Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are some of the most recognized and socially important wildlife in North America. Thirty subspecies are found in North and Central America. Although whitetail are beautiful animals, this species is designed to avoid predators and survive the most harsh conditions. Not only are natural predators after them, but the popularity of whitetail hunting puts another target on their back, or chest as it is, from hunters. In order to become a more effetive deer hunter, it’s important to know about your prey.
White-tailed deer have an excellent sense of smell. Their elongated noses are filled with an intricate system of nasal passages that contain millions of olfactory receptor sites. The deer’s keen sense of smell is very important for avoiding predators, including hunters, and identifying other deer and food sources. Smell is important for scent communication with other whitetail deer. Believe it or not, deer have seven glands that are used primarily for scent communication!
Whitetail also have an excellent sense of hearing. Large mobile ears allow deer to detect sounds at great distances and in addition pinpoint the direction of those sounds. Of course, you can use sound against them by pretending to be another deer. Whitetail have numerous vocalizations, including various grunts, bawls, mews, whines, wheezes, snorts, but they also respond to antler rattling. There are numerous commercial calls that can be used to improve your whitetail hunting arsenal.
Doe (female) deer typically are smaller and weigh less than buck (male) deer of the same age. At shoulder height, a doe is about 36 inches tall, with bucks of similar ages being only slightly taller. In the North America, weights of healthy adult does may range from 85 to more than 180 pounds. Adult bucks may range from 120 pounds to more than 300 pounds, depending on age and habitat quality. Though whitetail deer can get quite large, at birth most fawns weigh only about 5 pounds.
Whitetail bucks grow new antlers each year, beginning at about one year of age. In the United States, antler growth usually begins in late April or May and is completed by September. Antlers are tender while growing because they are blood filled and covered with a soft velvet like material. Once hardened, antlers are used for fighting and establishing dominance between bucks. Although many hunters suspect antler size plays a role in a buck’s dominance, body size is more important. Bucks typically shed antlers in March. Bucks typically grow larger antlers each year until antler size peaks at around five to seven years old. Antler size and shape are highly variable and depend on age, nutrition, and genetics.
White-tailed deer are highly adaptable to various habitat types, as well as sudden changes in habitat composition. Deer can survive in areas of mature timber, as well as areas with extensive open areas. Deer need screening cover, but this cover can be provided by grass that is 3 1/2 foot tall. Because whitetail are so adapatable, they are found in virtually all habitat types in North America. Whitetail are edge species, meaning they prefer areas where wooded and open areas meet. This provides them with a diversity of plant communities and makes for great habitat.
On average, whitetail deer eat 4 to 6 pounds of forage daily for every 100 pounds of body weight. Keeping this in mind, an average sized deer consumes more than a ton of forage each year! Deer are very selective feeders and they are actually browsers, not grazers. Their mouths are long and pointed for picking out specific food items. Cattle, on the other hand, have wide and shovel like mouths for consuming sheer quantities of forage. Whitetail deer feed on the leaves, twigs, fruit, and shoots of a variety of trees, shrubs, and vines. Deer also feed on many weeds, grasses, agricultural crops, and mushrooms. Deer also prefer to eat hard mast (acorns, pecans, etc.) when available because these nuts are high in fat content. To find out more about whitetail deer, please look over these related articles: