Whitetail deer, despite their shy and retiring nature, have managed to adapt exceptionally well to human encroachment. By means of opening up dense woodlands, fragmenting forests and creating new food sources, provincial forestry and agricultural practices and procedures have actually assisted in increasing our deer populations, which have become relatively widespread. Exceptionally few creatures have demonstrated the capability of adapting to perpetual habitat alterations as successfully as the deer. The white-tailed deer has continually met the challenges of an ever-changing world and has thrived in the face of adversity Ontario boasts a population of whitetails that exceeds four hundred thousand. We have the second largest deer population in Canada. Saskatchewan has the most whitetails. That province surpasses Ontario by approximately ten thousand more deer. In Ontario, white-tailed deer range from the southern border of our province to territory lying north of the Great Lakes. The whitetail is the premier big game animal of Ontario. It is the best known and the most admired. Our other two big game animals, moose, and black bears lack the appeal and popularity of the whitetails.
Archeological evidence indicates that deer have been in existence in excess of twenty million years. However, whitetails have only retained the same physical form that we observe today for a mere one million years. Similar to other species, the white-tailed deer have evolved through the passing of time. The most significant features that have experienced the most change are the deer's feet. Originally, deer were five-toed mammals. As time marched forward, they became sleek, swift, two-toed animals. Irrespective of this evolution, whitetails have retained two unusable dewclaws, which are located several inches above the main two toes. But, the once prominent fifth toe has been eliminated completely-probably due to non-use.
The scientific name for the white-tailed deer is Odocoileus Virginian. All creatures of the animal kingdom are classified and categorized scientifically by class, order, phylum, genus, and species. In an effort to avoid a long and detailed biological elucidation, I will briefly state that with respect to white-tailed deer, the genus is Odecals and the species in Virginia. In 1932, a scientist located a tooth of a whitetail in a cave in Virginia, USA. When he examined the tooth, the scientist found it to be hollow. Thus, Oderoles means hollow tooth and Virginian indicates the place (Virginia) where the tooth was found. Locally, the whitetails were named by the early settlers for the noticeably bright white underside of their tails. Outside of the scientific community, the whitetails are commonly known by everyone for this specific trait. When they are alarmed, deer raise or flag their tails. The flash of white signals danger to nearby members of the herd. A raised tail may also serve as a beacon for other whitetails to follow.
Deer are masters at avoiding detection. Thus, they are frustratingly difficult to observe in wilderness areas. During daylight hours, whitetails tend to be most secretive and usually remain hidden in thick shrubs or forest patches. However, once the sun commences its daily descent, this magnificent animal abandons its diurnal resting spot and moves gracefully, weaving an intricate path through the dense forest and over fallen trees in order to reach a foraging site. Whitetails feel most comfortable moving around in low light conditions. In the daytime, the hardwood forest and its foliage shield out the sun and thereby create a shady environment for the deer.
The most effective defenses of the deer are speed and agility. Also, their acute sense of sight, hearing, and smell usually alerts them to any lurking dangers. In Ontario, hunters are the deer's most formidable adversaries with coyotes running a tight second. However, harsh Canadian winters are still the greatest threat to whitetail survival. Deer experience a negative energy situation from the first heavy snowfall in late autumn until fresh green vegetation emerges in the early spring Snow is the major cause for the scarcity of high-energy food. Despite their slowed metabolic rates in the cold winter months, many deer starve prior to the arrival of spring. This is a sad but a recurring, unavoidable situation.
Predominantly, the environment determines a whitetail's behavior patterns, prevailing habits, and predictable activities. These traits vary from region to region. The moon, the wind, the rain, the snow, and the temperature are additional factors that influence and impact deer movements. Although whitetails engage in a considerable amount of activity at night, they are not completely nocturnal. Whitetails are diurnal to some degree. Daytime mobility increases considerably in the autumn. This is indeed a blessing. If deer were totally nocturnal, we would never receive an opportunity to hunt them. And that would amount to a dire catastrophe.
In the summertime, the whitetails have a relatively thin, light-colored, reddish-brown coat that tends to reflect sunlight. This feature allows the deer to remain cool by maintaining a lower body temperature. Given the fact that whitetails do not have sweat glands, this special trait allows them to combat the summer heat. All of this changes once the autumn season approaches. At this time of year, whitetails grow a thick, dark brown winter coat that absorbs sunlight, enabling the deer to stay warm in the cold months that follow.
