With the right habitat conditions, a deer herd can double each year.
Did you know there are more whitetail deer in Alabama than in any other state in the U.S.? They are also the most popular game animal in this state as well as throughout the country. The whitetail’s popularity makes it less of a mystery than other animals, but a few facts exist about this impressive species that you should know.
Alabama’s white-tailed deer can be found in every county of the state and near or in all major metropolitan areas. For this reason, it’s hard to believe that in the early 1900s, fewer than 10,000 deer existed in the state.
In an effort to save the state’s whitetail population, government agencies, hunters and conservationists set up recovery programs. Positive land-use changes, protection and restocking programs all worked to increase the population to the level it is today.
Most whitetails measure less than 36 inches tall with a few standing taller than 40 inches. Of course, size and weight vary depending on the age, sex, nutrition, and genetics of the deer. An adult Alabama buck can weigh anywhere from 65 to more than 200 pounds and does usually weigh approximately 2/3 as much as bucks.
Every hunter knows that deer have a remarkable sense of smell and rely on that sense to detect danger, locate food and identify other bucks. They also have an acute sense of hearing aided by their large, cupped ears that can rotate. Their eyesight is not as developed as their other senses, yet they still pinpoint a camouflaged hunter with relative ease.
Like cows, deer have a four-chambered stomach that digests plant matter. Food enters the first chamber, also known as the rumen. From there it may be regurgitated and chewed as cud. The other three chambers include the reticulum, omasum, and abomasums.
Deer are designed to run and are capable of reaching up to 30 miles per hour in short bursts.
Andrew Baril, regional extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says whitetail breeding begins mid-November and runs through early March with a peak in late January through early February. Most breeding by males is performed by older, socially-dominant bucks.
“Young does sometimes conceive during their first winter and give birth when they are one-and-a-half years old,” Baril says. “They usually give birth to one fawn their first time and twins thereafter.”
Throughout most of the state, does drop fawns in July through August, but studies have shown drops in April and as late as November.
“The early season drop is more beneficial for deer than the late-season drop,” Baril says. “Late season births produce smaller deer with fewer food sources. These smaller fawns must then compete with other deer for food throughout the winter months.”
Fawns generally weigh between four to six pounds at birth. They are born with white spots on a reddish/brown coat, which help them blend naturally with patterns of shadow and sunlight. Solid brownish-gray hair eventually replaces their spotted coat. Does usually wean their fawns by four months of age, but fawn can remain with their mothers for more than a year.
Young bucks begin growing antlers when they are nine to 12 months old. Antler growth is usually complete by late September. The velvet then dries and is sloughed or rubbed off. They keep the hard, polished antlers throughout the breeding season and shed them during the late winter. New antler growth begins almost immediately.
“If a deer doesn’t get hit by a car or shot by a hunter, it can live for 10 to 12 years in the wild,” Baril says.
“A buck’s average range can span 640 acres, while a doe covers one half of that distance,” Baril says. “They tend to keep the same home range throughout their lifetimes.”
Extremely adaptable, whitetail deer can thrive over a variety of land types and close to humans. Deer require an abundance and variety of nutritious food in order to grow, reproduce, and thrive. On average, a deer eats four to six or more pounds of food each day per 100 pounds of body weight.
“Alabama’s biggest deer live in the Black Belt area of the state,” Baril says. “They thrive there because of the rich soil. If you want deer on your property, make openings in the woods and fertilize the soil. Plant 10 percent of forested cover in some type of early successional plant. Soybeans or Pinkeye Purple Hull peas are ideal. You’ll need to do that in the summer so they’ll have a good food source. If deer eat only woody material, such as twigs and leaves, they don’t get enough protein to thrive. They need at least 17-18 percent protein in their diet, which they can get through agricultural crops.”
Deer generally select food according to its availability, nutritional value, and taste. Spring through early fall, deer eat succulent grasses, weeds, fruit, legumes and agricultural crops, as well as the tender growth of trees, shrubs, and vines. During fall and winter, they thrive on acorns, succulent green growth of small grains, stems of woody plants and evergreen leaves.
With optimal habitat conditions, deer populations can double in size annually. But without regulated hunting and management, deer can destroy wildlife habitat and suffer tremendous population die-offs.