Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on July 5, 2016

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July Column

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Editor’s note:  Anyone wishing to send a question for future Ask The Deer Tracker posts can e-mail it to, rgbernier@gmail.com

 

 Q I have noticed over the past few springs that fawns are showing up in my fields at different times, some years early and others much later than normal. Because I am a farmer as well as a deer hunter I am very conscious of the annual fawn drop and don’t want to run any of them over as I cut hay. Can you please explain the disparity in the year-to-year birth dates?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      T. M. – Medina, NY

 A. – You are absolutely correct in your observations; fawns arrive at different times on a year-to-year basis. Even though we are talking about a difference of anywhere from one-to-three weeks, it is still different annually. This fluctuation has nothing to do with weather, late or early spring green up, or any other unpredictable natural phenomena that may transpire. Whitetails are good, but they cannot predict future events and certainly cannot compensate for the unknown.

 

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Here is what we know: a doe’s gestation period is between 195 and 202 days. Averaged out, that would be 198 days of carrying her fawns. That is not to mean a doe cannot birth prematurely or go beyond her due date as there is no exact science when it comes to birthing. But as a whole, most fawn births occur within a 14-day window each spring. Therefore, if we know the duration of gestation and we recognize that birthing transpires at different times each spring, there has to be a cause for this effect. That cause is called conception. Each fall the breeding phase of the whitetail rut is queued by the second full moon after the autumn equinox, during which, for a 14-day period, 70-to-80 percent of the adult doe population is bred. This timing is a defense mechanism that assures fawns being born the following spring will hit the ground when the moon is in its darkest phase. Predators, which hunt primarily at night, find it much more difficult to locate a virtually scentless spotted fawn that lays motionless throughout the night. Based on last fall’s rut timing, this year’s spotted recruitments will begin to appear on or about May 19th, with the greatest influx appearing just prior to Memorial Day weekend.

 

Q. – In your opinion, is there such a thing as a second rut? If not, how do you explain fawns born in July and even August?

P. M. – Great Falls, MN

A. – After decades of observing, photographing and documenting whitetail behavior it is my opinion that there is no ‘second rut.’ Although breeding does take place approximately 28 (and even 56) days following the annual breeding time, this does not denote a second and separate rut. The rut, which consists of four distinct overlapping phases is played out over a 40-day period in a well-balanced deer herd. If the herd is lacking a sufficient mature buck population, or has a skewed buck-to-doe population, it can and will drag the process out, which adds undue stress to the entire population. The bucks will become especially vulnerable in an exceedingly severe winter.

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Beginning with velvet peel in early autumn, a buck’s testosterone steadily increases and peaks on November 1. From that point forward he begins to work with a glass that is being constantly emptied, little by little. By the time an un-bred doe recycles 28 days later, his glass is now half full again. He will indeed exhibit rutting behavior when the perfume of an estrous doe reaches his nostrils, but it won’t be nearly as intense as it was a month ago. He is no longer cruising for opportunities and usually picks up this prospect as he feeds among the resident does. It is uncommon for bucks to actually fight over this pick-up, although several may still be interested. The reason for this is two-fold: testosterone is depleted and the instinctive replenishment of fat reserves becomes critical in each male’s survival for the coming winter months. Expending unnecessary energy only thwarts that end. Where deer herds are healthy, subsisting on great habitat, some yearling does that reach 80-pounds or more can and do cycle for the first time. This occurrence usually transpires either 28 days following the rut or as late as January, a full 56 days after the initial breeding time. The down side to this is fawns being born late the following year, providing precious little time to develop before heading into the following winter.

 

Q. – I have been led to believe that if a human touches a fawn the mother will abandon it, is that true?

A. B. – Carlisle, PA

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A – False, but a good measure to live by. I believe the misinformation regarding the touching of baby deer stemmed from wildlife agencies making every attempt to prevent well intentioned folks from picking up what they believed were orphaned fawns. I can tell you for a fact that the mothering instinct in whitetails is a strong bond. Several years ago I was photographing a newborn fawn in tall grass. Lying prone with my lens in front of me there was one blade of grass between the fawn and me preventing a clear shot. As I reached to bend the grass the fawn jumped and bolted. Unfortunately, in his haste to depart he became lodged in a square wire fence surrounding a nearby cemetery. I managed to dislodge the little fellow and carried him back to his bed. Once I backed off he rose and marched down to the woods line bawling incessantly. Before long, mom came along and gave him a tongue washing (perhaps a lashing as well for moving) and escorted her baby back into the woods.

 

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