This winter coat is several times thicker than the summer coat and is water repellent, preventing precipitation from penetrating the skin. The naturally grown garment consists of short, white underfur and hollow guard hairs. These two features combine and give the coat superb insulating qualities. This insulation is so effective that snow does not even melt when it accumulates of the deer's body. In fact, a cover of snow may actually act as additional insulation, thereby given. in this game animal extra protection from the cold. Whitetails shed their hair twice a year.
Powerful upper leg muscles in conjunction with long, slender legs endow the whitetail with speed and agility. Deer are capable of attaining speeds that exceed sixty-five kilometers an hour. They have been known to leap and bound distances of six meters. Also, they have been observed to clear two-meter high fences with a running jump. The natural gait of a whitetail is a smooth-paced trot that varies from sixteen to thirty kilometers per hour. These fine animals walk, trot and gallop similar to the domestic horse, but much more gracefully. In addition to all of this, whitetails are excellent swimmers. They can easily swim for several kilometers at a time.
Midday is a good time to find whitetails bedded down since they are most active during the nighttime. However, they do not sleep for lengthy periods of time. Instead, they doze off and on, attempting to stay alert most of the time. Despite the fact that deer are classified as social animals with a strong tendency to herd, bucks and does generally stay separate and apart. Most of the time, a mature buck never mingles with a group of does and fawns. Bucks prefer to travel alone. They may associate with other bucks in what we have commonly labeled as "Bachelor Groups". However, all buck behavior, either reclusive or social, changes dramatically when the breeding season arrives in late autumn. When the uncontrollable urge to copulate kicks in, bucks take a renewed interest in all does that come into heat and grow intolerant of the presence of other bucks. The rut will be discussed in greater detail later on in this book.
Black coven hooves (also known as split hoof and two toes) and dewclaws are characteristic of whitetails. Below the dewclaws and behind the cloven hoof.
The interdigital gland is centrally located. The Interdigital gland is one of four external sets of scent glands that whitetails possess. A Preorbital gland is positioned at the lower front corner of each eye. There are also two Metatarsal glands. Each Metatarsal gland is found on the outside of the hind leg, approximately halfway between the ankle and the knee (the first and second leg joint). The two Tarsal glands are sponge-like and are located one on the inside of each hind leg, at approximately the knee level, but slightly above. More information will be crucially dated about these glands and their significant roles in the section on scrapes and ruts.
Two biological urges are the primary drivers of all deer behavior-the need to feed and the need to breed. The latter only comes into play for a few months in late fall, whereas the former is a year-round desire. However, during the mating season, bucks temporarily abandon the need to feed and devout their entire focus on the need to breed. Does will also lose interest in feeding in favor of breeding, but they will still eat more often than bucks. Feeding information and breeding behavior are covered in greater detail later in the book.
Essentially, there are only three situations in which a hunter sees a whitetail: (1) the hunter is stationary and the deer is moving; (2) the hunter is moving and the deer is stationary: (3) the hunter is moving and the deer are moving. These are the three main case scenarios. However, the golden opportunity to harvest arrives when both hunter and quarry remain stationary long enough for the hunter to set his sight on the whitetail and fire. I have come across the majority of my whitetails when I was moving and the game animal was stationary. Upon spotting the game animal, I became very still. Slowly and cautiously, I drew my bow, set the sight and released the arrow. Although I have been known to miss on a few occasions (none of which I will admit), most of the time, my aim has been true. Thereafter, it became a matter of locating the fallen whitetail. However, I have also observed deer in the other two situations. In addition, I have narrowed down many fine deer from several of my tree stands, wherein I was stationary and the deer were moving. I have managed to stop a whitetail long enough to take a shot by either scattering bait (corn or apples) along the trail near my tree stand or by emitting a soft, slow whistle. The most important element in any of the above situations is to stay calm. This is easier said than done. I always feel a rush whenever I see a whitetail in the wild, irrespective of size.
There are four primary areas where you will shoot whitetails: (1) feeding areas (2) bedding area; (3) transition zone or travel route; (4) staging area. I have shot most of my deer in feeding areas located in the open crop fields. But, I have killed my biggest bucks in the bush along travel routes. Canadian bucks, that have survived two or more hunting seasons, become very wary and extremely wise. Hunters educate deer. A four and a half-year-old buck, sporting an impressive rack has learned to suppress the exploding urge to breed. Seldom, will he venture into an open field, to breed or to feed, in the diurnal hours? He has learned through experience that be must be wary and travel only in the dark hours in order to survive. On the other hand, the young bucks freely allow their hormones to control them during the Rut. Thus, they commit an abundance of errors. Savvy hunters often capitalize on these mistakes.
