The life of whitetail deer through a Pennsylvania winter
So far, our weather has been easy on the wildlife that are active throughout the winter months.
The following is a question for you to ponder: The white tail deer population in Pennsylvania increases two weeks out of the year and declines during the remaining 50 weeks.
Do you know what two weeks the deer population increases in Pennsylvania?
I have been told that bucks sporting antlers are still being seen.
Although the rutting season is near its end, biologists tell us that as long as there are female in estrus, there will be buck carrying their antlers.
The deer we have here in Pennsylvania are the Virginia White Tails.
They are slightly smaller than the Northern Woodland White tails found further north.
During hunting season, the average size of a buck killed is approximately 140 pounds; however, prior to the start of the rutting season a buck would have weighed approximately 185 pounds.
A two and one half year old buck weighs approximately 115 pounds field dressed.
After the second year of its life, a buck will gain ten pounds per year until he reaches five years of age.
At this point, the buck will stop putting on weight and start losing weight each year.
Of course, this depends on whether the proper amount of food is available.
Deer have strong family ties. In late May, a doe will go off by herself and give birth to her fawns.
The doe’s offspring from the previous year could remain together throughout the summer.
The rutting season begins in the fall, and at this time, the yearling buck will leave their mother’s home range, while the yearling females will rejoin their mother.
Therefore, during October, a group of deer in a field might consist of an adult doe, her fawns from current year, yearling females from previous year and fawns (if any) the yearling females may have produced.
About 20% of all young females will breed their first year.
Usually, the first time a female breeds, she will have one fawn; however, twins are more common after that.
Although triplets are unusual, they are not uncommon, and several births of quadruplets have been recorded.
Young female fawns appear to be stronger than the young male fawns and also appear to survive their first winter better than male fawns.
Nature has given adult deer the ability to suppress their appetites during the winter months.
The adult deer actually needs less food during the winter than in the summer to maintain their weight.
This is nature’s way of making sure some deer will survive.
Young deer do not have this capability and need as much food to survive their first winter as they did in the summer.
During harsh winters, our Pennsylvania deer will yard up.
I remember back to 1976, which was a really hard winter.
For most of the winter, the mountains had nearly four feet of snow on the ground.
Deer yards, which were common during this winter, served two purposes: One, a group of deer will trample out a network of trails through the deep snow, allowing easier travel to all available food.
Two, protection from the weather, with deer yards located in lowlands, swamps, and hemlock stands.
During a prolonged winter, the big disadvantage of a deer yard is that the deer will rapidly consume the food supply and many will starve to death.
Deer, unlike bear, raccoons, woodchucks, etc., cannot put on enough body fat to make it through the winter. A deer will accumulate some fat over its back and across its rump.
This fat is used when the deer cannot find enough food to maintain its weight.
After the body fat is gone, a deer begins to self-absorb its body, by absorbing the fat in its bone marrow.
Normally, a healthy deer’s bone marrow is white and approximately 90% fat.
A deer that has starved to death will only have about two percent fat in its bone marrow, with the marrow changing from a healthy white to yellow to pink and then to a bright red.
Once a deer reaches this bright red bone marrow stage, death from starvation is inevitable, even if food is now made available.
A deer that loses approximately one third of its body weight seems to be at the point of no return.
Eighty-five percent of the deer that starve to death during one winter will be the young deer of the year.
Adult females carrying their fawns during winters of sparse food could have only one fawn in the spring; however, if enough food is available, she will have her usual twins.
The biggest enemy to deer during the winter months is “Man’s Best Friend.” Dogs chasing deer during the winter months, especially with deep snow on the ground, spell disaster for the deer.
Even though the deer could elude the dogs, too much energy is used to escape; energy that could be used later in the winter to survive.
If you answered the last week in May and the first week in June as the two weeks when the deer population increases in Pennsylvania, you are correct?