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Deer Info


Physical Characteristics

Maine Whitetail Deer Hunting

Maine is home to one of the largest of the 30 recognized subspecies of white-tailed deer. After attaining maturity at age five, our bucks can reach record live weights of nearly 400 lbs. Most adult bucks, however will normally range from 200 to 300 lbs live weight, and will stand 36 to 40" at the shoulder. Does are considerably smaller; they normally weigh 120 to 175 lbs live weight. Newborn fawns begin life at 4 to 10 lbs, but grow to approximately 85 lbs live weight in their first 6 months of life.


White-tails have keen hearing, made possible by large ears that can rotate toward suspicious sounds. They have wide-set eyes, enabling them to focus on subtle movements, while maintaining an excellent sense of depth perception. White-tails have a very keen sense of smell enabling them to sense danger, even when visibility is poor. Deer have long graceful legs, enabling them to cover ground quickly by leaping, bounding, turning and outright running at speeds up to 40 mph. Their trademark white tail, when erected, flashes a danger signal to other deer in the vicinity.


White-tailed deer communicate using a variety of sounds, ranging from explosive "whooshes" when startled, to the barely audible mews and grunts a doe uses to tend to her fawns. Deer are very expressive; they employ a large repertoire of signals using facial expressions and body language. These postures help to maintain the dominance hierarchy within all deer groups. Deer also communicate using odors, which emanate from a number of scent glands. These glands occur between the toes, on the shins, the hock, the forehead, near each eye, and inside the nose. The contents of each gland, when rubbed onto a tree or the ground, helps deer to know who their neighbors are, and what each deer is doing at any given time.


Bucks annually produce antlers, which are made of bone. Triggered by day length and maintained by hormone production, antlers begin growing in April, and are nurtured by a velvety outer network of skin tissue and blood vessels. Velvet is shed when growth is complete in late August and September. The hardened, polished antlers remain until they are shed in late December to early March. In white-tails, antlers allow bucks to advertise and demonstrate their dominance; hence they play a role in reproduction. A buck's first true set of antlers normally is grown by age 1 ½. Buck fawns, however, begin growing the antler base at 1 month of age. This base develops into 2 or 3 inch velvet-covered "nubbins" by early winter. White-tailed does sometimes produce antlers, but this is rare. Does that do sprout antlers typically are older (5 to 15 years old); their antlers are usually velvet-covered spikes. Most antlered does remain fertile.


Each year, deer produce two coats of hair, each adapted to seasonal climate. In late spring, deer grow a coat of fine, short reddish hair. This pelage allows ample air circulation and helps the deer to stay cool in summer's heat. During September, deer molt to a highly insulated coat which consists of a dense layer of fine woolly hair under a layer of long hollow brown, gray, and white guard hairs. The guard hairs can be erected to form a very thick insulated coat, which protects against the cold winds of winter. Fawns are born with a reddish-brown coat dappled with white spots. This affords excellent camouflage against detection by predators in the summer. By early autumn, fawns grow the typical winter coat.


Another adaptation for survival is the deer's habit of storing fat for the winter. In autumn, deer accumulate fat under the skin, in the viscera, between the muscles, and in the hollow bones of the legs. This fat layer can comprise 10 to 25% of a deer's body weight by late fall. In winter, fat is reabsorbed to provide much-needed energy to supplement inadequate diets of woody browse.


Natural History Habitat.

Major habitats that provide food and cover for white-tailed deer in Maine are forest lands, wetlands, reverting farmlands, and active farmlands. Forest stands containing little or no canopy closure, wetlands, and reverting and active farmland yield the largest and best forage within reach of deer. However, stands of mature conifers with tree height greater than 30 ft. and crown closure of greater than 60% provide critical winter habitat for deer. Currently, 94% of Maine is considered deer habitat; this excludes developed parts of the state. In practice, even a portion of Maine's developed land is currently occupied by deer. Wintering habitat is more limited in availability, comprising only 2 to 25% of the land base in various parts of the state. Protection of critical wintering habitat is a major focus of deer management activities by the Department.


Deer are highly selective herbivores, concentrating on whatever plants or plant parts are currently most nutritious. Finicky eaters, deer opt for variety over quantity, when feeding along in the woods and fields. Deer consume grasses, sedges, ferns, lichens, mushrooms, weeds, aquatics, leaves (green and fallen), fruits, hard mast (acorns, beech nuts, etc.), grains, and twigs and buds of woody plants. Contrary to popular belief, deer consume twigs and buds of dormant trees and shrubs only when more nutritious foods are unavailable. When restricted to woody browse, deer inevitably lose weight. During the course of the year, deer may browse several hundred species of plants. A few are highly preferred; many others are consumed only when the best have been depleted. Overabundant deer populations can reduce the abundance of preferred forages, while causing unpalatable plants to become more common.


Information courtesy of