The North American continent is home to many unique and majestic animals, and our great state of Texas plays home to more than a few. Everyone remembers the first time they see a bald eagle wheeling patiently across the horizon or hear the winsome screech of wood ducks fresh off the roost. While the armadillo and cat squirrel are not without some very charming features of their own, few things compare to the regal North American whitetail deer that dot our landscape. These animals are as much a part of our landscape as the thickets they gracefully glide in and out of, and we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about some basic deer characteristics.
Whitetail deer mate every year. Mature females enter estrus sometime between October and November, officially marking what is known as the rut. During this breeding period, bucks compete fiercely for the right to breed does, and fights are frequent as male pecking orders are sorted out. Whitetail bucks become single-minded during the rut, ignoring their health and overall body condition as they pursue as many mature females as possible.
The rut is an intriguing time for whitetails, and it highlights several other particularly interesting deer characteristics. Whitetails possess several scent-producing glands that they use to communicate with other deer. During the rut, bucks may create rubs by scratching their antlers and forehead glands on a tree or scrapes by digging out a patch of ground and covering it with tarsal gland-scented urine. These scent markers are used as communication during the breeding season, allowing each buck to mark his territory and announce his presence to the mature females.
Whitetail deer are born a reddish-brown color and mature into their more recognizable grayish hue in the months following birth. Their namesake, and single most recognizable deer characteristic, should be no mystery to anyone here. The white underside of their tail is an especially flamboyant deer characteristic, one that is waved promptly at any sort of disturbance or perceived threat. If you’re reading this article right now, chances are good you’ve had an opportunity or two end in disappointment at the hands of that always-fickle white flag of a tail.
Another defining deer characteristic among whitetails is the annual growth and shedding of male antlers. Healthy whitetail antlers are branched, and the length and development of the antlers depends on various factors like genetics, season, age and nutrition. When grown, in the late spring and throughout the summer, deer antlers are covered in a soft tissue known as velvet. This tissue will later die and be rubbed off by the male, leaving the hard, glossy racks that have come to be so recognizable.
There is a marked distinction in deer characteristics between whitetails found in different parts of the continent. The Northern whitetails of the Midwest and Canada are large bodied deer with traditionally bigger antlers and a rough gray color. Southern whitetails, or “savannah deer”, are typically smaller bodied than their cousins to the north and tend towards a browner, tawnier color. Southern whitetails are thought to have smaller antlers, but this trend is not always consistent as many parts of Texas and other southern states have “savannah deer” with antlers sizes rivaling those to the north. At the Escondido Ranch we don’t play favorites though; our whitetail genetics are a healthy mix of superior Northern and Southern deer, featuring the best deer characteristics of both.