Generally, an old, experienced buck will wait for the cover of darkness to descend before stepping into the meadow. These nocturnal preferences may present the illusion that he is uncountable. But, this is only a misperception Almost any buck can be patterned, hunted and harvested. Time and patience are the key ingredients that lead to success. Typically, in these circumstances, a hunter has to kill this cautious big buck in the bush either along a well-traveled deer trail (transition zone) or in the staging area. A third option is to find his bed and shoot him there or close to that area.
A staging area is a resting place. It is simply a spot where deer may wait inside the forest, under the security of adequate cover, before entering a meadow to feed. What are they waiting for? The wise, old bucks usually wait for the cloak of darkness to cover the land. Other whitetails may only wait long enough to satisfy themselves that the coast is clear and that there are no perils lurking in the near vicinity. An ideal staging area consists of a mixture of cover and small openings where lush vegetation grows. In this situation, the whitetail can browse on forbs and still feel safe before the advent of darkness. A grove of mast-producing trees in the close proximity of an open field may also constitute a favorable staging area. Essentially, whitetails bide time in staging areas, waiting for the last rays of light to subside and for darkness to make its debut. They prefer to pass the time munching on the available plant species.
Not an end destination, a transition zone is a path that connects one area with another area. It is a travel path that is commonly known as a deer trail. These trails usually connect bedding regions with food sources. An excellent place to ambush an unsuspecting large buck is anywhere along this transition zone. Active deer trails can be consistent producers of the big game. In order to hunt effectively along these travel corridors, a hunter must never allow a deer to smell, see or hear him or her. Thus, the proper use of scents and camouflage clothing is an absolute requirement, along with the ability to sit still.
Food sources, which will be elaborated later on in this book, can be divided into two categories-diurnal and nocturnal. Given its visual capabilities to see clearly in low light conditions, the safest place for a whitetail to be at night is in the open pastures. Thus, deer will feed in the crop fields during the dark hours. In the daytime, when bright light handicaps their vision, whitetails will hide out in the forest and feed on the vegetation that grows there. A deer will go where it feels safe. Survival and procreation are the sole vocations of the whitetails.
For reasons similar for selecting nocturnal and diurnal food sources, whitetails will choose daytime and nighttime bedding areas. Again they will bend down where they feel most safe. Their acute sense of smell comes into the equation at this point. During the night, deer will rest in open meadows where they can see and detect predators from a distance. In the daytime, whitetails will seek cover and rely on their olfactory capabilities to warn them of any impending perils. They will go deep into the forest to bed down for the duration of the day. Early morning is often an excellent time to catch whitetails switching bedding areas. By waiting patiently a few meters inside the forest along well-traveled routes, I have ambushed some admirable bucks coming out of the fields into the woods in the morning.
Although whitetails are known to fully extend their necks along the forest floor and completely close their eyes when they bed, I have only come across bedded bucks with their heads in an upright position and their eyelids only partially closed. Some hunters, including my friend John, have told me that they have found deer totally asleep with their noses tucked into their groin regions. Bedded whitetails that seem to be sleeping must experience a significant reduction in alertness. They do not appear to be purposefully or consciously alert. I believe that whitetails, in sleep mode, depend exclusively on the involuntary (autonomous) function of their acute senses for information gathering and interpretation.
Beds offer shelter, seclusion, and security. If they are not disturbed, whitetails often bed down near their food sources. In addition to resting and/or sleeping deer may bed down to masticate their cud or to simply conserve energy. In both of the latter situations, these game animals are fully alert. When they are lying down, deer tend to rely more on their auditory and olfactory capabilities and less on their visual abilities. Although whitetails do not typically employ the same beds, they do tend to bed down in the same vicinity. Where the deer bed down may differ with the changing seasons. To know about bow hunting arrow rest then see the link.
A bedded buck prefers to stay bedded. Therefore, he may hold tight and let hunters pass. On the other hand, he may attempt to sneak away without making any noise. When they are startled or disturbed, whitetails abandon their beds very quickly. All four legs come into play as the deer instantly becomes upright and dashes off at great speed. Even though I have never witnessed a buck actually bedding down. I have found much sleeping and I have jumped numerous deer out of their beds. Whitetails tend to bed either close to their food sources or along active trails-usually a little off to the side, but never directly on the trail. Both, bedding areas and feeding areas, are prime locations to hunt. However, it is usually easier to locate a food source than a bedding region.