White-tailed deer are the most interesting and sought after animals in North America and Mississippi.
Depending on where you are located in the Magnolia State, deer usually breed between Dec. 10 and Feb. 4. Does normally breed only once per year; however, they may come into “heat” 3 to 4 times a year beginning in December and ending in February. The periods of “heat” last about 24 to 36 hours and occur about 28 days apart. A doe may have from 1 to 3 fawns per year, depending on her physical condition; about half the does in Mississippi produce 2 fawns per year. Does in Mississippi do not breed until they are 1.5 years old. Many people believe that old does do not breed, but they do breed and produce young as long as they live.
Bucks do not come in “heat,” but rather enter “rut.” Rut consists of sparring, spreading of sign (rubs, scrapes, etc.), courtship, and breeding.
Sparring begins after bucks lose their velvet. Most bucks are fairly tolerant of each other during sparring. Sparring serves to establish which bucks in an area are dominant. Body and antler size are good indicators of a buck’s social dominance. Bucks communicate with other deer during rut through various visual and scent signals. “Rubs” are trunks or stems of trees or bushes that bucks rub bark off with their antlers and head. Glands in the head leave scent on the rub. “Scrapes” consist of broken limbs 3 to 6 feet above ground, with a small depression pawed in the soil underneath on which the buck urinates. Bucks return often to scrapes to freshen their scent. A buck often locates the scent of a doe in “heat” near a scrape and will follow her with his nose to the ground while making a grunting sound. Bucks will also urinate on their inner leg glands to signal other deer. Rubs, scrapes, and urinating on the tarsal glands all serve to assert a buck’s social dominance and to locate does.
During courtship, bucks become loners. Also, during courtship, tolerance among bucks disappears and fierce fights between bucks occur. Unless a doe is in “heat,” she will run from a buck. Although all bucks court, only dominant bucks breed with does.
Peak fawning times in Mississippi occur between June 22 and July 22. Fawns remain hidden near their birthplace for roughly 2 weeks, but by the time the fawn is 1 month old it will begin to follow its mother. Fawns will nurse until they are 3 to 5 months.
Bucks take no part in raising the fawns. A fawn will lose its spotted coat at 4 months. Male fawns follow their mother for about 1 year; female fawns follow for about 2 years.
Deer in Mississippi feed mostly during the late afternoon and night. Generally, they spend the day bedded down in cover resting. An adult deer requires about 8 to 10 pounds of food per day, and about 2 to 3 quarts of water per day (depending on the type of food eaten).
James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is www.wildlifemiss.org.