White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus (Zimmermann)


Photo courtesy of
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Images Library

Description:   White-tailed deer are the smallest of the deer family in Kansas. They can be distinguished by: 1) light-bodied appearance, 2) relatively small ears, 3) reddish-brown to buff upperparts in summer which become grayish-brown in winter, 4) white underparts, including the chest, insides of the hind legs, backs of the lower forelegs, patch on the throat and the chin,5) long, bushy tail brown above and white beneath, which, when alarmed, it "flags" (holds erect and waves back and forth), 6) antlers (males only) having one main beam on each side, which sweeps up from the head, then forward without forking (as in the mule deer), and with three to six unforked tines, or points, projecting upward from each antler beam.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 1340-2150 mm; tail 152-360 mm; hind foot 480-538 mm; ear 140-230 mm; weight 40-125 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   White-tailed deer inhabit most of the United States and southern Canada, and occurs south through central America to northern South America. It is an animal of forest edge, woodland, and wooded banks of Kansas rivers and streams. In eastern Kansas the white-tailed deer also inhabits dense second-growth timber. Although it now exists in and about thickly settled human communities, in 1933 these deer were thought to be nearly extinct in Kansas. Newly arrived settlers shot them for food without limit, and coupled with land clearing for agriculture. This reduced the populations to very low levels. However, since 1945, with the protection of game laws, the white-tailed deer has reoccupied its former range in considerable numbers.

The subspecies found in eastern Kansas is Odocoileus virginianus macrourus, while O. v. texanus occurs in western Kansas.

   In white-tailed deer the rut is from late September through January, peaking in November. Bucks compete for individual does. As with other deer, the neck and shoulders of the males become swollen. After a gestation period of about 200 days, a doe bears one to two fawns, depending on her age and condition, usually in May. Triplets are rare. At birth the fawn averages about 1.7 kilograms in weight. During the first week of life the fawn remains concealed while the doe feeds. Later it begins to follow the doe short distances, and after a month accompanies her everywhere. Weaning to solid food takes place over a period of several months, but by autumn the young are independent, although they often remain with the female through winter. White-tailed deer fawns seem to lose their spotted coat only after they are three months old, considerably later than mule deer fawns. Fawn growth rate also appears to be more rapid. Rapid maturation is associated with this rapid growth; fawns may breed at six months of age, and produce offspring as yearlings, although litter size is usually reduced. In many populations, however, most females do not breed until they are one and a half years old, when male white-tailed deer first attain sexual maturity.

A white-tailed deer fawn (Odocoileus virginianus) in early June.
Photo by William M. Cook.
Copyright 1999. All rights reserved.

Habits:   White-tailed deer are an elusive species, and is much less gregarious than the mule deer. It is rarely seen during the day and is silent and very wary when moving to feed or to a bedding site at dawn or dusk. During spring and summer males are solitary and previous family groups separate, but in fall and winter they may gather in small bands to browse and shelter. Where food is plentiful, the white-tailed deer may concentrate and remain for some time, and a "deer yard" results. In other cases, when food is more dispersed, the "yarding" habit is not seen. White-tailed deer are less wide-ranging than are mule deer, and home ranges, though variable in size, may be as small as a kilometer in diameter. Bucks may wander much farther during the rut in search of receptive does. Seasonal movements may also be pronounced, to and from summer and winter range.

Food:   The white-tailed deer is more a browser than a grazer, feeding on leaves, stems, buds and bark throughout the year. Like the mule deer, it has developed a fondness for agricultural crops such as soy beans, milo, alfalfa, and corn. In autumn and winter it feeds upon acorns if available.

Remarks:   Today, the white-tailed deer is a highly valued resource in Kansas. These highly adaptable creatures adjust well to a life in close proximity with humans and their agricultural practices. They are fleet and excellent jumpers, easily clearing a fence 2.5 meters high.

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