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Creature of the Week: White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus virginianus)

April 11, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

East of the Rocky Mountains, the white-tailed deer is, perhaps, the most prized of all game. Hunters covet the elusive males, hoping to acquire the most "points"--the number of prongs on the antlers--for their wall mounts. However, due to these bounties on their heads (or, I should say, antlers), female deer--the does--are more commonly seen than males, who tend to avoid people and emerge only when few humans are around. 

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Buck - 6-Point Buck

The "six-point" buck is probably the most renowned form of male white-tailed deer, but 12 and 16-point bucks are by no means unusual. Some captive bucks can have as many as many as 50 or 60 points.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Buck - Spike Some bucks only have two points. These bucks are called "spikes". However, deer lose and regrow their antlers every year, so this guy may have 8 points next year.

White Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Button Buck Young bucks are called "button bucks". These small males are growing their antlers for the first time, and they emerge as skin-covered nobs or bony protrusions.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Fawn Young deer, both male and female, are called fawns. These adolescent deer are spotted and stay with their mothers for about a year (or two years for most female fawns). When their mothers forage for food, they hide the fawns in the undergrowth for hours. Here, the fawns lie flat, silent, and still, and their spots break up their body, effectively camouflaging them from predators.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Fawn Losing Spots

Three to four months after birth, fawns lose their spots and transition from their reddish brown juvenile coat to their grayish brown adult coat. This normally happens in October, just before the rut. The rut is a period from October to December wherein bucks actively search for does and are, therefore, less cautious than usual. If you are looking for a buck, for photography, hunting, or purely for the sake of observation, this three month period is the best time to find one.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Buck - 6-Point Buck During the rut, bucks will rub their antlers and heads, which possess special scent glands in front of the eyes, against trees and shrubs, effectively marking their territory and alerting other deer to their presence via smell. Bucks, of course, mark their territory year-round, but this behavior only become important during the rut, when the does are in heat.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Doe

Does are the most commonly sighted white-tailed deer. Whenever someone shouts, "Deer!", more likely than not, her or she has spotted a group of does.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Does

Does, generally, hang out in groups, and in more urban areas, they are quite tame and approachable. Unlike the bucks, they are not active targets of hunters and do not feel as threatened by humans.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Doe Flagging

However, they are still quite wary, and if approached too suddenly or too closely, they will exhibit a behavior called "flagging", raising their signature white tails and fleeing.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Does So, if you ever desire to walk among white-tails, make sure you respect them and approach them with care. Happy hunting!


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