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Updated 2012


By John A. Vance, Environmental Eng. Tech & Outdoor Writer (Member: Outdoor Writers of Canada, et al) 40 year 'outdoor 'pro'. This material is covered by copyright law. For permission to use this or part of this material, contact John A. Vance. I'd be glad to give you permission - but would like to be asked.

A North American love affair


Truly, the white tail deer has become part of our ongoing culture here in North America. Deer hunting is one of our largest hunting factions - but so is the non-consumptive pastime of deer watching. 
Even large movie producers keyed into the deer, but alas, through highly anthropomorphic (placing human-like characteristics on animals) does real harm to the very spotlighted species, by creating unreal fantasy-like characteristics and situations to the targeted hapless animals. 

Indeed, these forms of exploitation are predatory towards human pocketbooks, and make it paramount that the true and indisputable "Law of the jungle" - the way it really is for the deer - be truthfully conveyed and taught to the general public. This 'real' knowledge is necessary for (and to gain) public support in dealing with conservation, population control, and so that we can, with confidence, in impactive and significant ways, manage this fabulous fellow creature for it's continued prominence - with us! 

Millions of North American's annually consume deer meat as part of their sustenance - and one of high quality protein too. I'd just bet that if statistics were kept, deer meat has fed and kept lots of us from starving during 'hard times'. In respect of the fact that deer meat may be a low cost/high quality food for some North American's, it is also responsible for generating jobs - jobs - jobs. There are thousands of people who make a high percentage of their income from a healthy and 'sustained' deer population. These job activities generate millions - if not billions of dollars annually for our economy. While some of these dollars come in the form of non-consumptive deer utilization, many of these jobs will be within the 'sport' hunting industry, and many of the hundreds of 'spin-off' associated industries. Many of us owe our livelihood to the Virginia white tail deer, and its continued 'sustainability', through good sound management. We humans, as predators, must continue to participate in our natural role within the deer ecosystem with conscience and commitment - this after all - is OUR natural way. There are way more deer with us today, in North America than any other time in the past. This is due to sound game management, I'm happy to say! These animals have benefited dramatically from people's presence and agriculture practices.


The white tail deer is an ungulate, or an animal with hooves like a cow, pig, goat, moose etc. It is also a herbivore, in that it eats plant matter, such as succulent (tender new growth) twigs/branches of trees, corn, alfalfa, soybeans, winter wheat sprouts, acorns and a host of other plant life. They are also a ruminant, and have a number of stomach chambers which allows them to digest this often 'woody' forage. They will, like a cow, chew their cud, which is simply bringing their previously eaten food (from their first stomach) back into the mouth, and re-chew it. 

These deer are creatures of habit, and follow a relatively 'daily' routine; but in most areas, do establish spring/summer/fall ranges for rearing their progeny, and often adopt a winter range, if possible, not far from their summer range. Indeed, if conditions are favorable, these ranges will be all within close proximity of each other, but if the winters are harsh, they may 'yard-up' in a large swamp or similarly dense protective area. When this happens, there may be many deer involved, and sometimes starvation may be a factor. These 'yards' are the areas that some wildlife agencies may use to feed deer populations in savage conditions, hoping to keep as many deer from starving to death as possible. 

The 'RUT' is the deer breeding season, which is 'triggered' by cooler days of autumn, and more importantly, by the shortening of daylight hours. The rut often begins in late September, depending on the type of season we're having, and may run until early December in some locations. Generally, deer hunting seasons run relatively during and often just after the 'brunt' of the rut has occurred. In areas of high deer population, and lesser hunting pressure, deer seasons and bag limits may be extended to include most of the rut season, offering hunters a greater opportunity to enter into this population control program. Deer, especially bucks, or male deer, are more vulnerable to hunters during this time, as they are in a 'love sick' state, and are not as wary as during the non rut. 

Prudent hunters with savvy will look for deer sign such as tracks, poop, rubs (small trees where buck deer rub their antlers to clean off the velvet), and scrapes  ( where bucks will scrape away leaves and vegetation, then urinate their claiming territory, and as a 'challenge' to other bucks in the area, or those passing through). This pre-scouting of sign is paramount, and often relative to ultimate hunting success. It is done BEFORE the actual hunting season - a good hunter will know and UNDERSTAND WHY deer are using an area, and potential changes in the future will be considered, such as crop harvest, or other events that may make the deer alter their routine in this 'given' area. Hunter will then decide on the most appropriate place for a stand, or a tree stand, in hopes of a successful ambush. 

