The white-tailed deer is the most widely distributed and the most numerous of North America’s big game animals. With its excellent eyesight, hearing and sense of smell the white-tailed deer is a challenge to even the most experienced hunters.
Compared to other species in the deer family, white-tailed deer are midway in size. A full-grown male (buck) may be 100 cm at shoulder height and weigh 65 to 150 kg.
Most breeding and the peak of the rut occurs during the last three weeks of November. Bucks with swollen necks travel almost constantly, searching out does in heat and battling rival bucks. Occasionally the antlers of two bucks lock together, leaving both to die slowly.
During spring and summer, deer feed on leafy material from a variety of woody plants, herbs and grasses. In autumn, deer depend largely on twigs, lichens, and bark within their reach.
As snow deepens, deer populations concentrate in “deer yards” that provide food and shelter from storms and deep snow. If too many deer are using the “yard”, the most nutritious food quickly disappears. At snow depths greater than 40 cm deer usually follow previously broken trails. The quantity and quality of food that can be reached from these trails is limited at the same time that intense cold and difficult travel increase energy requirements. If fat reserves are depleted, the deer’s chances for survival are poor.
Atlantic Canada is on the edge of the natural range of white-tailed deer and severe winters and changes in habitat lead to significant decreases in the deer population.
Under favourable circumstances, deer herds can double in number in one year. Does usually give birth to twin fawns. If the annual surplus is not harvested, deer will exceed the carrying capacity of their area. This severely damages their winter range by depleting suitable browse species. Hunting, by keeping the deer numbers in balance with the habitat, maintains a healthy, vigorous population.