Fawns Develop for Survival Early
White-tailed deer fawns are quite amazing. They are about 4 pounds when born but grow rapidly, putting on weight as fast as possible. After about 60 days a fawn’s four chambered stomach is fully developed and the fawn is capable to physically survive off natural forage, without nursing. However, at 2 months of age a deer fawn has little experience when it comes to foraging and dealing with predators, so a does offer a fawn a lot from a learning standpoint.
Typically, white-tailed deer fawns will continue to nurse from their mother until they are 4 to 5 months old. Fawns will nurse longer if given the opportunity, but most does will begin to wean their fawns at about 5 months of age. Nursing takes a toll since a doe’s calorie intake must increase drastically for adequate milk production.
It’s no coincidence that fawns are born in late spring and weaned in early fall, in most cases prior to hunting season. This is Nature’s way of perfectly timing the survival of both does and fawns. Fawns must be able to take advantage of the plentiful forb and mast crops that come with fall to fatten up for the winter. A doe must do the same, take in an abundance of nutritional forage after rearing fawns throughout the summer.
Most states set their hunting seasons so orphaned fawns are capable of surviving on their own. Even though not technically an ethical issue, hunters are often concerned that fawns can not survive as well on their own without their mothers, so most hunters pass on does with fawns in tow; they prefer to shoot does without fawns. This is not a bad idea from a deer management perspective since the harvest of does without fawns would leave the most productive fawn producers on a particular property.
Additionally, what may be the reasons surrounding why a particular doe did not rear a fawn or fawns? Though rare, the lack of a fawn could stem from the inability to conceive, but may be related to the “mothering ability” of the doe. Either way, many hunters feel better about harvesting does without fawns and leaving those with fawns to keep on providing for and/or teaching their young.
Though white-tailed deer fawns are programmed for survival, they still must learn. Without the addition of a doe’s watchful eyes, research has found that orphaned fawns are more susceptible to predators. In a natural effort to associate with a family group, it often appears (to me) that an orphaned fawn will group up with another orphaned fawn or with yearling (1 1/2 years old) bucks and/or does.
Yearling deer, which were fawns the year prior, are pushed away from their mothers during the rut. It’s unsure weather this is the result of the rutting buck or the doe, but yearlings do become separated from their initial family group at 1 1/2 years of age. This separation may may also encourage their desire to be part of a loose family group, which may mean associated with orphaned fawn/s.
In short, white-tailed deer are adapted for survival. A fawn can survive on it’s own after only 2 months of age should it become orphaned. Most hunting seasons are set well past this date for particular areas. However, there are always late-born fawns that may have been conceived during the third or fourth estrous cycle. In these cases, fawns will still have spots come hunting season, so it would be recommended that hunters avoid harvesting does that have fawns with spots in tow.