Whitetail Deer

A relatively small deer with relatively short ears; all major points of the antlers come off the main beam; tail relatively long, broad basally, and white underneath; metatarsal gland small and circular; females usually antlerless; upperparts reddish brown in summer, bright grayish fawn sprinkled with black in winter; face and tail usually lack blackish markings; underparts white. Dental formula as in the mule deer . External measurements average: (males) total length, 1,800 mm; tail, 300 mm; hind foot, 450 mm; females slightly smaller. Weight of males, 30-70 kg.

Habitat & Diet

White-tailed deer occur almost entirely in the hardwood areas within their general range except for the southeastern section of Texas where the principal vegetation is a mixture of pines and hardwoods or nearly pure stands of pines. In the Chisos Mountains of Texas they occur in the mountains, whereas the mule deer occupies the lower foothills and broken deserts; in most other places this habitat relationship is reversed. For example, in the Guadalupe Mountains the whitetail occurs almost entirely in the foothills; the mule deer, in the higher mountains.

White-tailed deer have a relatively small home range and cruising radius. Normally, when food conditions are adequate, the deer tend to stay in one locality for long periods. For example, in the Edwards Plateau region, where deer were belled in an experimental study, many of the marked deer remained on an area of 259 ha for at least 3 years. A few of them were found as far away as 8 km.

As with most other mammals, the feeding habits of whitetails vary from place to place and from season to season. E. L. Atwood listed more than 500 different plants utilized by whitetails in the United States . Availability determines in large measure what the animals will eat but if adequate food is available, the deer are dainty eaters and exercise considerable choice in the items taken. In the Chisos Mountains of Trans-Pecos Texas , whitetails feed extensively on mountain mahogany and other low shrubs. In the Edwards Plateau region the deer graze twice as much as they browse. There, 67% of their total feeding time was spent in grazing on forbs and grasses, 26% in eating fruits and mast, and only 7% in browsing. In South Texas , however, browse species make up the bulk of the diet.

Reproduction

White-tailed deer are polygamous. The rut begins in early fall and continues through early winter. The onset of breeding varies considerably from one section of the country to another. In coastal Texas , for example, it is not uncommon for breeding to begin as early as September. In the Edwards Plateau, not more than 300 km distant, the peak of the breeding season is in November, whereas in the southern "brush country" section of Texas the peak is in late November and December.

The fawns, usually one or two in number, are dropped after a gestation period of approximately 7 months and hidden by the female for 10 days to 2 weeks. She goes several times daily to nurse them but as soon as they are strong enough to follow her about they do so. The spots are retained until the fawns molt in early fall by which time they are usually weaned. Normally, sexual maturity is not reached in females until the second year but occasionally, when food conditions are excellent, female fawns mate the first fall and produce offspring the following spring when they themselves are only 1 year old. This appears to be unusual throughout most of their range, however.