Breeding & Reproduction
The breeding season marks the beginning of the white tails life cycle. Depending on the latitude, breeding may take place anytime from September to late February.
Hunters and wildlife biologists generally refer to the peak of the rut as that period when, in a given area, most of the breeding activity occurs. However, the actual season in which successful breeding can take place is usually much longer than most hunters believe.
The length of the rut is generally determined by latitude and day length. In the more northern areas of the whitetail range, such as New York and Wisconsin, changes in day length are pronounced. With the shorter days of fall, the rutting activity increases and ends within a relatively short period of time. In the southern states, differences in day length are not as pronounced and the breeding season lasts for several weeks Whitetail's near the Equator actually breed year around.
Genetics can also play a role in the peak and duration of the rut. In Alabama, where deer from several stocks have been introduced, those originating from Michigan were observed to have different breeding dates than those with North Carolina ancestry. Meanwhile, deer originally imported from Texas displayed yet another breeding period.
Breeding in doe fawns is dependent upon their physical condition. Large doe fawns may breed when only six to nine months old, generally bearing a single fawn. Doe fawns that have not reached physical maturity in their first year will wait until 16 to 19 months old. Weather, growing season, range conditions, and heredity all play a role in the breeding scheme. The number of fawns and yearling does breeding may vary tremendously in the same population from year to year, which is important for the wildlife manager and hunter to understand for proper herd management.
The breeding season for the buck begins about the time it sheds its velvet. It's at this time that his male hormone, called testosterone, begins to increase and be noticed, signaling physical and behavioral changes that accompany breeding activities.
From the time he sheds his velvet until actual breeding takes place, the buck undergoes a series of changes. As the level of testosterone increases, he becomes less wary and more vulnerable to accidents and hunting. He acts somewhat like a headstrong teenager, making rash judgments and often blundering into trouble that he would normally avoid.
During the rut, the buck actively scent marks his area to advertise his presence, both to challenge neighboring bucks and to attract does.
The estrus, or heat period, in the doe lasts about 24 hours. If not bred, a doe will come into heat again in about 28 days. An unbred doe is capable of five estrus cycles in a single year.
The normal gestation period for white tailed deer is just under seven months. Generally, does giving birth for the first time have only one fawn. Older does commonly have twins and sometimes triplets.
The first 48 hours are critical to the survival of the newborn fawn. Its chances may be lessened if the mother suffers from poor nutrition during the last two to three months of her pregnancy, which may be the result of a prolonged winter in northern climates or a poor growing season elsewhere. Fawns that survive their first two days of life have a good chance of making it into the deer population the following fall.
At birth, the fawn weighs between four and seven pounds. The first three or four weeks of its life, it stays in one general location, which is determined by the doe. During this period, the doe will come to the fawn so it can nurse. The fawn's spots provide excellent camouflage, allowing it to blend into its surroundings. It instinctively lies flat and motionless when danger is near. In addition, it is completely odorless for the first few days of its life. Other than nursing time, the doe stays away from the fawn to keep her odor from giving away its location.
The fawn starts to eat solid foods at about two weeks of age and by four weeks, is strong enough to travel with its mother. At three months, it begins to lose its spots and takes on the coloration of an adult deer. Fawns remain with their mothers through the first year and sometimes longer, forming a family group oriented around the doe.
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