Hunting White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is one of Minnesota’s most popular big game animals. It is found in every Minnesota County and adapts well to most surroundings.

Description: The whitetail deer is a large brown or gray mammal that has a white tail it lifts and waves when alarmed and running.

Length: Whitetails are generally 4 to 6 feet long, have a 6 to 12 inch tail and stand 2 to 3 feet tall.

Weight: Males weigh 100 to 300 pounds; females weigh 85 to 170 pounds

Color: Reddish brown in summer and grayish brown in winter

Communication: White tail deer communicate in many different ways using sounds, scent, body language and marking. All white-tailed deer are capable of producing audible noises unique to each animal. Fawns release a high pitched squeal, known as a bleat, to call out to their mothers. A doe makes maternal grunts when searching for her bedded fawns. Grunting produces a low, guttural sound that will attract the attention of any other deer in the area. Both does and bucks snort, a sound that often signals danger. As well as snorting, bucks also grunt at a pitch that gets lower with maturity. Bucks are unique in their grunt-snort-wheeze pattern that often shows aggression and hostility. When a white-tailed deer is spooked it will raise its tail to warn the other deer in the area that can see it.

Diet: White-tailed deer eat large varieties of food, commonly eating legumes and foraging on other plants including shoots, leaves and grasses. They also eat acorns, fruit and corn. Their special stomach allows them to eat some things that humans cannot such as mushrooms and poison ivy. Though almost entirely herbivorous white-tailed deer have been known to opportunistically feed on nesting songbirds and field mice.

Reproduction: White-tailed deer mate from November to December. Their young (often two fawns weighing around 8 pounds each) are born seven months later. Fawns have white spots that remain for three to four months. Fawns remain with their mother and nurse for several months. During the mating season, male deer (bucks) travel widely in search of females (does). Bucks also scrape small patches of ground on which they urinate. These scrapes may tell bucks that other bucks are in the area.

Predators: Wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions and bobcats

Habitat and Range: White-tailed deer live in prairies, forests, swamps, wood lots and agricultural fields. They are common in both suburban and rural areas.

Population and Management: After the young (fawns) are born each spring, there are between 900,000 and 1,000,000 deer in Minnesota. The hunting season is important to keep the deer population from getting too large. Each year, Minnesota hunters harvest between 150,000 and 200,000 deer.

Antlers: Males re-grow their antlers every year. Antlers begin to grow in late spring covered with a tissue known as velvet. About 1 in 10,000 females also have antlers; this is usually associated with hermaphroditism. Bucks either have a typical or a non-typical antler arrangement. Typical antlers are symmetrical and the points grow straight up off the main beam while non-typical antlers are asymmetrical and the points may project at any angle from the main beam. A buck’s inside spread can be anywhere from 3 to 25 inches. Bucks without branching antlers are often termed spike bucks or simply spikes. These spikes can be quite long or very short. Length and branching of antlers is determined by nutrition, age and genetics. Rack growth tends to be very important from late spring till about one month before velvet sheds. During this time frame damage that may be done to the racks tends to be permanent. The number of points, the length or thickness of the antlers are a general indication of age but cannot be relied upon for positive aging. Some say that deer that have spiked antlers should be culled from the population to produce larger branching antler genetics. Spike bucks are different than button bucks. Button bucks are generally about six to nine months of age during their first winter that have skin covered nobs on their heads. Bucks shed their antlers when all females have been bred, generally from late December to February.

Marking/Scraping/Rubbing: White-tailed deer possess many glands that allow them to produce scents, some of which are so potent they can be detected by the human nose. It was originally thought that secretions from the preorbital glands (in front of the eye) were rubbed on tree branches but new research suggests this is not so. It has been found that scent from the forehead or sudoriferous (found on the head between the antlers and eyes) is used to deposit scent on branches that overhang “scrapes” (areas scraped by a deer’s front hooves prior to rub-urination). The tarsal glands are found on the upper inside of the hock (middle joint) on each hind leg. Scent is deposited from these glands when deer walk through and rub against vegetation. These scrapes are used by bucks as a sort of a “sign-post” by which bucks know which other bucks are in the area, and to let does know that a buck is regularly passing through the area-for breeding purposes. The scent from the metatarsal glands, found on the outside of each hind leg, between the ankle and the hooves, may be used as an alarm scent. The scents from the interdigital glands, which are located in between the hooves on each foot, emit a yellow waxy substance with an offensive odor. Deer can be seen stomping their hooves if they sense danger through sight, sound or smell. This action leaves an excessive amount of odor for the purpose of warning other deer of possible danger.

Throughout the year deer will rub-urinate, a process during which a deer squats while urinating so that urine will run down the inside of the deer’s legs, over the tarsal glands and onto the hair covering these glands. Bucks rub-urinate more frequently during the breeding season. Secretions from the tarsal gland mix with the urine and bacteria to produce a strong smelling odor. During the breeding season does release hormones and pheromones that tell bucks that a doe is in heat and able to breed. Bucks also rub trees and shrubs with their antlers and head during the breeding season, possibly transferring scent from the forehead glands to the tree, leaving a scent other deer can detect.

Sign-post marking (scrapes and rubs) are a very obvious way that white-tailed deer communicate. Although bucks do most of the marking, does visit these locations often. To make a rub, a buck will use its antlers to strip the bark off of small diameter trees, helping to mark his territory and polish his antlers. To marl areas they regularly pass through bucks will make scrapes. Often occurring in patterns known as scrape lines, scrapes are areas where a buck has used its front hooves to expose bare earth. They often rub-urinate into these scrapes, which are often found under twigs that have been marked with scent from the forehead glands.

Hunting: A healthy deer herd is one of the most important factors contributing to a successful hunting season. Site preparation is important as a hunter will scout areas they plan to hunt several months before the season opens. Trail cameras have become an important tool when scouting. Building tree stands, planting food plots, sighting in weapons and purchasing and using proper clothing and hunting aids are also important for a successful hunt.

Fun Facts: When alarmed, whitetails fan their ears and raise their tails, as though raising a white flag. This is a signal to other deer that danger is nearby.

In 1926, Carl Lenander Jr took a white-tailed buck near Tofte, MN that weighed 400 pounds after it was field dressed and was estimated at 510 pounds when alive.

Deer have dichromatic (two-color) vision with blue and yellow primaries, humans have trichromatic vision. Thus deer poorly distinguish the oranges and reds that stand out to humans.

The white-tailed deer is a ruminant which means it has a four chambered stomach. Each chamber has a different and specific function that allows the deer to quickly eat a variety of different food, digesting it at a later time in a safe area of cover. The Whitetail stomach hosts a complex set of bacteria that change as the deer’s diet changes through the seasons. If the bacteria necessary for digestion of a particular food are absent it will not be digested.

Deer have been recorded running at speeds up to 47 mph. They can make jumps of 8.9 feet high and up to 33 feet in length.

Hunting deer with edged weapons, such as a lance or sword, is still practiced in continental Europe. In such hunts, the hunters are mounted on horseback and use packs of deerhound or greyhound dogs to track and drive deer.