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White-tailed deer are Indiana’s sole representative of the family Cervidae, which includes mule deer, elk and moose. The best known characteristics of this family is that males bear antlers. Antlers, unlike horns, are not permanent structures. Male cervids develop and shed antlers annually as part of their reproductive cycle. Whitetail antler development begins in mid-March to April and continues through August or September. The growing bone is covered with a hairy skin called velvet which dries up and begins to slough off as the antler hardens. By rubbing the antlers on saplings, bucks speed up the loss of velvet and polish their new racks. The antlers are shed in January or February, after breeding season. The number of points on a buck's rack is not an indication of age. A combination of factors, including age, nutrition and genetics affect antler development.
During spring and summer, adult whitetails have a sleek reddish-brown coat. A newborn's coat is patterned with white spots, which help the fawn to blend with its surroundings. In August and September, the summer coat is shed; the fawn loses its spots and prepares for winter along with adult deer. The brownish-gray winter coat is thick and helps insulated the deer through the winter.
Deer are creatures of habit and generally occupy a home range of one to two square miles. Maintaining a relatively small home range, the deer becomes intimately familiar with its surroundings- a good strategy for survival in the wild.
The whitetail breeding season occurs in October and November. Does may breed at six to seven months of age but generally breed for the first time when 1.5 years old. Bucks are physiologically ready to breed at 1.5 years of age but may not have the opportunity for several years because older bucks dominate the does. Dominate bucks will mate with several does during a single season and will chase off younger bucks that attempt to breed.
Fawns are born in late May or early June after 200-day gestation period. A doe in good condition will generally produce two fawns. At birth, fawns weigh only four to eight pounds; however they grow rapidly, doubling their weight in just two weeks. Fawns have little scent, an adaptation to help prevent predators from finding the defenseless infants. Instinctively, they lie motionless when danger approaches. If you find a hidden fawn, never move it or assume that it is an orphan. Rest assured, its mother is nearby, and fawns will usually travel with their mother through their first winter.
Whitetails are extremely adaptable in their food habits. Deer consume primarily wild herbs, fruits and agricultural crops when available; however, they can survive on the leaves, buds and twigs of woody trees and shrubs when other foods are scarce. When abundant, acorns are the mainstay of the fall and winter diet.
In localized areas of Indiana, deer crop damage, particularly corn and soybeans, is a problem. Farmers with damage problems are encouraged to work with their district wildlife biologist to develop strategies to alleviate damage. Fencing, chemical repellents and noise devices may provide relief in some situations; however, the most effective and efficient deer damage control technique is carefully regulated hunting.
Prevention and Control
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