Winter is a time of hardship for most animals, and deer are no exception. But their winter coat of hair (not fur) is hollow, offering excellent insulating qualities. Deer must eat more in the winter to give them energy to produce heat. Deep snow creates hardship for deer, as much of their forage is difficult to find and eat. As well, predators such as timber (gray) wolves, loose running 'pack' dogs (often feral from close by municipalities), and a family units of coyote. It is rare that a single coyote will take down a deer, but it does occasionally happen. In areas that the timber wolf range, a single wolf can easily take down a deer. Likely the two worst enemies of the deer at this vulnerable time is starvation, and poaching (illegally) from sad individuals (humans). 

Once spring arrives, the doe will head for her fawning ground, and this place/area will be as solitudinous (remote and undisturbed) as she can find within her general range/territory. In mid may (usually, but approximate) she will have her fawn(s). Alas, during the actual fawning/birthing process, she and her fawn are incredibly vulnerable to coyotes. If the emerging fawn bleats, it will alert any coyote from an amazing distance. Coyotes are in the process of raising their pups during this same time period, and need a lot of food for their pups too, and hunt relentlessly - and will immediately respond to such sounds as an easily gained meal for their progeny. In northern Ontario the burgeoning black bear population is also affecting birthing rates of deer. Bear which have usually just nicely come out of hibernation are lean/lankey, and looking for any easy meal, be it plant or animal. While a bear can outrun and take down a deer, more often they'll predate on them whilst they are having their fawn - or shortly after birth, when the fawn is vulnerable.

The doe and her fawn will not travel much during the first several weeks after birth, but do travel more and more as the fawn gains strength and size. They will frequent relatively 'open' areas, where their is a breeze, hoping to cut down on insect pests. Deer are plagued by mosquitoes, black flies and 'deer flies'. They will often go to open areas and water during such times, wading in the water to try and escape these small tormentors. 

By late summer the fawn's spots will be disappearing, and it will have traveled the doe's home range extensively with her, to and from feeding grounds, general bedding places, and resting areas where they will chew their cud, and loaf, relatively secure from predators. It is not uncommon for a fawn to stay with/near it's mother for nearly a whole year, often leaving, but staying in the same general vicinity, while the doe is having another fawn. Young doe deer don't usually have a fawn of their own until they are in their third year, but this may vary slightly, due to predation, or lack thereof.  In areas of high predator activity, a doe will have a fawn during the second year of her life, whereas if there are not high mortality rates, then it's normal for her to have it in the third year. In areas of high pressure, it's more common for deer to have two fawns in a year, as it is when food sources are abundant. More typically, however, they have only one fawn. 


  • Pre-scout deer sign about two weeks before the hunting season - don't over do this though - as you may make them leave an area if they feel pressured. (Many savvied hunters keep an eye on their deer all year – what a great excuse for a nature walk!)

  • Determine where the best vantage point for interception will be.

  • Keep in mind that these 'ambush' locations must be where the deer will be during legal shooting time. The deer may be in this area during the night - not during legal hunting time.

  • Determine the 'state' of the rut, and how many animals are in an area.

  • Get permission to hunt on private lands.

  • Be respective of other hunters, being aware that there may also be 'small game' hunters also using the hinterland vicinity while you will be deer hunting.

  • Be ethical, be sure of that shot, only take clear unobstructed shots that have a good backstop, we want good clean, humane kill/harvest of the animal.

  • Know all you can about your quarry - this knowledge will make you a better hunter, and will heighten your overall enjoyment of this re-newable natural resource - respect this resource.

  • Consider purchasing my "PRO FACTSHEET' on 'DEER HUNTING STRATEGIES' from the product section of this home page.

  • New for 2012 and after – I'm making a number of instructional audio Cds for those who don't like reading that you can learn from. These are great to listen to on your way to work in the car – or at home... email me for availability and pricing – they are not expensive, yet are a valuable resource. I guided for hunderds of deer hunters – whom shot thousands of deer over the roughly ten to twenty years I guided for deer/turkey, etc.

Author: John A. Vance
Copyright © 1998 John A. Vance. . . 

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