Big game species of the Mid-West

- White-tailed Deer -


White-tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), also known as the Virginia deer, is a medium-sized deer found throughout most of the continental United States, southern Canada, Mexico, Central America and northern portions of South America as far south as Peru. The species is most common east of the American cordillera, and is absent from much of the western United States, including Nevada, Utah and California (though its close relatives, the mule deer and black-tailed deer, can be found there). It does, however, survive in aspen parklands and deciduous river bottomlands within the Central and Northern Great Plains, and in mixed deciduous riparian corridors, river valley bottomlands, and lower foothills of the Northern Rocky Mountain Regions from Wyoming to Southeastern British Columbia. The conversion of land adjacent to the Northern Rocky Mountains into agriculture use and partial clear-cutting of coniferous trees (resulting in widespread deciduous vegetation) is in favor of white-tailed deer in this region. The westernmost population, the Columbian white-tailed deer once was widespread in the mixed forests along the Willamette River (Willamette Valley Forests Ecoregion) and Cowlitz River Valleys of Western Oregon and Southwestern Washington (endangered). There are also populations of Arizona (coues) and Carmen Mountains (carminis) white-tailed deer that inhabit the mountain mixed deciduous/pine forests of Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas extending southwards into Mexico. As a result of introductions, white-tailed deer are found also in localised areas of northern Europe such as Finland. White-tailed deer are generalists and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats. Although most often thought of as forest animals depending on relatively small openings and edges, white-tailed deer can equally adapt themselves to life in more open savanna and even sage communities as in Texas and in the Venezuelan llanos region. These savanna adapted deer have relatively large antlers in proportion to their body size and large tails. Also, there is a noticeable difference in size between male and female deer of the savannas.

Male white-tail from Kansas

Male white-tail from Kansas


The deer can be recognised by the characteristic white underside to its tail, which it shows as a signal of alarm by raising the tail during escape. The male (also known as a buck) usually weighs from 130 to 220 pounds (60 to 100 kg) but, in rare cases, animals in excess of 350 pounds (160 kg) have been recorded. The female (doe) usually weighs from 90 to 130 pounds (40 to 60 kg), but some can weigh as much as 165 to 175 pounds (75 or 80 kg). The deer's coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. Males one year of age or older have antlers. Antlers begin to grow in early spring, covered with a highly vascularised tissue known as velvet. Bucks either have a typical or non-typical antler arrangement. Typical is when the antlers are symmetrical on both sides and the points grow straight up off the main beam. Non-typical is usually when the antlers are asymmetrical and the points are going in any direction off the main beam. A buck's inside spread can be any were from 3-25 inches (8-64 cm). Bucks shed their antlers when all females have been bred, Which can range from late December to February. Females enter estrus, colloquially called the rut, in the fall, normally in late October or early November, triggered mainly by declining photoperiod. Sexual maturation of females depends on population density. Females can mature in their first year, although this is unusual and would occur only at very low population levels. Most females mature at one or, sometimes, two years of age. Males compete for the opportunity of breeding females. Sparring among males determines a dominance hierarchy. Bucks will attempt to copulate with as many females as possible, losing physical condition since they barely eat or rest during the rut. The general geographical trend is for the rut to be shorter in duration at increased latitude. Females give birth to one, two or even possibly three spotted young, known as fawns in mid to late spring, generally in May or June. Fawns lose their spots during the first summer and will weigh from 44 to 77 pounds (20 to 35 kg) by the first winter. Male fawns tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females.

Range and population

Market gunning, unregulated hunting and poor land-use practices, including deforestation severely depressed deer populations in much of their range. For example, by about 1930, the U.S. population was thought to number about 300,000. After an outcry by hunters and other conservation ecologists, commercial exploitation of deer became illegal and conservation programs along with regulated hunting were introduced to solve the problem. Recent estimates put the deer population in the United States at around 30 million. These changes were so successful that, in some areas, deer populations are very high and the animal is considered a nuisance. Motor vehicle collisions with deer are a serious problem in many parts of the animal's range, especially at night and during rutting season, causing injuries and fatalities among both deer and humans. At high population densities, farmers can suffer economic damage by deer depredation of cash crops, especially in maize and orchards.

