This is even noted in fawns, and usually the deer is a doe that shows the flag. They also grunt and bleat.|
|White-tailed deer communicate in many different ways using sounds, scent, body language, and marking. All white-tailed deer are capable of producing audible noises, unique to each animal. Fawns release a high-pitched squeal, known as a bleat, to call out to their mothers. Does also bleat. Grunting produces a low, guttural sound that will attract the attention of any other deer in the area. Both does and bucks snort, a sound that often signals danger. As well as snorting, bucks also grunt at a pitch that gets lower with maturity. Bucks are unique in their grunt-snort-wheeze pattern that often shows aggression and hostility.|
Bucks are primarily solitary animals. During the early srping to July they sometimes show up on the trail together. During breeding season (fall), also called the rut, they actively seek out does for breeding. Sparring among males determines a dominance hierarchy. Bucks will attempt to copulate with as many females as possible, losing physical condition since they rarely eat or rest during the rut. There are many factors as to how intense the "rutting season" will be. Air temperature is one major factor of this intensity. |
Any time the temperature rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the males will do much less traveling looking for females, or they will be subject to overheating or dehydrating. Another factor for the strength in rutting activity is competition. If there are numerous males in a particular area, then they will compete more for the females. If there are fewer males or more females, then the selection process will not need to be as competitive. Bucks rub their antlers against small saplings to mark their territory and also use them to fight with other bucks during the rut. After the breeding season, the antlers are shed and a new set begins to grow later in the spring. The whitetail deer has an innate sense of curiosity, which sometimes leads them straight to the hunter’s gun.
Does often travel together, especially during the winter months, or a doe will often be accompanied by her young from the previous season. By late spring, the young deer begin to drift away from their mothers, or the doe shoes them off. Young bucks will be chased away earlier than young does, usually late fall. Does give birth to their young in early summer. The young deer, known as fawns, are almost scentless for the first few days of their life. White spots on a reddish brown coat help to camouflage the fawn on the sun dappled forest floor where it spends much of it's time hiding from predators. The mother returns periodically to nurse the fawn until it is large enough to follow her about.
When a white-tailed deer is alarmed, it may stomp its hooves and snort to warn other deer. It may also "flag" or raise its tail and show its white underside. When a mother deer is running, this white underside can help her fawns follow her. White-tailed deer are very good runners. If you could run like a deer, you could clock at 40 miles an hour, and leap over a fence 8 feet tall. Even from a standstill, a deer could jump straight up and over a childs head. They are also good swimmers. They are also playful and last years fawns will prance and run about sometimes even in circles. When kept as pets they will rear up and playfully tap their keeper with their hooves, this can be very painful & dangerous!
HABITAT AND DIET
Whitetail deer occupy a variety of habitats from forests to fields and swamps. They are most common where a variety of habitats are found, providing them with all their seasonal needs. In spring the enjoy tender buds, young leaves and grasses. In the summer they enjoy leaves, brush and a wide variety of plants. Towards fall they seek out hardier foods to get ready for winter, such as acorns and hazel nuts. In winter they eat mainly younger twigs and branches and bark from trees. During winter, the whitetail deer gather together in herds. Their combined trampling keeps the snow packed down within an enclosed area and thus enables them to search for food. Such areas are known as “yards”.
||Deer are herbivores, cud-chewing plant eaters, but have been known to feed on nestling songbirds, as well as field mice. Whitetails feed on a large variety of plant materials such as tender young buds, grasses, clover, leaves, tree twigs, stems, brush, shrubs, shoots, legumes, acorns, hazel nuts, and wild fruits such as apples, grapes and berries. Deer will feed on man's agricultural crops, such as corn, soybeans, hay, alfalfa, green beans, peas and other garden vegatbles. Deer often cause considerable damage to fruit trees. Deer also enjoy munching on flowers, ours tend to enojoy Hollyhocks and Geraniums. To prevent stem damage on fruit trees hang quartered "Irish Spring" hand soap with a paper clip to the lower branches. Their special stomach allows them to eat some things that humans cannot, such as mushrooms that are poisonous to humans and Red Sumac. Deer are attracted to salt & minneral blocks, they also get minnerals from decaying wood and minneral enriched pits.|
The white-tailed deer is a ruminant, which means it has a four-chambered stomach similar to that of cattle. Each chamber has a different and specific function that allows the deer to quickly eat a variety of different food, digesting it at a later time in a safe area of cover. The Whitetail stomach hosts a complex set of bacteria that change as the deer's diet changes through the seasons. If the bacteria necessary for digestion of a particular food are absent it will not be digested.
