Deer in Spring Landscape

Frequently Asked Questions
about White-tailed Deer

Are there two different color phases of white-tailed deer? No

Piebald-deer, photo by USFWS
White-tailed deer have two different coats of hair during the year. The gray winter coat is comprised of longer guard hairs and a soft wooly underfur that provide insulation from the cold. This thicker winter coat is shed prior to the hot summer months. This shorter summer coat is reddish-brown and lacks the thick insulating underfur. The summer coat hairs are short and wiry.

A genetic defect produces a few white-tailed deer that are brown and white spotted, similar to a pinto horse. These white-tailed deer are called piebald. In addition to the coloration deficiency, many piebald deer have skeletal deformities such as short legs, bowing of the nasal bone, arching of the back bone and heart defects. Piebald deer make up less than one percent of white-tailed deer herds.

Do white-tailed deer shed their antlers every year? Yes

Male white-tailed deer grow and shed their antlers every year. Antlers are composed of true bone. Antler growth begins in late March or early April and the growing bone is covered by skin with numerous blood vessels (velvet). In late summer and early fall, testosterone levels increase. This hormone elevation results in the antlers hardening and the buck rubs off the drying velvet. When testosterone levels begin to drop, antlers start to shed beginning in mid January. Deer that are in the best physical condition will lose their antlers later in the winter. To learn more about antlers, then visit the Deer Antler page.

Do white-tailed deer have more than one stomach? No

Deer have a four chambered stomach that is required to effectively digest the cellulose in the vegetation that they consume. Food first travels to the rumen that contains bacteria and protozoans that begin the process of digestion. The reticulum circulates food back to the mouth so that the deer can chew the food again. The omasum functions as a pump and sends the partially digested food from the reticulum to the abomasum. This final chamber functions as a true stomach and completes the digestive process.

Should man feed deer during a severe winter to help deer survive? No

Since deer require microbes (bacteria and protozoans) in their rumen to digest food, time is required for the microbes to gradually adjust to new diets. Nutritionally stressed deer feeding on the roughage of woody stems may not survive when they quickly shift their diet to grain or hay. Deer could have full stomachs but not be able to digest and gain nutrients from the new food. Deer gradually shift their diet throughout the year. Deer adjust to the rigors of winter by naturally slowing their consumption of food and using stored fat for survival. Deer may lose up to 20 percent of their body weight during a severe winter. Some deer that have injuries or heavy parasite loads may not survive during the stressful winter months.

The Wildlife Management Institute's position on supplemental feeding can be summarized by the following quote from their publication Feeding Wildlife Just Say No: "supplemental feeding --however well intentioned— either compromises the animal's wildness or wellness, or it interferes with the essential natural processes of selection. For the long-term benefit of big game wildlife populations, supplemental feeding is an accident waiting to happen. When and where such feeding is done, it is undertaken only--if not expressly--for the interest of people, because the fed animals almost invariably will not benefit and very likely will be harmed by the practice".

When is the white-tailed deer breeding season?

Maryland white-tailed deer breeding season begins in mid October and continues into mid December. The onset of breeding season is triggered by the shortening of day length (photo period) which affects the pineal gland in both bucks and does. The peak of breeding occurs during the first half of November when most fawns are conceived. One buck can breed numerous does. If a doe fails to become pregnant from the first breeding, she will recycle back into estrous 28 days later.

Can white-tailed deer see colors? Yes

Research by the University of Georgia, University of California and the Medical College of Wisconsin indicates that deer see primarily in shades of green and blue. Researchers believe that deer probably see flourescent orange as lime green.

What causes are the warty appearing skin growths found on some white- tailed deer?

Hairless tumors found on the skin of deer are called cutaneous fibromas. Wildlife veterinarians believe that biting insects spread the virus that causes these skin tumors. Usually the "warty looking" tumors are temporary and do not cause problems for the deer. In rare occasions, the tumors may be large enough that sight, breathing or walking may be impaired. The tumors and virus are not contagious to domestic animals or humans. Only harvested deer with extremely large tumors and secondary infections should not be eaten.

How fast can a white-tailed deer run and how high can they jump?

White-tailed deer have been reported to run at speeds reaching 35 miles per hour. This speed cannot be maintained for long distances.

White-tailed deer are able to clear a 7-foot fence from a standing position. If the deer is running, an 8-foot fence can be jumped.

The ability to run fast and jump high is a survival adaptation. White-tailed deer habitat includes forests and openings. A rapidly running deer is able to leap over large obstructions such a fallen trees or rocks. Many pursuing predators have to run around such objects enabling the deer to escape.

Throughout their history on earth, white-tailed deer have filled an ecological niche as a prey species for large predators. In North America, mountain lions and wolves chase and kill white-tailed deer to feed their young pups and growing cubs. Native Americans ate the venison, fashioned clothes from the skins and made tools with the antlers.

Do white-tailed deer have vocalizations?

Yes, deer make various vocalizations. The sounds generally can be placed into the following groups: alarm, maternal, reproductive.

Alarm calls
When a deer is surprised, it will snort by forcing out air rapidly from the nostrils. When fawns or young adults are captured by a predator or trapped, they will make a bleating or groaning sound. Alarm calls help to warn other deer of real or perceived danger.

Maternal calls
Does use low grunts to communicate with her young and to maintain contact. Fawns respond with a mew like sound. Fawns will also use bleats to get attention from the maternal doe. Communication between does and young help to maintain a close pair bond.

Reproductive calls
Bucks make grunt sounds while searching for receptive does and while tending does. Bucks advertise their presence to prospective does and potential competitive bucks with grunts of varying pitch and volume.

For more information, please contact:

Wildlife and Heritage Service
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Tawes State Office Building, E-1
Annapolis MD 21401
410-260-8540
Toll-free in Maryland: 1-877-620-8DNR, Ext. 8540