White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer are native to much of the U.S. In pre-settlement times they were very common throughout the eastern U.S. However, several factors such as habitat loss, unrestricted hunting, and predation or harassment by dogs, caused the population to decline drastically. By 1894, the white-tailed deer population in Kentucky was so low that a law was passed making it illegal to kill a doe or a fawn from March until September.

White-tailed deer are extremely common today, but not too long ago it was rare to see one. Photo credit: James St. John, cc-by 2.0

In 1912, Kentucky’s sportsmen were so concerned about the deer population that they lobbied for the creation of a Game Commission. The newly created Game Commission quickly recommended that deer not be hunted in Kentucky. White-tailed deer from Wisconsin and four counties in the western part of Kentucky were trapped and relocated across the state to rebuild the state’s deer population. Slowly the populations began to recover and deer hunting was once again allowed in the state.

Today, you can find white-tailed deer pretty much anywhere in Kentucky and the surrounding states. They are even common in many subdivisions where the deer don’t think twice about browsing on hostas or other ornamentals planted as landscaping. Most states in the eastern U.S. have similar stories. It’s hard to believe that a century ago white-tailed deer were rare in much of their range.

White-tailed deer can be very agile. If spooked, they can run for a few miles at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. If they really want to, they can also jump over an 8-foot fence which can be especially frustrating to the gardener who is trying to keep the deer away from his or her vegetables. Deer are most active around sunset and sunrise. They may also be active on very bright, moonlit nights. During the day, they will typically find a place to bed-down and rest.

Does commonly leave their fawns for several hours at a time. It is important to leave any fawns you find alone. Photo credit: Greg Gilbert, cc-by 2.0 

Male white-tailed deer have antlers, while females typically do not. The antlers begin growing in the spring as a response to increasing day length. While they are growing, the antlers are covered by skin with short hairs. The skin and hair make the antlers look like they are wrapped in velvet material and are commonly called “velvet.” In early fall, the blood supply through the skin covering the antlers is cut off and the velvet begins peeling away. After the mating season, the antlers will fall off and small rodents will gnaw on the fallen antlers to gain calcium and other minerals.

White-tailed deer breed in late fall. The female (doe) will have 1-3 fawns in the spring. Fawns have little to no scent and the doe will leave the fawn “hidden” to go eat. In natural areas, the fawn may be left in a thicket, tall clump of grass, or next to a big tree. In less-natural areas “hidden” can mean hunkered down next to a wall or by a building, but the fawn’s lack of scent still protects it from most predators. After about a month, the fawn will begin following its mother more often; however, the doe may still leave the fawn for periods of time. If you find a fawn, leave it alone. The doe did not abandon it and will come back for her fawn.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.