History of the Whitetail Deer
With a following that reaches estimated numbers of close to 14 million, American deer hunters have made the Whitetail deer the most sought after big-game animal in North America. Add the uncanny ability to fool the most seasoned hunters, along with beauty, speed and a certain amount of mystery and it is easy to see why the Whitetail Deer has built a reputation as one of the noblest species in the wildlife kingdom.
The scientific name for the Whitetail is Odocileus Virginianus. Since the early 90's, its population has neared roughly 25 million. Adaptability is perhaps at the heart of the whitetails growth as they are able to adjust to almost any environment or circumstance they are put in. They can be found in almost any part of the U.S., from the rugged hills of the Appalachian Mountain region, to the harsh swamps of Florida, even the dry deserts of Arizona.
It is this high adaptability nature has resulted in the development of many different kinds of whitetail deer. These different species include the dark gray deer found in the mountains of North America, and the orange-cinnamon deer of South America. These different types were classified as different species until the late 1800s. Today, there are more than 30 different sub-species of whitetail deer; with 17 sub-species in the U.S. and Canada, and 13 more in Mexico and Central America.
The most abundant of the whitetail species is that of the North American Virginia Whitetail. It is this species that greeted the early colonists. However, many conservationists believe some of these subspecies may soon die out and become extinct. In an effort to prevent this from happening, they have begun the live trapping of many of these species. Once captured, the deer are shipped to various parts of the U.S. in order to encourage cross breeding. The desired result is the development of a much stronger deer in those re-location areas.
Many scientists believe that ancient deer once inhabited the cold climate of the Arctic Circle. It is believed that 4 million years ago the first deer migrated their way into what we now call the United States. These ancient deer were small; no larger than a rabbit. It is also said that they had fangs and unlike deer of today, they lacked antlers. As the first humans were crossing into North America, about 11,000 years ago, many of the larger animals which roamed the land began to disappear. Although many theories surround these circumstances, many believe the reason for this mass extinction was due to a large change in climate.
During this time of mass extinction, nearly every species of deer which inhabited North America also died. However, the white-tailed and black tailed deer managed to survive, most likely due to their immense adaptability. Early on, Whitetails were only located east of the Mississippi, with blacktail’s and mule deer making up the rest of the deer population in North America. Despite this, over the years the distribution of the two species has flipped. Blacktails now occupy only a narrow strip along the Pacific coast, while mule deer are found in the Western US and Mexico.
After World War II, conservation efforts were initiated for the whitetail deer, further increasing the whitetail's population. As a result, Whitetails are now the dominant species in North America.
In early times, deer were an integral part of Native American's lives. Deer meat and bone marrow was an important portion of the diet, while deer hides were used to make clothing, rugs, blankets and fishnets, and bones were used to make arrowheads, clubs, fishhooks and tools. The first settlers of America enjoyed feasting on various animals, such as turkeys and grouse. While these animals fulfilled some of their needs, it wasn’t until the first winter, when cold and snow sent many of these animals into hiding, that settlers discovered deer as a form of sustenance. Luckily, the natives taught the settlers how to utilize the deer more efficiently. Thus, the entire deer proved useful to the survival of the settlers.
Since those days, deer populations have suffered large fluctuations. The first major decline in deer numbers was a result of fur trade. It is estimated that the Native Americans killed nearly 5 million deer per year in order to supply this trade during its most popular time. Years later, around the 1800s, deer populations were on the rise again due to a decline in the fur trade and establishment of deer in new habitats. However, this increase was short lived. Toward the late 1800s, market and subsistence hunting brought the deer population to its lowest level, and in some places deer disappeared completely. Deer venison was also a popular item on restaurant menus during this period. This severe decline gave birth to new laws and habitats protecting deer. As a result the deer population has been rising ever since.
During the 1980s, in an effort improve overall quality of bucks, many states adopted antler point restrictions. These restrictions meant that no buck with fewer than three points on one antler could be legally harvested. This was implemented to simply protect young males until they reached adulthood. Unfortunately, this plan backfired by focusing all hunting on the older bucks which led to their declining their population. As a result, by 1992, most states had revoked the restrictions.
Not only has the whitetail endured modern man's intrusion into its natural environments, it has ultimately benefited from the encroachment. For example, manipulation of habitat and modern land use practices has created diverse cover and food arrangements which have helped the whitetail thrive. Compared to conditions during primeval times, this intrusion of man has led to a substantial increase in deer numbers as well as the range of area they inhabited.
The blacktail deer gets its name from its black tails. This deer is also characterized as the smallest and darkest deer of the species. Blacktails typically inhabit dense woodlands and coastal forests. Within the species there are two main types of blacktail deer: the Columbian and the Sitka. Sitka blacktails most resemble whitetails. However, they are larger and more reddish than the other type of blacktail….the Columbian blacktail. The Columbian species inhabits the area between Southern California and British Columbia, the Sitka existent from British Columbia and above.
Blacktails tend be shier than most other deer species. When faced with a dangerous situation, they would rather hide than fight. Blacktails also co-exist in groups, but intriguingly, these groups are composed of both sexes. Therefore, blacktail bucks and does must recognize and accept one another, which is atypical behavior for a whitetail.
Research has suggested that mule deer may be the result of cross-breeding between whitetail and blacktail deer. Easily recognizably features are large, mule like ears and narrow, black-tipped tails, along with their typically dark gray coats. Mule deer can grow to about 125-250 pounds and stand 30-40 inches high. Mule deer inhabit most of the Western United States and Mexico, although some can be found as far north as Alaska. The most abundant subspecies of mule deer is the Rocky Mountain mule deer. This subspecies has large antlers, a darker coat, and lighter colored tails.
In total, there are about ten recognized sub-species of mule deer. However, the differences between them are so trivial (body size and tail color) that researchers argue if it is enough to establish another category.
Mule deer, like blacktails, tend to be more subdued than whitetails. When approached, Mule deer are more cautious, while the whitetail is quick to turn and run. Breeding habits also differ between the Mule deer and whitetails. A male mule deer's face closely resembles that of a fawn. Thus, a buck will court a doe by making fawn sounds and approaching her slowly; unlike the whitetail, who engages in a long chase.
During breeding phase, young male mule deer utilize an interesting trick in order to win a mate. When they spot an older buck with a doe, they will run at them as if avoiding a predator. This action typical forces the older buck and doe to also run in fear of the predator. The younger buck will then chase the doe. This behavior is unique to mule deer.