Depending on the type and abundance of food, the deer can fill its stomach in about one or two hours. When a deer eats, food is chewed just enough to swallow. Then passes down the esophagus into the stomach.
The food then goes into the first chamber which acts as a fermentation vat. Most of the digestion occurs in this area of the stomach. Deer depend on billions of microorganisms that live in its stomach to break down the fibers, cellulose,and other basic plant components, and convert them into materials that can be used by the deer's digestive system. Over 40 percent of a deer's energy is derived from the acids absorbed through the walls of its first stomach.
After the deer has filled its first stomach, it will lie down in a secluded place to chew its cud, just as cattle do. After chewing its cud for awhile, the deer re-swallows the food, which then passes to the second portion of the stomach. The food material then passes on to the third and forth stomach sections for more digestion and absorbtion. The food material then goes through the intestines and everything that isn't digested is passed off as waste droppings.
|The young are born the following spring/June, about six months after mating/aprox. 200 days. A few days before fawning, a pregnant doe separates from other does and seeks a suitable birthing area. Does like to drop fawns in thick cover and close to water. Studies have shown that a doe has some control over when she gives birth. This might allow her to select a thick, safe area free of predators. A doe gives birth to one or two and occasionally three young, known as fawns, weighing 6 to 8 pounds at birth. The fawns have reddish-brown coats with white spots, that help to camouflage them. Multiple fawns are born 15 to 20 minutes apart. On average, does lose 10% to 15% of their fawns due to birth problems or defects, disease, parasites or predation. A doe nurses her fawns frequently during the early days. Fawns can walk at birth and forage for food a couple of days later. They are usually weaned at about six weeks. We have seen fawns nurse as late as november. The fawns are generally carefully guarded by their mother until they are old enough to care for themselves.|
|The mother will leave her fawns well-hidden for hours at a time while she feeds. If she has more than one fawn, she hides them in separate places. The early days and weeks are perilous for fawns. They survive best in areas with lots of cover. Fawns rely heavily on their natural camouflage, while they are waiting for their mother to return. The white spots scattered across their reddish-brown bodies blend well with fallen leaves and brush. When a fawn beds down, he tucks his legs, head and neck into its body for ultimate concealment, or the fawns lay on the ground with their heads and necks stretched out flat on the ground. This makes it harder for predators to find them. A fawn in distress bawls loudly. To distract a predator and lure it away from her offspring, a doe runs in wildly, shows herself and runs off in the opposite direction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.|
|Fawns spend their early days clinging to their mothers, bonding and learning about the big new world. Sometimes does and their offspring gather in small groups. Within these groups fawns learn to walk, run and react in the face of danger. Fawns are playful and get exercise by nudging, jumping and boxing one another with their legs and feet.|
Click refresh for simulation of fawns nursing.
Fawns lose their spots during the first summer and will weigh from 44 to 77 pounds (20 to 35 kg) by the first winter. Male fawns tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females. Female fawns may stay with their mother for two years, males many times are chased away sooner to avoid inbreeding but generally leave after a year. About the time a fawn is weaned it loses its spotted coat. It then sports grayish hair that mixes well with the deciduous forest. In winter, a fawn's coat is gray with reddish-brown tips. A male fawn's face grows darker while his belly remains white. |
AGE OF DEER
The only way to truly tell the age of a deer, is to examine the teeth. Deer are born with four teeth on their lower jaw. These four front teeth are called incisors. After a few weeks, sixteen more teeth grow in, giving it eight front incisors, six premolars on the bottom jaw, and six premolars on the upper jaw. When the deer is one year old, six more molars erupt on both the upper and lower jaws. This gives the deer a full set of 32 teeth. The darker material in the tooth is called the dentine. As the hard enamel is worn away, more dentine is visible.The amount of visible dentine is an important factor in determining the age. The tooth wear and replacement method is not 100% accurate however, due to the differences in habitat. Tooth wear on a farmland deer may not be as fast as that of a deep woods buck.
