Friday, June 23, 2006

Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)


The whitetail deer is without question the most favourite game animal of North America. There are two name spellings “Whitetail deer” and “White-Tailed-Deer” for this game species. Most hunters refer to the whitetail deer affectionately as "whitey". The whitetail deer is a relatively small animal with short ears and relatively long tail. The name comes from the white underside of the tail and backside. If the whitetail deer is alert it lifts its tail (called flagging) and the white “mirror” is displayed, thus the name whitetail deer. The males (bucks) have antlers consisting of two main beams, one on either side of the skull, these main beams swing from the skull back and then in a semi circle to the front. Several usually unbranched tines (points) come of the main beam. Depending at the area where whitetail deer’s come from their colour can vary from dark brown to reddish brown. Usually in the southern parts of North America the whitetail deer are reddish brown and of slender stature. In the northern parts like Canada the deer are darker brown and of a stouter stature with heavier mass in the antlers. The antlers are a bony structure, which is shed in the winter. Depending on range area this can be as early as November or as late as January. The antlers begin to grow back in the spring when the deer has access to a lot of nutritious food that is needed for the growth of the antlers.

Habitat & Diet:

Unlike other deer subspecies the whitetail deer lives in a wide range of habitats it is this adaptability that made the whitetail the most successful gmae species in North America. Unlike to some other deer species the whitetail der is not a migratory animal but stays in a relaitvily, depending on the availability of food, in small territory. From the swampy river bottoms of Alabama to the hardwood lots and agricultural fields of the American Midwest right up to Canada’s pine forests and rocky the slopes the whitetail deer calls a wide range its home. Unlike common believe the whitetail deer is not a deep forest dwelling animal. They like semi open brushy habitat near and around rivers and wood lots where they can find choice browse and retreat quickly into the protective cover again. The whitetail deer’s diet is as varied as its habitat range and changes from season to season. The most preferred food, where available, is agricultural crop such as corn and beans. Deer also eat grass, berries, fruit; an old apple orchard is irresistible to any deer. Other so-called woodland food sources are acorns, persimmon but also saplings, fungi, bark and many other things. Like all ruminants the whitetail deer has two main feeding times within 24 hours. These are early in the morning at dawn and then late in the day at dusk again. During the day the deer likes to lay on an elevated point, such as a ridge top, as chews its cut.


The whitetail deer are polygamous. The rut (breeding) phase begins in early fall and continuous trough the early winter. The start of the rut varies from region to region. For example, in the southern part of the U.S.A. the rut may start as early as late August early September. Whereas is Canada the rut may start as late as the beginning of November. In the past it has been believed that the beginning of the rut is connected with the moon phase. Today we know that the rut is triggered by a sharp trop in the temperature. It can be safely estimated that the beginning of the rut usually begins around the time of the first cold snap or frost of the year. In most parts of North America the female (Doe) is breed by the end of January. After a gestation period of about 7 month one to two young deer (fawn) are born. In the first 10 to 14 days the mother will hide the fawns usually in tall grass and returns to them several times a day to nurse them. The fawns are odourless in the first two to three weeks of their life and when the mother is not with them they fall into a motionless, coma like, state and thus can stay undetected from most predators. To further enhance staying undetected the fawns are born with a white doted fur and a light reddish brown base colour that makes them almost invisible in tall grass or brush, even at very close distance. At about two weeks of age the fawns are strong enough to follow their mother but will retain the spotted fur until they molt for the first time in early fall by which time they are usually weaned too. Sexual maturity is usually reached not until the second year by a doe and the first year by a buck. However, if conditions are excellent a female fawn may come in her first oestrus cycle in the first year and will give birth in the following spring. It is however rare that a whitetail deer’s first-born fawn will survive longer than a few weeks.

Common Hunting Methods:

Whitetail deer are pursued with rifle, slug shotgun, bow and arrows, handguns and muzzleloaders. There are many different tactics that can be employed when trying to get a whirly whitetail harvested. These include spot and stalk, deer driving, stand hunting, blind hunting. The combinations of rattling, scent lure, baiting and calling are sheer endless. I can say with all confidence that for no animal have been so many specific hunting strategies developed than for the whitetail deer. Depending on the area and the structure of the land from the deep dark forests of Michigan, the cornfields and small woodlots of Illinois to the wide open grass lands and river bottoms of Texas and Colorado, there seems to be a special strategy and tradition to hunt this most popular of all game animals.

A keen sense of smell and a good eyesight mixed with the ability to blend completely in to the background of their surroundings make the whitetail deer extremely challenging to hunt.

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