Animal of legend
Hunting of white tail deer has grown exponentially in PA
On the beautiful Sunday after Thanksgiving Mary Alice and I set out to buy a Christmas tree. From Troy, we drove up and over Armenia Mountain to Blossburg and on to Zimmer’s Tree Farm in Covington.
For the past several years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has received many letters and calls about Sunday hunt- ing and, after approving a Sunday hunt, I thought there would be lots of deer hunters out and about. However, we only saw a few.
Back during the 1920s and early 1930s, the cottontail rabbit was king in the eyes of the Pennsylvania hunter. Surveys showed more hunters pursued rabbits than any other game animal in Pennsylvania.
However, during the late 1930s and into the 1940s, the white tail deer replaced the rabbit as the most popular game animal in the state, and has remained the number one animal hunted in Pennsylvania. It was estimated that 200 deer were killed in 1907, 95,051 in 1931, 186,575 in 1940, and 389,431 in 2019.
The white tail deer’s scientific name is Odocoileus virginianus, with odocoileus coming from the Greek words “odus,” meaning tooth; “koilos,” meaning hollow (referring to the hollow tooth of the deer), and “Virginianus,” meaning of Virginia.
This species is slightly smaller than the Northern Woodland white tail deer found farther north but larger than deer found in the south. One of nature’s rules is that the farther north an animal lives, the larger its body must be to enable the animal to produce more body heat to survive the harsh winters. Compare the small key deer in Florida to the large moose found in Maine.
Many Native American tribes had different atti- tudes toward the white tail deer. It was thought that the characteristic forked antlers represent- ed a forked or double na- ture. Some tribes believed the white tail deer was an animal helper; however, the dark tailed deer epresented danger. One legend was told that the mule deer could change into a beautiful maiden which lured young men to her. Then, she would switch back to a deer, and the young men would die. If, by chance, one young man survived the encounter, he would possess great powers for the remainder of his life.
According to Native American legends, the deer got its antlers when a rabbit (another fast runner) challenged him to a foot race, with the prize a set of antlers.
After the race track was laid out through the forest, the rabbit asked if he could look at the path before the race. The other animals agreed to his request. When the rabbit took too much time checking out the path the other animals went searching for him and found the rabbit cutting brush to make a clear path for himself. This was considered cheating, and the antlers were awarded to the deer.
A deer’s antlers have always been a topic of conversation with hunters and also the subject many intense studies. The deer’s antlers are
sometimes mistakenly called horns. Horns, which are made of keratin, a hard protein found in our fingernails and hair, are formed by a sheath of hard, fibrous material developing over a core of solid bone on the skull.
As new growth occurs, the old horn is forced up and away from the skull. On the bighorn ram, this new growth is very apparent, appearing as a new section each year. These sections can be counted to determine the age of the animal. Horns, which grow on both male and female of the species, are found on cattle, sheep, goats, etc. The pronghorn antelope has horns; however, while the pronghorn antelope sheds its horns each year, only the outer horn is shed. After the outer horn falls off, a skin covered bone core remains, from which a new horn grows.
Only male members of the deer family grow antlers, with the exception being the caribou and reindeer. In these animals, the female also grows antlers, but they are much smaller than the male’s. The female will lose her antlers two weeks after her calf is born.
Although the deer’s antlers are living bones for much of the year, the antlers die as they harden. The pedicel keeps the dead antlers attached to the skull. While antlers are growing, they are soft and full of blood. As they gradually start to harden, minerals such as calcium and phosphorus are deposited to form a bony core. Once the antlers stop growing the outer velvet is shed, and the dead antlers are carried during the rutting season.
The antlers are used to fight other bucks to deter- mine the dominant buck, which will breed most of the females.
The buck will drop or shed its antlers at the end of the breeding season. This casting of antlers begins at the end of December and continues through February. Some bucks retain their antlers into March, with the belief that as long as there are females that are not bred, these males will retain their breeding vigor.
However, these are usually the larger antlered bucks (eight points or better). A small antlered or spike buck will not be seen in March. A buck held in captivity under the same conditions will shed its antlers on the same day every year. One day the antlers can’t be knocked off but on the next day, the antlers could fall off. It is uncommon to find both antlers that are shed from a deer due to rodents chewing for the calcium on these shed antlers. However, hunting for shed antlers is becoming quite popular.
Once the buck loses its antlers he loses his masculinity, his interest in sex and his will to fight. This can be likened to the Bible story of Samson and Delilah. After Delilah cut Samson’s hair, he lost his strength. However, his hair slowly grew back and so did his strength.
A buck’s antlers will begin to grow in early spring and continue to grow throughout the summer until early fall. He again becomes a lordly male, regaining his status,
Now, he is more aggressive and showing an increased desire to en- gage in physical combat. Antlers are rubbed on young tree saplings and when these buck rubs appear, the breeding season is close at hand.