Whitetail Deer Behavior
I’ve been writing a lot about fishing lately, so I thought it would be a good time to check back in on what our whitetail deer friends are doing this time of year. In the last article I wrote I talked about how the does had recently given birth and how they took care of their young in the early stages of their lives. But in only a few weeks, the fawns are able to follow their mothers everywhere.
With the end of June almost here, the fawns by now have been gradually weaned forcefully, and now eat the same things the doe eats. Along the way, the fawn learns from its mother to be aware of danger, either from sounds, sights, or by testing the wind. It’s amazing to me how these young fawns can learn these things simply by observing their mother, who teaches by example, often exaggerating her actions until she sees that the fawn understands her.
The older does tend to be better teachers simply by the fact that they have survived longer and are more experienced. Simply knowing when to stand completely still and watch, or when to run immediately from danger can mean the difference in life and death for a young fawn, and the fawn learns these skills from her mother. One advantage that the young fawns have at this time in their life is that they are basically scentless; their tarsal glands have not formed yet, and they leave no detectable scent, as all deer are inclined to do.
Meanwhile, the male whitetails are not involved with raising their young at all. Summer is a time to forage and explore, and the bucks are totally consumed with gaining body fat from the abundant summer forage. Their only worry during this time is natural predators, not hunters or competition with other bucks. In nature’s way, this is how it has to be, for the bucks will expend a great amount of energy during the rut in late fall, and they will not have the forage needed to make it through the winter months without this summer feasting behavior.
While harsh winters can take their toll on deer, so can hot summers and drought. This is true especially when the deer compete for forage with live stock or an over-population of other deer in the area. A brutal summer can be as decimating as a freezing winter with no food. Not only can these conditions cause a large amount of deer to die, it will also cause a decrease in the amount of fawns produced in the following year. This is the main reason that hunters and conservationists are attuned to all seasons of a deer’s life, and wildlife biologists use this information to help gauge projected harvest numbers each year.
In addition to human hunting, there are many other factors that take their toll on deer populations, like natural predation, disease, lack of habitat, and a huge amount of deer are killed every year by collisions with automobiles (which also injure and kill humans). As our human population continues to expand, it is extremely important that we pay attention to the factors it takes to keep our wild animal populations sustained in a healthy manner. No one likes to see a deer carcass on the side of the road, to me that is a waste of a life. But if animal herds are managed, then we should see less of that, and more healthy populations of the animals that we either hunt, photograph, or just enjoy viewing.
Ideally we would only see wild animals in wild places, but I think we are way past that in our lifetime. As we push our human population farther and farther into what is left of the wild places, the wild animals try to adapt to our presence, and not always successfully.
A favorite anecdote of mine is about a CEO of some large company that I won’t name, who was in Colorado about 30 years ago and was amazed to see antelope roaming the high plains south of Denver. He thought “That is beautiful, what a great place to relocate our company headquarters!” And he did, which lead to the development of the Denver Tech Center and eventually The Inverness Business District, sprawling Denver southward into what was once wilderness habitat. And guess what, the antelope aren’t there anymore.