Whitetail Deer. Characteristics. Breeding. Range and Distribution

Characteristics. The whitetail normally is a shy, timid animal, given to hiding in thickets and swamps to avoid his enemies. Although often bold during the "rutting" or mating season, he normally is more wary than the doe. Both sexes are skilled at skulking, and at times they will "creep" close to the ground, but at a remarkable speed, in order to circle an enemy.

When startled, the buck "blows." This is a whistling sound which in many instances seems to be an involuntary warning to other deer in the area. He then takes off in a spurt of speed, which has been estimated to be as much as 40 miles per hour. The first rush seems to be a combination of four or five leaps followed by a great, high j u m p , often covering from 15 to 20 feet.

The natural gait is a smooth-paced trot, at a speed ranging from 10 to 20 miles per hour. The whitetail also has a fast, low gallop, but is unable to maintain this pace for a great distance. The endurance of the deer is not great, and many records by early settlers indicate instances of Indians running down deer on foot, the process normally requiring four to six hours. The whitetail is an excellent swimmer, however, and like other members of the deer family he has air-filled hairs which cause him to ride fairly high in the water. He can swim a steady four miles per hour and has confidence in his ability in the water.

Although the whitetail's vision is far from good, he can pick up movement at considerable distance. Nature, to atone for the poor vision, has given the deer excellent hearing and a fine nose.

The deer is not migratory, and most of his traveling is done over a four- or five-mile radius, except that bucks, during the rutting season, often travel more extensively in their search for does. In summer the deer follow regular routines in moving from the resting to the feeding grounds, and in winter they are inclined to seek out thicker cover. In the north, where deep snow makes travel on narrow hoofs difficult, and makes escape from predators a problem, deer normally "yard up." Often as many as 50 or more deer will band together in one small area, usually a dense growth of evergreens, where they will trample the snow to a hard, packed surface.

The whitetail is not gregarious, for he lives alone except for the brief rutting or mating season, and normally only deep snow will cause him to yard up.

Except for the winter season, and the limitations fixed by a specific range, food is seldom a problem to the whitetail, for has a goat like appetite and will eat almost anything that is green. In the summer his food includes grasses, leaves of shrubs and trees, roots, twigs, and aquatic plants. In the fall he particularly favors apples and acorns, and with winter he seeks out evergreens, with cedar his first choice and balsam and spruce secondary.

The highest rate of mortality occurs in the early spring, when the deer is weakened from the hard winter. By spring, the lower branches have been browsed clean, and disease finds an easy victim. The average life span is about 12 years, with a buck reaching his prime between the ages of five and eight. B y the time he is ten he is going downhill rapidly.

The major enemies of the whitetail are free roaming dogs, coyotes, and night-hunting poachers, as well as disease and winter starvation.

Breeding. The whitetail buck first feels the rutting urge in late summer or early fall, and the first evidence of this is the swelling of his neck. Within a six-week period the neck of the mature buck often has swelled to a degree that has increased its circumference by 10 inches.

Although much has been written of the "death fights" of bucks, among whitetails these battles are not nearly so spirited as those carried on by other members of the deer family. The buck's primary interest is the doe, and as the whitetail normally is concerned with an individual doe, and not with a harem, as is the elk, he is not inclined to be over pugnacious. When two bucks do contest for the favor of a doe, the first jarring rush ordinarily is the hardest. After crashing together headlong, the rest of the fight usually consists more of jostling and pushing than of serious fighting, and usually after a brief encounter one will quit and leave the field of battle at a run.

Instances in which antlers become firmly locked as a result of these encounters are rare, but due to the roughly circular formation of the rack, a temporary locking of antlers is not unusual.

The whitetail buck is considered among the most monogamous males of the deer family, but he is no outstanding example of fidelity. He is in almost constant pursuit of a doe during the rutting season, but remains with each conquest only about three days, and then departs in search of another.

The period of gestation of a doe is about 210 days, and the fawn is produced in the late spring. The whitetail fawn weighs approximately four pounds at birth, and is endowed with a natural camouflage. The spots which enable the fawn to merge with sun-dappled leaves remain about four to five months, and disappear when the first coat is shed.

For the first month the fawn is rather weak and helpless, and is carefully hidden by the doe, who returns to it five or six times each day for feeding. Normally the fawn is not fully weaned for about eight months. It is not unusual for a male fawn to remain with the mother for a year, and for the female fawn to remain for as much as two years, or until the young doe's initial mating.

Range and Distribution. In recent years it has been a common practice to transplant deer from one state to another, both for the sake of herd improvement and to stimulate the production or quality of a particular group. As little care was taken to insure a unity of species, many hybrids have resulted, some of which defy exact classification.

Among the majority of deer, however, set geographical areas separate individual species. Below is the accepted listing of the members of the whitetail species.

The range of the whitetail is chiefly east of the Mississippi, from the wooded slopes of the east, extending north to Canada, through most of the Maritime Provinces, thence across to British Columbia and Oregon. They do not prefer the deep, timbered woodlands, or the wide plains, but are inhabitants of the margins or forest edges.

Because of increased land ultilization, forest spoliation, forest fires, and market hunting, the whitetail population showed a dangerous trend at the turn of the century, and there was little improvemerit for twenty years. Then with improved habitat and protection, the deer population began to show a definite increase.

Given a reasonable chance, the deer population of almost any area can be held to a reasonable constant, for no animal seems able to recover quite so rapidly from a serious population decline. The reason for this is the great productivity of the doe, which gives the whitetail the largest breeding potential of any big-game animal on the continent. Normally an 18-month-old doe will produce a single fawn from her first mating, but each successive mating normally produces twins, and in some instances, as many as three and four fawns.

Game management practices now are based on sound science, which, more than any other single factor is responsible for the great increase in the size of the nation's deer herd during the past 20 years. Pennsylvania and Michigan are two excellent examples of what may be accomplished by scientific game management.

In 1920 fewer than 3,000 whitetails were killed in Pennsylvania. In 1963 nearly 85,000 were killed during the open season without making an apparent dent in the seed herd. In Michigan, where deer once faced almost complete extermination, the last big-game census showed 685,000.


Date added: 2022-12-11; views: 373;

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