Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on July 30, 2013




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Q. – I recently discovered a fawn lying in the field behind my house. While I know this is normal behavior for this time of year, a fawn being left alone by its mother, my question is, at what point does the fawn begin traveling and remain with its mother?

                                                                                          T. D. – Williamsport, PA


A. – At birth, and for several days following parturition a fawn is quite vulnerable. The frailty associated with any newborn not withstanding, the fawn of the white-tailed deer faces even greater odds of survival during the initial stages of life. In simple laymen terms, a freshly delivered fawn makes for an easily gotten meal for predators. Whitetail fawns are hiders. This adaptive strategy protects the very young from certain death from an assortment of meal seekers. Because the infant cannot yet outrun any of its natural foes, its survival hinges entirely on cryptic behavior. The fawn must remain motionless where it hides between feedings from mom. The fawn is well equipped in its spotted camouflage coat to evade detection and because it is nearly scentless, a predator finds it difficult to locate unless blindly stumbling onto the neonate.


The mother separates herself from her fawn as a protection mechanism, not because of indifference on her part. All one need do is watch the interaction between the two during nursing sessions to understand the maternal bond between mother and child. By remaining separate, the mother, whom cannot eliminate her own scent helps defer attention away from her baby.

While each fawn will mature at different levels, with some fawns being physically capable in accompanying mom as early as three weeks from birth, most are not ready to do so until they have reached six weeks of age. This is especially true when multiple fawns are born to the mother. Directly following birth, a fawn can spend upwards of three hours with its mother before being led to a fresh bed. When it is time to feed, the dam will approach the fawns bedding area and utter soft maternal grunts audible only for a few short yards. This call results in the fawn leaving its bed and running to the doe.

Q. – We have been educated that it is never a good idea to assume a fawn has been abandoned by its mother simply because it is alone. However, I have heard a fawn crying, making sounds that seem like it is either in trouble, has lost its mother or is afraid. When this transpires would it be safe to believe the mother has been killed or is reluctant to take care of her baby and the fawn should be rescued through human intervention?

                                                                                        B. B. – Jericho, VT


A. – Based upon the response to the previous question, it should always be assumed that mother is never far away. Other than extreme circumstances of poor mothering skills or death of the mother, a fawn should never be removed from its environment. I understand the bawling of a fawn does indeed evoke emotion and protective instincts. After all, who of us could conscionably ignore the cries of a baby? However, similar to a baby’s cry, where it is not immediately understood as to what is perpetuating its displeasure, fawns will bawl for a variety of reasons. The most dramatic and high-pitched of the fawn’s vocalizations is the distress call. This can be heard from quite a distance and will usually beckon not only the fawn’s mother to come running, but any other doe within the vicinity to investigate. Remember, whitetail fawns are hiders and in order to maintain anonymity their best defense to remain motionless and quiet.


Again, a fawn will bawl for different reasons. First and foremost is when it feels threatened or is actually in eminent danger from a predator. At this point the fawn will bawl repeatedly. Another cause for a fawn to cry is when it has been displaced from its mother. If something has happened to the mother or if she is detained from returning to nurse on schedule, the fawn may begin to utter hunger cries. The hungrier it becomes the louder it whales. Unless something out of the ordinary has occurred with the mother, her feeding schedule is quite regimented as her mammary glands fill up with milk causing her discomfort. By understanding and being able to identify why and when a fawn may bawl should help anyone to determine if the fawn is actually an orphan.

Q. – Here in Maine I hunt the expanded archery season that begins in early September. Because of the sheer number of deer per square mile, archers have the opportunity to shoot an unlimited amount of does simply by purchasing antlerless tags. The problem that I have been experiencing is trying to determine button bucks from does. Although legal to shoot, I would much prefer to take a doe rather than a yearling buck, Do you have any suggestions                                                                       P. L. – Scarborough, ME


A. – In a word, patience. Be deliberate in identifying your intended target, even if it means ultimately not getting the shot. There are general behaviors that can help you in determining the sex of the deer. A juvenile buck will come to a food source alone, whereas a doe of that same age will be with her mother and/or other members of that doe family group. Although subtle, a buck’s front end will appear bulkier than that of his female counterparts. I would suggest a good pair of binoculars to help make out whether or not any protrusions are atop the deer’s head.

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