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Profile of Whitetail Deer, From a Hunter's Viewpoint

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General Info:

The whitetail deer is one of the most-hunted animals on the earth. Hunters have been pursuing them here in North America for as long as we have any record, and probably for much longer. These graceful animals are four-legged, cloven-hooved wonders which can hypnotize by their mere presence.

Much money is spent by deer hunters in the USA every year, creating opportunities for many nationwide companies and providing much-needed revenue to local businesses as well. The allure of the whitetail deer as a game animal is quite strong, and hunters will go to great lengths and expense in their pursuit.

Terminology:


Male: Buck
Female: Doe
Young: Fawn
Bucks grow antlers, not horns. (Antlers are shed and re-grown each year, while horns are permanent.)
Dew claws: two small hoof-like protuberances at the rear of each foot.

Physical Description:

Whitetail deer are four-legged critters that can grow to more than six feet in length. Height at the shoulder runs about three to three and a half feet. They have cloven hooves with fairly pointed "toes," so they leave two-pronged tracks on the ground. Naturally, their name comes from the long tail with the white underside, which often waves goodbye at you as the deer is running away.

Their coat is grayer in the winter, redder in the summer, but is generally light brown. White hair is found inside the ears, under the tail, inside the legs, on the belly, and around the eyes, nose, and chin.

Habitat:

Whitetail deer habitat is hard to define, simply because they are extremely adaptable and have been found everywhere from swamp to desert, plains to mountains, Florida to Canada. They often thrive near towns and cities, sometimes to the point of becoming pests and hazards to the humans with whom they share the land.

Outstanding Traits:

The whitetail is outstanding in many ways. They are incredibly fast and agile, and able to make very high leaps, even from a standstill. Their sense of smell is perhaps their best defense, and it's a good one. Many hunters have spent lots of cash trying to beat a whitetail deer's nose, with limited success. Their eyesight isn't great, but they can spot movement quite easily.

Whitetails are good swimmers, and have been known to take to the water without hesitation, especially when pursued.

Whitetail fawns bear spotted coats, which helps them blend with their surroundings, and have no scent.

Feeding Habits:

Naturally, a whitetail's feeding habits, preferred foods, and schedule vary with the changing seasons. They will browse green leaves and grasses, munch on corn, feed on acorns, pluck fruit from trees, and even raid local flowerbeds if something the landscaper planted catches their fancy.

Their usual feeding times coincide with many other mammals, that is, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule by any means.

Lifespan:

Some claim that a whitetail deer can live as long as twenty years, but that would be notably rare, and may only occur in captivity. A ten-year-old whitetail is an elderly beast indeed, and most deer taken by hunters are only about a year and a half old.

Reproduction:

The mating period for whitetails is called the rut. Its timing varies depending on many factors, but generally occurs during autumn. They generally begin breeding during their second year of life. The gestation period is about 6.5 months.

A doe's first pregnancy usually produces one fawn, and then twins are the rule - though sometimes as many as four fawns may result.

More words have been strung together about the whitetail rut than I could produce between now and the day I die, so I shan't try to cover it in-depth here. Suffice it to say that rut activity is often intense, sometimes brutal, and always interesting.

Communication:

Whitetail deer communicate in a wide variety of ways, from visual cues to scent glands to vocalizations. They make all kinds of noises, including snorts, grunts, wheezes, bleats, and bawls.

Visual cues range from the raising of a tail to the stomping of a hoof, and also include bobbing of the head, but are certainly not limited to these.

Synopsis:

The whitetail deer certainly deserves its reputation as king of North American big game. Hunters pursue it with equal passion across most of the United States and well into Mexico and Canada.

Deer hunting can be very easy (on rare occasions), as well as extremely challenging and frustrating. The highs and lows of heading afield with the goal of besting a whitetail are worlds apart from one another, but all are worth it to a dedicated deer hunter.

Hunters often watch deer rather than shooting them, and it is certainly an awesome experience just to see deer in the wild, and watch them undetected. Nothing can match the feeling one gets from the successful hunting and harvesting of a whitetail, however. It feeds something primitive and unquenched that lives in a hunter's soul and demands satisfaction.

The taking of deer is also good for the deer... though one could argue that it doesn't do a lot for the health of the individual deer that are killed during hunting season. The herd as a whole definitely benefits, however, and hunting is an integral part of any properly managed whitetail herd.

More words of praise from me would be moot, so I'll end this now, by saying that the whitetail deer has given me many years of pleasant experiences and memories (meals too), and when I was a young 'un it formed the foundation for a wonderful relationship with my father that is rarely matched, and is never brought on by sitting on one's duff and watching football while ignoring the natural world. And for that, o whitetail, I will forever be grateful.

- Russ Chastain

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