The most accurate way to tell a deer's age is by removing a tooth, cutting a cross section of it, and counting the rings under a microscope, (much like aging a tree). Each winter, when a deer's blood-serum protein and phosphate levels are low, a layer of cementum is formed on the tooth. Therefore the tooth has one layer for each winter the deer has lived through.
5-1/2; Years and older:
For several months of the year, male whitetail deer, known as bucks, are easily recognized by the presence of antlers on their head, which the females (does) lack. About 1 in 10,000 great white does also have antlers, although this is usually associated with hermaphroditism. Males re-grow their antlers every year.
In spring or early summer, March or April, the new antlers begin to form on the whitetail deer, each growing out from a pedicel, a bony stalk situated on the frontal bone of the skull. Deer antlers are among the fastest growing tissues known in the animal kingdom. Antlers are live tissue, composed of bone composed of bone. Growing at an average of 1 to 2 inches per week during development.
During growth, they are covered with hairy skin, called the velvet, a living tissue, which contains many blood vessels for the nourishment of the growing bone tissue. Antlers have a constant blood and nerve supply, which is inside the velvet antler covering, while growing. During development, the deer’s antlers are very delicate. This is the time when most antler damage or breakage occurs. When the antlers have reached the size and shape characteristic for the particular species, the blood circulation in the velvet is stopped, the velvet dies, and the buck then rubs off the dead skin against branches, saplings, trees, shrubs, stumps and rocks, revealing the handsome antlers.
Approximate age of buck by determination of antlers:
Buck 1 1/2 years old:
Buck 2 1/2 years old:
Buck 3 1/2 years and older:
Some bucks never develop large antlers as antler size is also influenced by genetics and diet. Healthy deer in some areas that are well fed can have eight-point branching antlers as yearlings, one and a half years old. Antler size does not indicate overall health, and some bucks' antlers never will be wall trophies. Where antler growth nutritional needs are met such as good mineral sources (calcium), and good genetics combined, wall trophies can be produced.
Bucks use their antlers to gain dominance over other bucks during the fall breeding season, called the rut. They try to stab each other's sides. Or, with antlers locked, two males will push each other back and forth until the weaker one runs away. The winner goes off to mate with a female. Male deer also use their antlers to fight off dogs, coyotes, wolves, and other predators.
See Boone and Crockett or Pope & Young scoring systems for more information on Typical and Non-typical antlers & Scoring a Trophy Deer.
A deer's eyes are located on the side of their head, which has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is, deer are able to view 310 degrees around itself. This wide view allows the deer to be totally aware of the surroundings, even when it is staring straight ahead. The disadvantage is, deer cannot focus on one location with both eyes. This causes the deer to have very poor depth perception. Deer also see at a lower resolution than humans, and are believed to be color blind. It is also believed that deer can also see in the ultraviolet light range, which is abundant during the earlier morning and late afternoon. This ability to see better, in early morning and late afternoon, helps to explain why deer are more active during these time periods.
|Deer are nocturnal animals. Nocturnal means that deer can see at night, which is one of the reasons they are more active at night. Deer have more light-detecting cells in their eyes than humans, which aids their nocturnal vision. Like other nocturnal animals, their eyes shine when exposed to light at night. This is due to a reflection off a special membrane in their eye.|
A deer's hearing is far superior to that of a human and can easily detect a faint sound. It is believed that a deer's hearing is so sensitive that it can determine how far away a sound was made. A deer's hearing is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to sneak up on it without being detected. The ears of a deer are vital in helping it avoid danger. When a deer hears a sound it will instantly turn its head and point its ears in the direction of the sound. The deer will focus all of its attention on smelling, looking and listening for any more signs of danger. If the deer doesn't smell, see or hear any danger, after checking the area several times, it will usually go back to its normal routine.
