Discover Nature: White-Tailed Deer

Nov 8, 2016

The white-tailed deer grabs our attention in November, perhaps more than any other animal except the thanksgiving turkey.

White-Tailed Deer
Credit Gail E. Rowley

To many folks, November means deer season, but to white-tailed deer, November is breeding season, referred to as the rut.  During the rut, adult males, or bucks, stake out individual territories, in an attempt to attract members of the opposite sex— called does — and defend them from other bucks.

To make their presence known, the bucks make scrapes on the ground where special hormones are secreted as a chemical-signal to other bucks and does in the area.  These scrapes also attract receptive does that leave behind their own chemical calling cards.  This lets bucks in the area know that the doe is available.

Sometimes the competition for does becomes so keen that bucks engage in actual antler-to-antler combat.  The bucks fight by jousting with their antlers.

Not long ago, all of this deer activity was missing from our fields and woodlands.  Before settlement there were perhaps 40 million white-tails in North America.  But by the 1930s only a tiny remnant was left, and deer were entirely wiped out from much of the Midwest.  Today, thanks to restoration efforts, white-tailed deer abound, ensuring that battling bucks will continue to be part of our November woods.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.