Whitetail Deer. History. Identification

History. The genus Odocoileus of the deer family, comprising the whitetail, blacktail, and mule deer, is the most populous and popular of the big-game animals on this continent, and according to the latest estimates are very nearly five million strong. Although the present representatives emerged during the Pleistocene Age, there is no evidence of any direct relation to the deer of the Old World.

The three species are exclusively North American animals except for the whitetail, which is found in small numbers in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, having migrated there during the Tertiary period when the continents of North America and South America were more solidly joined.

The Indians and early settlers relied heavily on the whitetail as a source of both food and clothing, and the expansion of this country would have been considerably retarded had it not been for the deer. In many states, especially in the East, deer are believed to be more plentiful today than they were before the white man arrived on the continent. Records of early explorers indicate that in many instances they were forced to kill their horses for meat while passing through areas that are now heavily populated with deer.

In the past many estimates made of the early deer herds a n d total populations were noted primarily for their inaccuracies. O n e well-known naturalist, for example, estimated that at one time there were approximately 40,000,000 deer on this continent, an estimate based on an average of 20 deer per square mile.

The deer's ability to adapt itself to the encroachment of farm lands is a guarantee of its position and numbers on this continent. Other big-game animals died or were driven from their natural ranges by man, but deer continue to thrive, and even increase, on the fringes of settlements. Difficult as it may be to believe, whitetails have been killed within sight of the skyscraper towers of New York City. In Ontario, to cite another example, their numbers increased greatly as the woodlands were thinned out.

Identification. The antlers, as well as the white tail, are the identifying characteristics of the socalled "whitetail." These antlers have a basal "snag," and each beam bends back slightly, then sweeps forward, with the individual tines or points emerging from a single beam. The antler beams of the blacktail and mule deer branch and re-branch, forming forks.

As a result of the many antler formations within the species, and because antlers are worn only for a limited time each year, plus the fact that does are antlerless, many zoologists claim that antlers are not a satisfactory means of species identification. Many insist that the metatarsal gland on the middle of the leg is a more certain means of identification; they point out its consistency in size in each species and its presence on both sexes. However, it has been proved that there is some size variation of this gland within the species. There is, normally, a similarity of appearance in this gland among one species. The whitetail, for example, has a fringe of white hairs around the gland, which is lacking in both the mule deer and blacktail.

Although it is abnormal, there are many recorded instances of does bearing antlers. Each hunting season finds several antlered does killed by mistake, but such antlers usually are underdeveloped and freakish in appearance and have few points.

Additional identifying factors of the whitetail are smaller, narrower ears and, of course, the white tail. The latter is the distinctive feature, for it is erected as a "flag" when the animal is excited or frightened.

The whitetail buck is larger than the doe, but due to size and weight variations in different localities, it is impossible to establish an average weight for either the buck or the doe. The most striking size variation occurs in the Coues deer of Mexico, which also is found in fairly large numbers in southern Arizona. This deer, known locally as the fantail, Sonora whitetail, Arizona whitetail, or, near the border, venado, is a small edition of the normal whitetail, with the average buck weighing from 75 to 85 pounds and the doe from 55 to 65 pounds. Hunters have reported killing even smaller whitetails in Sonora, Mexico, believed to be a subspecies of the Coues deer, but as yet these deer have not been officially classified by zoologists. According to reports, the bucks of this sub-species average around 35 to 40 pounds and the does 25 to 30 pounds.

The average southern whitetail is considerably smaller than the northern representative. The whitetails of Florida, coastal Louisiana, Southwest Texas , and Arizona are among these smaller specimens, and their antlers or "racks" are correspondingly smaller. The whitetails of northern New York, Michigan, Maine, and the eastern provinces of Canada are the big examples of the species, with mature bucks often weighing in the neighborhood of 300 pounds.

This should settle the argument on "points" and age. The antlers were all from the same whitetail buck over a nine -year period

The record whitetail, killed by John A . Breen near Funkley, Minnesota, in 1918, is the only typical head to score more than 200. The length of its main beams are 31 1/4 and 31 inches, with an inside spread of 23 5/8 and with 8 points on each antler. It scores 202. The ranking non-typical head, taken near Brady, Texas, in 1892, has a total of 49 points for a score of 286!

The color of both male and female is similar, and normally there are two seasonal variations. In summer the coat is a reddish-tan, which fades to grayish-tan in the winter. This color difference is noted less among the deer of the south, and the coat is paler among those living on the plains. The Coues is the one exception, for its coat is brownish-gray all year.

The whitetail is even-hoofed, with a narrow heel and a typical white band above each hoof. It is the long, narrow shape of this hoof which confines the northern whitetail to a "yard" in the winter, for he sinks deeply into the snow and the crust cuts his slender, delicate legs.

Many have erroneously believed that the number of points and size of the antlers indicate the age of an individual deer. The only scientific means of determining age is by the condition of the teeth, which are 32 in number (no canines), and this method requires considerable study and experience as well as knowledge of local conditions. In areas where there is considerable sand, age-determination is more difficult, as the teeth are worn down more rapidly by destructive grinding.

The buck sheds his antlers each year, usually by late December. The new antlers begin showing in early May, when food is once more abundant , and the excess vitality from eager eating goes into this new bony growth. The yearling whitetail has "spikes," and normally does not have mature antlers until he is four years old. The antlers grow from permanent pedicels on the forepart of the skull.

During the first stage these pedicels are filled with blood and tissue, which forms and deposits the bony matter from which the antlers grow. For several months the antlers, nourished by blood vessels, are covered with a soft, spongy tissue called "velvet." A t this time they are sensitive, and the buck avoids contact with trees and heavy brush which might injure them and affect their development.

By August they are fully formed, and the velvet begins to peel. This peeling process is speeded up by the mature bucks, who rub their antlers against trees. The desire for perfected antlers is stimulated by the sex urge, for this period marks the beginning of the "rut."

 






Date added: 2022-12-11; views: 303;


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