A deers ear's will turn different directions to catch sounds, and are shaped like small radar detectors.
This deer is in an alert stance,
and using all of it's senses to locate danger.
Deer have a highly developed sense of smell, it is one of their best weapons for detecting approaching danger. The moist nose of a deer, similar to that of a dog, allows the deer to pick up the faintest of odors. The odor particles, drifting by on the breeze, stick to the moisture on the deer's nose and are then drawn into the olfactory organs. A deer can detect the odor of approaching danger several hundred yards away. This is why you should always try to hunt with the breeze in your face.
MARKING & SCENT GLANDS
It has been found that scent from the forehead or sudoriferous glands is used to deposit scent on branches that overhang "scrapes" (areas scraped by the deer's front hooves prior to rub-urination). The tarsal glands are found on the upper inside of the hock on each hind leg. Scent is deposited from these glands when deer walk through and rub against vegetation. These scrapes are used by bucks as a sort of "sign-post" by which bucks know which other bucks are in the area, and to let does know that a buck is regularly passing through the area—for breeding purposes. The scent from the metatarsal glands, found on the outside of each hind leg, between the ankle and hooves, may be used as an alarm scent.
Throughout the year deer will rub-urinate, a process during which a deer squats while urinating so that urine will run down the insides of the deer's legs, over the tarsal glands, and onto the hair covering these glands. Bucks rub-urinate more frequently during the breeding season. Secretions from the tarsal gland mix with the urine and bacteria to produce a strong smelling odor. During the breeding season does release hormones and pheromones that tell bucks that a doe is in heat and able to breed. Bucks also rub trees and shrubs with their antlers and head during the breeding season, possibly transferring scent from the forehead glands to the tree, leaving a scent other deer can detect.
Sign-post marking (scrapes and rubs) are a very obvious way that white-tailed deer communicate. Although bucks do most of the marking, does visit these locations often. To make a rub, a buck will use its antlers to strip the bark off of small diameter trees, helping to mark his territory and polish his antlers. To mark areas they regularly pass through bucks will make scrapes. Often occurring in patterns known as scrape lines, scrapes are areas where a buck has used its front hooves to expose bare earth. They often rub-urinate into these scrapes, which are often found under twigs that have been marked with scent from the forehead glands.
TRACKS & TRACKING
The size of a deer track will help you to determine the size of the deer. As a deer grows, their feet will grow accordingly. Big mature bucks will leave large deep tracks. In soft ground the dew claws will show on both bucks and does. Rounded tips on hoofs are a result of hoof wear usually due to rocky or other abrasive surfaces and has little to do with weather the deer is a buck or a doe.
When analyzing deer tracks in shallow snow, look to see which deer are dragging their feet. It is believed that bucks drag their feet to conserve energy. In deeper snow all deer will drag their feet. Another trick for snow tracking is to watch for antler impressions in the snow. When a large buck is checking the trail for a doe in estrus, his horns will sometimes leave an impression in the snow. This will also show you how wide his antler spread is. Once you have found a good track in the snow, you can follow it to find travel routes, feeding areas, watering areas and bedding areas.
When a deer walks, they will place their back hoof in the track of their front hoof. If the second track falls slightly to the outside of the first, it is probably a doe because a doe's hind quarters are wider than her chest. The wider hind quarters of a doe are required for giving birth. If the second track falls slightly to the inside and short of the first track, then it is probably a buck track since a buck's chest is wider than his hind quarters and his body is longer. When the rear tracks are slightly farther apart than the front tracks, they were probably made by a doe.
Aproxamate size of tracks to age of deer:
Age / Antlers / Sight & Hearing / Smell / Track & Tracking