Whitetail deer in Illinois come out in the fall

When the temperature drops a little, and there is a bit of a nip in the evening air, those of us who love the outdoors and look forward each year to the upcoming hunting season can’t help admiring the annual signs that our favorite season of the year will soon be here.

The September sighting of whitetail deer in Illinois stirs us even more. A person can see some curious things this time of year when it comes to deer. Why did I just see several bucks in one group and no does?

Why did I see a fawn that still had its spots the other day ? Why do the does all run around together? Are all of those little deer running with that big doe her offspring? What exactly is that fuzzy stuff all over the antlers of the bucks I saw a few weeks ago? When do they eat? Where do they hang out? Do they follow any normal daily routine? How old are those deer I saw?

The whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the largest big game animal in Illinois. Centuries ago, the main predators of deer in Illinois were cougars and wolves. Those predators, with rare exception, are simply not around here anymore. Their function has been replaced largely by licensed hunters who help control the deer population, and provide millions of dollars of revenue to the state and local communities. Illinois has abundant sources of food for deer and thousands of acres of prime habitat throughout the state. This is the right mix of ingredients to produce a big, healthy, deer population. Anyone who has hit a deer with a car might say the deer population is too healthy! So let’s consider some interesting information we have learned about these whitetail deer.

Throughout most of the year, deer live in a society dominated by does. The bucks run around with other bucks, and generally have nothing to do with the does and their offspring, except during the breeding season. The bucks normally shed their antlers in January, give or take a few weeks. If you want to find some shed antlers, you better start looking in February or March because they won’t be around intact for long. Rodents and other scavengers quickly nibble away at the antlers to get the minerals they contain. The new antlers will usually begin to grow again in early spring. The antlers will grow throughout the summer and reach their full size sometime in September. The fuzzy stuff visible on antlers during the summer and early fall is actually a network of small blood vessels called “velvet.” This velvet is what transports nourishment to the antlers and facilitates their rapid growth. When you see a buck with a big rack, remember all of that rack was grown since last spring. The set of antlers a buck will grow next year will usually be larger than the antlers he has this year. Around September, the velvet on a buck’s antlers will normally start to dry up and fall off. To hurry this process along, bucks will rub their antlers against small trees, saplings, or brush until all of the dried-up velvet is gone. When a deer hunter goes looking for signs of deer, something he searches for are “rubs.” These are evident on small trees where the bark has been stripped away about 3 feet above the ground. Other characteristics and habits of the whitetail deer will be examined in the next part of this article.

This article was provided by the Illinois State Rifle Association. For more information about the association, call 635-3198 or visit www.isra.org.

From the Sept. 13-19, 2006, issue

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