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More information about whitetail deer than you want to know

By Aaron Honeycutt
Posted Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - I have been reading some posts regarding deer in Chatham County and have been impressed by the general misconceptions many have about deer. If someone has read all of the posts and taken them for facts they by now have a very cloudy picture of what deer are and how they behave.

The image painted of deer hunters also is interesting though not too accurate. Surely there are examples of "trophy buck hunters" just as there are "meat hunters" but by far the majority of hunters across our state fall into a place I call deer hunting. We kill many more does than bucks, use the meat from our kills and share the venison with others who will use it. Starting with the 2007 season the Wildlife Resources Commission has made bonus tags available to hunters who desire to take extra does. This means the legal limit at present is two bucks in Chatham and unlimited does.

People often are critical of hunters who don't hunt the way someone thinks they should. Some think the only good deer is a dead one and others think we should "let nature take it's course". Not to mention the political element including the insurance companies. That force right now is playing out in the form of drastic proposals that could radicaly change our deer hunting laws beginning next season. For two seasons now the state has allowed towns to hold special deer reduction hunts but this has been almost not used. Politics gets into it and for everyone who has a deer problem there is a neighbor that can't bear the thought of a deer being killed by a hunter.

In my mind, hunting is the only practical method of reduction and for deterrent a good fence will protect a garden. If you have a deer problem and also a few huntable acres there is someone willing to hunt those deer but don't expect deer numbers to drop in your yard just because there is hunting down the road.

Whitetails live in small family groups made up of old does and their female offspring. Also in the group will be the currant fawns and bucks of about one year. These mamas, aunts and cousins have a limited home range and they make up those six or so deer that we all see over and over again. Groups can be much larger if hunting is not present. These groups have range overlap with other groups so they know each other.

Dominant old grandma does run the show. They repel intruders with sharp strikes of front hooves. Before the time breeding season begins here the last of October and early November young bucks now past a year are driven out of the family group by their mothers. Nature's way of reducing inbreeding. Bucks begin cruising the various family groups checking for does approaching breeding time and hunters shoot many young bucks when they enter unfamiliar territory.

Mature bucks behave a bit differently making them less visible to hunters. Many move mostly at night and the things they have learned about hunters over a couple of seasons make them a real challenge to kill. Whitetail bucks do not gather does for breeding. They are monogamous for a couple of days then leave the bread doe and search out another. These bucks may travel miles searching does. People often misunderstand what they see in deer behavior. You may have seen a big buck with several does at breeding time, he was really interested in only one of them.

Does have single fawns the first time. Twins are the rule after that with triplets a rarity. They birth only once a year. About a fourth of fawns will die from various causes in a healthy herd. In 1985 NC had a population of 450,000 deer it is over a million today and considered stable in most of the state. Many thousands are taken each year by hunters which offsets the many thousands born each year.

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