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The whitetail deer is one of the best known and easily recognized large mammals and can be found throughout North America. Other members of the deer family found in North America include the elk, moose, caribou, mule deer and blacktail deer.
The whitetail deer is a large animal which varies quite a bit in size, depending on the particular subspecies (there are 30 recognized) and the region where it is found. The adult whitetail deer's weight averages from about 100 to 350 pounds. Mature males are generally larger than the females. The whitetail is an ungulate, or hoofed animal, with each foot ending in a cloven or two piece hoof. The under parts of the deer's body are white with a white patch on the throat and another smaller band of white around the nose. The underside of the tail is also white. The upper body parts are colored reddish brown during the warmer months but in the fall, whitetail deer molt into their winter coats of dark, grayish brown. For several months of the year, male whitetail deer, known as bucks, are easily recognized by the presence of antlers on their head, which the females, known as does, lack.
Whitetail deer have played a very important role in the history of our country. They were used extensively by Native Americans for both food and clothing and also by the early settlers. Extensive clearing of land, unregulated hunting, and loss of habitat brought the whitetail deer population to a record low by the late 1800's. Changing land uses, strict game laws, and a lack of natural large predators have caused the whitetail deer population to rebound dramatically. Whitetails are the number one game animal in the United States.
HABITS AND HABITATS
Whitetail deer are extremely cautious and wary animals with highly developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing. When threatened with danger, they will often attempt to quietly sneak away. If seriously frightened however, a whitetail deer will often utter a loud, snorting or blowing sound, and then quickly run away while raising the tail upwards like a flag, exposing the white underneath as a visual alarm to other deer nearby. Bucks are primarily solitary animals except during the breeding season, also called the rut, when they actively seek out does for breeding. The breeding season usually takes place in November but in some areas can extent into early December. Bucks rub their antlers against small saplings to mark their territory and also use them to fight with other bucks during the rut. After the breeding season, the antlers are shed and a new set begins to grow later in the spring. Does often travel together, especially during the winter months, or a doe will often be accompanied by her young from the previous season. By late spring, the young deer begin to drift away from their mothers. Does give birth to their young in early summer. The young deer, known as fawns, are almost scentless for the first few days of their life. White spots on a reddish brown coat help to camouflage the fawn on the sun dappled forest floor where it spends much of it's time hiding from predators. The mother returns periodically to nurse the fawn until it is large enough to follow her about. Whitetail deer occupy a variety of habitats from forests to fields and swamps. They are most common where a variety of habitats are found, providing them with all their seasonal needs. Whitetails are herbivores, feeding on a large variety of plant materials such as tender young leaves, stems, shoots and in some areas acorns. Deer also seek out mushrooms and wild fruits and will feed on man's agricultural crops, such as corn and soybeans, often causing considerable damage.
The mule deer is a member of the cervid (deer) family. Its coat is reddish in summer and some kind of blue-gray in winter which blends much better with the snow-covered landscape than the reddish color. The mule deer of the Rocky Mountains region have a whitish rump patch. Their creamy-white ears are a quarter again larger than those of the whitetail deer and their tails have a black tip. They grow to a height of up to 3 - 3.5 feet Males weigh between 125 - 400 pounds, females between 100 - 150 pounds When alarmed, both bucks (males) and does (females) snort. The males utter a guttural sound during rutting season and, seldom heard, does and fawns (the young) utter a bleat.
Mule deer young (the average is 2, but it can be just 1 or even 3), born between June and July just after the does have reached the summer range, are spotted and able to walk a few minutes after birth. It takes about a month until they are able to run with their mothers.
HABITS AND HABITATS
The mule deer is considerably larger than the whitetail, its body is heavier and its legs are stocky and less trim than those of its whitetail counterpart. When something alarms the animal it seems to be changing into a completely different animal: it becomes graceful and alive when, with its head held up high, it starts to run off, making impressing leaps as high as 8 feet. It can reach a speed of up to 35 miles per hour that it can keep up for a few minutes. Although they look less aggressive than elk they are well able to stand their ground when facing predators like coyotes. With their hooves they may badly hurt or even kill such an aggressor.
The rutting season begins around October and lasts until about December. The bucks, whose necks swell during the rut, are polygamous and can gather a small harem around them. The males grow symmetrical, branched antlers that are shed between January and February. But rather than using their antlers in actual fights they do more bluffing than for example the whitetail deer.
Mule deer are most active during dawn and dusk or in moonlight nights. During the heat of the day they rest and oftentimes you can see beds of matted grass indicating that this is mule deer habitat. They can be spotted alone or in small groups and are more gregarious in winter. While bucks lead a rather solitary life except during mating season, the does form small groups and, in winter, get together in larger groups to spend the time on a winter range, which is the same year after year. The mule deer is a browser and feeds on shrubs and twigs but also on grass and herbs. They prefer coniferous forests, desert shrubs, chaparral, grassland with shrubs as their habitat. In mountainous regions they migrate to higher elevations in spring and come back down in fall. They tend to follow definite trails, especially in winter.
The blacktail deer obviously gets its name from their black tails. They are also characterized as the smallest and darkest deer of the deer species. Blacktails normally inhabit dense woodlands and coastal forests. There are two main types of blacktail deer: the Columbian and the Sitka. Sitka blacktails resemble whitetails - they are larger and more reddish than the Columbian blacktail. The Columbian race inhabits the area between Southern California to British Columbia; The Sitka live from British Columbia on up.
HABITS AND HABITATS
Blacktails tend be shier than most other species. When faced with danger, they would rather hide than fight. Blacktails also form smaller groups, but interestingly, these groups are composed of both sexes. Thus, bucks and does must recognize and accept each other, which is atypical behavior for a whitetail.