White-tail fawn

White-tail fawn

The species is the state animal of Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, as well as the provincial animal of Saskatchewan. The profile of a White-tailed deer buck caps the Vermont coat-of-arms and can be seen in the Flag of Vermont and in stained glass at the Vermont State House. Also, the logo of the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA features a front face view of a white-tail buck. Texas is home to more white-tailed deer than any other U.S. state or Canadian province, with an estimated population over four million. High populations of white-tailed deer occur in the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania also boast high deer densities.

White-tailed deer were introduced to Finland in 1935. The introduction was successful, and the deer have recently begun spreading through northern Scandinavia and southern Karelia, competing with, and sometimes displacing, native fauna. The current population of some 30,000 deer originate from four animals provided by Finnish Americans from Minnesota.
In many states in the U.S. and in several Canadian provinces, hunting for white-tailed deer is deeply ingrained in local cultures and is central to the economy of many rural areas.
A sub-race of the white-tailed deer is white - not albino - in color. The former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, New York, has the largest known concentration of white deer. Strong conservation efforts have allowed white deer to thrive within the confines of the depot.
In the western portions of the United States and Canada, the white-tailed deer range overlaps with those of the black-tailed deer and mule deer. In the extreme north of the range, their habitat is also exploited by moose in some areas. White-tails may occur in areas that are also exploited by elk (wapiti) such as in mixed deciduous river valley bottomlands and formerly in the mixed deciduous forest of Eastern United States. In places such as Glacier National Park in Montana and several national parks in the Columbian Mountains (Mount Revelstoke National Park) and Canadian Rocky Mountains (i.e., Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park), white-tailed deer are shy and more reclusive than the coexisting mule deer, elk, and moose.


Until recently, some taxonomists have attempted to separate white-tailed deer into a host of subspecies, based largely on morphological differences. Genetic studies, however, suggest that there are, fewer subspecies within the animal's range as compared to the 30 to 40 subspecies that some scientists described in the last century. The Florida Key deer, O. virginianus clavium, and the Columbian white-tailed deer, O. virginianus leucurus are both listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The dominant subspecies across the deer's range is the Virginia white-tail, O. virginianus virginianus which is also the type species for the Odocoileus genus. White-tailed deer have tremendous genetic variation and are adaptable to several environments. Several local deer populations, especially in the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont Regions of Eastern United States are descended from white-tailed deer transplanted from other areas. Some of these deer may have been from northern mixed forests in the Great Lakes Region, or from more open savannas and riparian bottomlands in the midwest and Texas, yet are also quite at home in the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont Regions. These deer over time have intermixed with the local indigenous deer populations.

White-tail buck (male)

White-tail buck (male)


Central and South America have a complex number of white-tailed deer subspecies that range from Southern Mexico as far south as Peru. This list of subspecies of deer is more exhaustive than the North American list of subspecies and is also questionable, but populations are difficult to study due to over-hunting in many parts and lack of protection. Some areas no longer carry deer, so it is difficult to assess the genetic difference of these animals. Central American white-tailed deer prefer tropical dry deciduous forests, seasonal mixed deciduous forests, and savanna habitats over dense Rain forests and cloud forests.
South American subspecies of white-tailed deer live in two types of environment. The first environment is the savannas, dry deciduous forests, and riparian corridors of Southern Venezuela and Eastern Colombia. The other environment is the higher elevation mountain grassland/mixed forest ecozones in the Andes Mountains from Venezuela to Bolivia and Peru. The Andean white-tailed deer seem to retain gray coats due to the colder weather at high altitudes, whereas the lowland savanna forms retain the reddish brown coats. South American white-tailed deer, like those in Central America, generally avoid dense Rain forests and cloud forests. Perhaps the biggest overall genetic distinction is between North American white-tailed deer and the South American white-tailed deer.




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