Changes one reason white-tailed deer held dear

posted Aug. 15, 2017 7:56 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jerry Davis | Correspondent

  • con_jd_Deer_1_0816
    In natural light at dusk, some deer photographs resemble portraits.
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    A few hundred Wisconsin deer in Grant, Iowa and Dane counties are carrying GPS collars and an ear tag in each ear.
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    White-tailed buck antlers are largest when they are covered with velvet until early September.
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    Whitetail fawns change frequently during their first three months, Here, a 2-month old fawn has a wild carrot snack.

Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer are held dear by millions of people, many more who are non-consumptive admirers than hunters. Some of the same reasons draw both groups to spend hours to get a glimpse of a fawn, doe or buck doing almost anything in almost any habitat.

In the end, though, it is seeing a deer in what we consider one of its natural habitats that is most alluring.

Here in Wisconsin seeing deer in farm fields, orchards, backyards and enclosures does not rate nearly as high as a deer in a deciduous forest, grassland, coniferous woods or marshland. The same holds true, too, for taking, having or displaying deer photographs.

One of the reasons deer are so valued, prized and sought-after compared to lions, tigers and elephants or turkeys, ducks and songbirds is that they change so much throughout the year. Every day it seems there is something different about one of the genders.

Years ago, Leonard Lee Rue III, 91, wrote he sold 100 deer photographs for every African lion or elephant photo.

This month, white-tailed deer fawns are undergoing numerous transformations. Even though they may not be as cute now as they were when they were born weighing about 6 pounds, they are still stately young animals.

They are quickly becoming an echo image of their mothers, starting to lose their spots, changing their diet from strictly mother’s milk to part vegetation growing in the same areas adult deer feed. Grass, browse, soybean leaves, forest understory and alfalfa help to make their menu more than half from growing plants, while milk makes up less and less.

Now, instead of seeing a suckling fawn, it is more likely to be kicked away by a doe’s hind leg as it attempts to nurse.

Within the month, a fawn’s menu may become entirely vegetation. When it reaches two-thirds its mother’s size, it will stop growing until next spring.

Each of these changes leaves us with a different image, a different reaction and a different reminder about the fawn’s early life.

By early September, most fawn coats will be similar to the doe’s hair. The spots will have disappeared.

The adult deer’s coats are changing, too, transforming from the most beautiful summer red to a more brownish-gray. The hairs making up the coats, while we don’t see them individually, are structurally very different in winter.

The summer-to-fall coat changes are much less dramatic and quick than the reverse in spring, when they go back to summer red looking somewhat straggly during the process.

The bucks’ antlers (not horns) continue to grow during much of August. When the tips change from rounded ends to a more pointed tip, it is about time to watch for the velvet covering to be shed in early to mid-September.

Now, however, the antlers are larger than they will ever be because of the velvet blanket covering the boney underpinning.

About the time the velvet is shed, the bucks’ necks begin to swell and they become a different animal, less and less fearful of humans and moving more and farther.

We apparently are more attracted to changes in appearance than a status quo. Deer of all ages and genders certainly provide those changes, and help to continue to draw our attention to the animals.

An added feature on some of Wisconsin’s deer is attached monitoring equipment that sends signals to researchers as to the animals’ whereabouts. These neck collars on certain does, bucks and fawns, along with ear tags, give viewers additional appearances worth seeking in Iowa, Dane and Grant counties.

Jerry Davis can be reached at

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