The White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), also known as the Virginia deer, is a medium-sized deer found throughout most of the continental United States, southern Canada, Mexico, Central America and northern portions of South America as far south as Peru. The species is most common east of the American cordillera, and is absent from much of the western United States, including Nevada, Utah and California. There are populations of Arizona (couesi) and Carmen Mountain’s (carminis) white-tailed deer that inhabit the mountain mixed deciduous/pine forests of Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas extending southwards into Mexico. As a result of introductions, white-tailed deer are found also in localized areas of northern Europe such as Finland. White-tailed deer are generalists and can adapt to a wide variety of habitats. Although most often thought of as forest animals depending on relatively small openings and edges, white-tailed deer can equally adapt themselves to life in more open savanna and even sage communities as in Texas and in the Venezuelan llanos region. Also, there is a noticeable difference in size between male and female deer of the savannas.
The deer can be recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail, which it shows as a signal of alarm by raising the tail during escape. The male (also known as a buck) usually weighs from 130 to 220 pounds (60 to 100 kg) but, in rare cases, animals in excess of 350 pounds (160 kg) have been recorded. The female (doe) usually weighs from 90 to 130 pounds (40 to 60 kg), but some can weigh as much as 165 to 175 pounds (75 or 80 kg). The deer’s coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer, and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. Males one year of age or older have antlers. Antlers begin to grow in early spring, covered with a highly vascular tissue known as velvet. A buck’s spread can be any were from 3-25 inches. Bucks shed their antlers when all females have been bred, which can range from late December to February. Females enter oestrus, colloquially called the rut, in the fall, normally in late October or early November, triggered mainly by declining photoperiod. Sexual maturation of females depends on population density. Females can mature in their first year, although this is unusual and would occur only at very low population levels. Most females mature at one or, sometimes, two years of age. Males compete for the opportunity of breeding females. Sparring among males determines a dominance hierarchy. Bucks will attempt to copulate with as many females as possible, losing physical condition since they barely eat or rest during the rut. The general geographical trend is for the rut to be shorter in duration at increased latitude. Females give birth to one, two or even possibly three spotted young, known as fawns in mid to late spring, generally in May or June. Fawns lose their spots during the first summer and by the first winter. Male fawns tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females.
Range and population
Market gunning, unregulated hunting and poor land-use practices, including deforestation severely depressed deer populations in much of their range. For example, by about 1930, the U.S. population was thought to number about 300,000. After an outcry by hunters and other conservation ecologists, commercial exploitation of deer became illegal and conservation programs along with regulated hunting were introduced to solve the problem. Recent estimates put the deer population in the United States at around 30 million. These changes were so successful that, in some areas, deer populations are very high and the animal is considered a nuisance.
The species is the state animal of Arkansas, Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, as well as the provincial animal of Saskatchewan. Texas is home to more white-tailed deer than any other U.S. state or Canadian province, with an estimated population over four million. High populations of white-tailed deer occur in the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas. Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania also boast high deer densities.
In many states in the U.S. and in several Canadian provinces, hunting for white-tailed deer is deeply ingrained in local cultures and is central to the economy of many rural areas.
A sub-race of the white-tailed deer is white – not albino – in color. The former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, New York, has the largest known concentration of white deer. Strong conservation efforts have allowed this race to thrive within the confines of the depot.
In the western portions of the United States and Canada, the white-tailed deer range overlaps with those of the black-tailed deer and mule deer. In the extreme north of the range, their habitat is also exploited by moose in some areas. Whitetails may occur in areas that are also exploited by elk (wapiti) such as in mixed deciduous river valley bottomlands and formerly in the mixed deciduous forest of Eastern United States.