Getting to know the fall prey of the Maine woods

10 years ago

Maine is home to one of the largest of the 30 recognized subspecies of white-tailed deer. After attaining maturity at age five, Maine’s bucks can reach record live weights of nearly 400 pounds.
Most adult bucks, however will normally range from 200 to 300 pounds live weight and will stand 36 to 40 inches at the shoulder.

Does are considerably smaller; they normally weigh 120 to 175 pounds live weight. Newborn fawns begin life at four to 10 pounds, but grow to approximately 85 pounds live weight in their first six 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 miles per hour. 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 help 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 one. Buck fawns, however, begin growing the antler base at one month of age. This base develops into two- or three-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 insulative 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 insulative 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 percent 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.
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 feet and crown closure of greater than 60 percent provide critical winter habitat for deer.
Currently, 94 percent 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 two to 25 percent 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. 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. Extremely abundant deer can literally eat themselves out of house and home. At these times, hungry deer are underweight, prone to starvation and disease, produce fewer fawns, grow smaller antlers, and create increased conflicts with homeowners, gardeners, farmers, forest landowners, and motorists.
able in your hunting area. Deer will be nearby.
When you locate doe and fawn family groups, bucks will be there too, anytime in November.
Biologists have been monitoring deer harvests since 1919, using mandatory registration of hunter-killed deer. Peak deer harvests occurred in the 1950s, at a time when deer were relatively abundant (275,000 deer wintered in Maine in the late 1950s), and either-sex deer hunting regulations were in effect. At that time, annual harvests averaged 38,000 deer; a record 41,000 deer was registered during 1951, 1959 and 1968.
During more recent times, overall deer harvests have been lower, ranging from 18,092 to 38,153 deer during the past 15 years. Since 1986 the state has been limiting the harvest of does and fawns in an effort to increase the deer population in some regions. Harvests of antlered bucks have been increasing steadily since beginning to rebuild the deer herd.
Buck harvests today are 50 percent higher than during 1978-82, the final years of either-sex hunting in Maine. During 2000 and 2002, Maine hunters broke all-time records for buck harvest (21,422 and 20,694 antlered bucks, respectively), exceeding even the buck harvests of the 1950s. Buck harvests have increased because over-all deer populations grew by 60 percent during the past 15 years. Production of mature bucks in Maine remains some of the best anywhere in the eastern U.S.
Each year, at least one antlered buck in five taken in Maine is at least four years of age. By age four, most bucks attain mature weights and maximum antler size.
Each year, thousands of hunters take to the deer woods in Maine.
Hunters averaged 150,000 during the 1950s, then increased to a peak of 215,000 by 1982. During the early 1980s, deer hunters outnumbered their prey in Maine.
Since that time, hunters’ ranks have steadily diminished, reaching a modern low of 178,000 in 1997.
Currently Maine has about 170,000 to 175,000 deer hunters take to the woods.
Hunting success rate was highest during the 1950s, averaging nearly 25 percent, overall. More recently, hunter success has averaged 12 to 15 percent, but has been increasing during recent years.
Hunter success varies considerably depending on method, season and regional area.
(Information from under wildlife topic deer.)