Indiana Deer Biology
History of white-tailed deer in Indiana
1893: Last reported wild deer kill made in Knox County.
1934-1942: 296 deer purchased for release from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
1943: Deer population estimated at 900 deer.
1951: First deer season in 58 years—three days in November. (13 percent success rate.)
1953-1955: 111 deer released throughout the state, with last releases in Sullivan and Ripley counties.
1956: Deer trapping and relocation program began with 500 deer relocated.
1975: Deer harvest near 9,000.
1985: Deer harvest exceeds 32,000.
The reintroduction of white-tailed deer and success in growing the population was funded through the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and funds from the Pittman-Robertson Act.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileua virginianus) are Indiana’s only representative of the family Cervidae, which includes mule deer, elk and moose.
- Reddish-brown fur in the summer, fading to grayish brown in winter.
- Fawns have white spots which help it blend into its surroundings.
- Males (and occasionally females) have antlers, which are made of bone and are grown annually, shed in the late winter.
- Antlers development begins in mid-March/April and continues through August/September.
- The growing bone is covered with a hairy skin called velvet which dries 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 the 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.
- Deer are in their prime at 3 to 6 years of age. They may live to 20 years or more in captivity, but in the wild, a white-tailed deer that lives to age 10 is considered old.
- Weights vary considerably, but an average adult male weighs 175 pounds while a female weighs about 120 pounds.
- Deer are fast runners reaching speeds up to 35 mph and can jump more than 8 feet.
- Deer have a good sense of smell and keen eyesight and hearing.
- It was long thought that deer were color blind, only seeing the world in shades of gray. However, deer can see color through the blue, green and yellow regions of the light spectrum, but cannot see colors in the orange and red range as humans can, including blaze orange.
White-tailed deer are common throughout Indiana. Deer are able to adapt to disturbed areas and a wide-range of land use practices.
The home range, or area a deer occupies, varies seasonally and by individual. In general, males occupy a larger home range than females. Females typically have the smallest home ranges while giving birth and during the early weeks of fawn rearing.
The white-tailed deer breeding season primarily occurs in October and November. Does may breed at 6 to 7 months of age, but generally breed for the first time when they are 1.5 years old. Bucks are physiologically ready to breed at 1.5 years old, but in areas with balanced sex ratios, they 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 4 to 8 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.
White-tailed deer are extremely adaptable in their food habits. Deer consume primarily (in this order) young shoots and buds of woody plants (known as browse), nuts and seeds (called mast), broad-leafed herbaceous plants (known as forbs), and grasses. However, they can survive on twigs of woody trees and shrubs when other foods are scarce. When abundant, acorns are the mainstay of the fall and winter diet.
As farmers know, deer will also readily take agricultural crops. 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.
The number of deer in Indiana has increased steadily since their reintroduction in the 1930s. Concerns about deer-vehicle collisions and crop damage by deer led the Division to begin lowering the deer population in selected counties in the 1990s. By 1992, the statewide deer population began to decrease in response to increased harvest of antlerless deer. Uncontrolled growth of our herd would be disastrous for both the deer and the people of Indiana. Damage to agricultural and forest crops would become economically unbearable. The depletion of the habitat would be reflected in smaller, less-healthy deer. Closely regulated harvest of female deer is needed to stabilize the population growth in some areas of the state.
In addition to being a valuable management tool, deer hunting provides recreation to nearly 200,000 Hoosier sportsmen and sportswomen each year. Hunting and other outdoor recreation are primary industries in our scenic counties and are an important part of that picture.