With an estimated population of 25-30 million, whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are the most common deer species in inhabiting the US. If you live someone in the continental states, you've probably seen one before. Growing up in the southeast, I can personally recall seeing them on several different occasions. Sometimes they would roam by themselves, while other times there would be groups of half a dozen or more. Here we'll take a closer look at the beautifully majestic whitetail deer.
How To Recognize a Whitetail Deer
The easiest way to identify a whitetail (aka Virginia deer) is to look for their soft white-colored tail. When spooked by a predator, they will run while raising their tail as a signal to others that danger is in the area. Typically, a whitetail's neck, underside, tail, ears and parts of their face possesses the same white coloring (see image to the right for an accurate photo of the whitetail).
A whitetail's body coat is typically a reddish-brown color that changes to more of a grayish brown later in the year. From afar, though, most people will simply say they look dark brown or tan. Interesting enough, the hair on a whitetail deer is actually thick and hollow. Scientists believe the whitetail's hollowed out hair gives them more buoyancy in water, which is why they are such capable swimmers and able to reach speeds of 13 mph in the water!
Albino Whitetail Deer
Some whitetail deer, known as albinos, are born with a rare genetic abnormality (about 1 in 30,000) that makes them white from head to toe, except for their pink nose, eyes and ears. The exact cause for their snow-white bodies is that they were born without body pigment. Hunters and wildlife watchers are oftentimes spooked when they notice one of these rare albino whitetail deer walking through the woods.
Where The Whitetail Deer Lives
Whitetail deer are found throughout the continental United States (except Nevada, Utah and California), parts of Canada and parts of Central and South America. They are most commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains where their population thrives, but small pockets of the species can still be found on the western side as well. On the other hand, the mule deer and blacktail deer are found more commonly west of the Rocky Mountains.
Some countries, such as New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Finland, have successfully introduced the whitetail into their ecosystems. Whitetail deer adapt well to a variety of environments and have a high success rate when introduced into new areas. Their adaptability, speed and alertness allow them to blend in with their surroundings. This is one of the reasons why some areas have such staggeringly high population numbers of whitetails.
Most whitetail deer tend to live in thick wooded forests where they are covered and protected against natural predators like wolves and boar. However, whitetail have adapted well to other environments, including open plains, prairies and savannas. They will usually stay in an area of a one mile radius unless threatened, spooked, or lacking food or water. These elements will push the whitetail out of their "home" to look for seek a safer, more sustainable living environment.
Diet of The Whitetail Deer
Like all other deer species, whitetails are herbivores, meaning they only eat vegetation and plant-based material. Their diet consists of what's available for them to forage in their current surroundings. A normal diet for a whitetail may consist of green leafy plants in the spring and summer, and acorns, corn and parts of trees in the winter.
Whitetails are ruminants, meaning they have multiple chambers in their stomach (four to be exact). Each chamber acts as its own stomach, serving a specific purpose of digesting the food before continuing to the next. This gives the whitetail the ability to digest things that people can't, such as poisonous mushrooms and twigs. Instead of these items tearing up their digestive tract, each of their stomach chambers plays a role in helping to break it down. As a result, they can eat a wide range of foods from tough twigs to toxic plants.
Whitetail deer usually mate in the months of October and November when females reach sexual maturation (usually between 1 to 2 years of age). Also known as the "rut," this it a time of the year when bucks have raised testosterone levels, making them more excited and more active. They will grunt to communicate, mark their territory (peeing and scratching), and it's not uncommon for them to fight by charging at each other with their antlers first to gain mating rights with a nearby doe. When the doe gives birth, they generally deliver to one to three spotted baby deer known as "fawns." By the end of their first summer, the fawns will lose their spots and begin turning a full tan/brown color that adult whitetails posses.
The male whitetail deer are known as "bucks" and the females are known as "does." The bucks will start growing antlers the first year they are born. They will grow one antler on each side of their skull, called "spikes." These antlers will fall off between late winter and early spring and larger, more complex antlers will begin to grow. This cycle continues, making the antlers grow larger each year. Whitetail does don't have antlers and will never produce them. You can learn more about deer antler growth and development here.
Whitetail Deer Hunting
Seen as inhumane by some people, it's important for the hunting community to keep the whitetail deer population regulated. Native Americans hunted the whitetail deer and depended on it as a major source of food, hide and supplies. Since whitetails adapt and thrive so well, it's easy for them to consume all the resources in an area without the aid of hunters. This is common in areas such as New York, where firearm ownership is heavily regulated. In fact, it's considered to have the toughest firearm laws of any state.