When it comes to White-tailed Deer, we can learn a lot about our deer herd just by taking a closer look at the fawns.
Fawn recruitment is defined as the number of fawns, or baby deer, per doe that survive to six months of age, according to the QDMA, Quality Deer Management Association.
This is vital information when trying to study, learn and collect information regarding your deer herd. As of 2014, only eight midwest states participate in the study of fawn recruitment nationwide.
We can only hope as deer hunters, each state understands the importance of this information and can move towards participating in this practice.
In most Northern Zones, most fawns are born in late May, early June. Any later and they may not have enough time to grow and develop before winter hits. Winter can be extremely hard your deer herd and as adaptable as deer are, fawns born late are just at too much of a disadvantage.
By gathering information from your fawns, you can tell quite a bit about your deer herd. Gathering methods include the use of trail cameras, field observations and as hunting season begins, lactation rates. These are all topics we can discuss at a later date, but for now, let's learn take a look at what information we can gather from our fawns and call them fawn facts.
1. Timing the rut
As hunters, this is one of the most controversial topics discussed every year. Studies has disproved the theories of the moon having any affect on the rut and we find more often than not, the rut usually occurs around the same time annually. So what can newborn fawns tell us about the timing of the rut?
We know that a human is created after conception roughly nine-months later. Thanks to the QDMA, we know that the gestation period for a deer is anywhere between 195 and 201 days. With this information, we can find precisely when a doe was bred, indicating "Peak Rut" from the prior year.
Many of us will never witness whitetail fawns actually being born, but will often come across a fawn a time or two afield. Let's say we find a fawn that appears to have just been born and the date is May 30th, 2018. If we count back 195 and 201 days, the date of conception was November 11th-17th, 2017. We know that "Peak Rut" is the time of breeding and many biologists say this lasts between 7-10 days. We know that a doe is receptive for 24-48 hours to which she may be bred multiple times and even by multiple bucks. Yes, multiple bucks may breed one doe and often times, twin fawns can have different fathers.
As hunters, our favorite time to hunt is usually the period leading up to "Peak Rut". During this time, bucks are most active, running around looking for does and trying to find the first receptive doe in their area. This period can last a week or more and with many hunters find themselves taking their vacation during this time.
So how do we plan accordingly and how can a fawn tell us when the rut is? If we continue with our example of finding a fawn that was born on May 30th, 2018 and we know that the rut occurs right around the same time every year, this becomes quite easy. Peak rut, or the breeding period, we already gathered would be between November 11th-17th. The chase phase, or the period leading up to the peak rut, would be the 7 days preceding the breeding phase. So, in this situation, one can suggest that the best time to be in the stand would be November 4th-10th. That's not to say that hunting a few days earlier or later wouldn't be worthy, but you would have a better chance of seeing multiple bucks moving around your area during these days. Science and math!
2. Deer herd ratio, how many bucks to does.
Ok, so this may seem far fetched, but it's not entirely crazy. We as hunters know that a doe is receptive for 24 to 48 hours. In an ideal world a deer herd with a doe to buck ratio of one to one, we could almost guarantee that every doe would be bred their first time being receptive. In fact, a deer herd that sports a ratio that is not entirely far off, the majority of your does being bred the first time around, would be much higher. When you get to numbers that are far greater apart in the ratio, that is when does can miss an opportunity to be bred and will become receptive again roughly 28 days later. So how can fawns tell us about our deer herd in this aspect?
As we mentioned, most northern zones fawns are being born in late May into early June. If a doe isn't bred during her first cycle but bred 28 days later, her fawns will be born later as well. So if by the end of June you come across a pregnant doe, there is a good chance she was not bred during her first receptive cycle. Does this necessarily mean there are far more does than bucks in your area? Not necessarily, however it is possible. If you continue to see more newborn fawns or pregnant does later into June, this could ultimately be an indication of an increasing doe to buck ratio.
3. Predation population.
As we know, harsh winters and predation are amongst the biggest causes of death to young deer. As more and more studies continue, we are finding that fawn recruitment rates have dropped close to 25% since the early 2000's. Areas where there are harsh winters, you will notice more adult deer mortality, extremely low young deer survival rates and also a decrease in antler development. As these winters become more harsh, these numbers will all begin to drop. But what about the increase of predation, especially in areas where the winters may not be harsh?
Trail cameras and lactation rates can help us determine fawn recruitment numbers and ultimately let us know if deer fawns are making it at least to their first six months of life. As predation increases, more and more fawns are being susceptible, thus ultimately decreasing your deer population. So what factors increase or decrease predators, specifically coyotes, and what can the fawns tell us about this?
Well, as we mentioned before, if your white-tailed deer herd ratio is off, does may begin to drop fawns all throughout early summer. Hypothetically speaking, and in regards to predation, it would be ideal if every fawn was born at the exact same time.
Why? Well, lets take a trip to the restaurant as a human and compare.
If you are hungry and you are able to go to the restaurant every day and have a meal every day for a few months, you will consume over the course of those months, quite a bit of food. But, let's say we take that exact same amount of food and place it all on a buffet and you can have your way at it. The first day you will eat until you are full and probably won't be able to walk away from the restaurant. But you will go back the next day, grab a smaller bite to eat and continue until all of the food spoils. Truthfully, you really wouldn't have much time nor would you eat much food.
Now fawns don't spoil, but they grow. They become educated and their survival instinct becomes better as time goes on. If every fawn was born around the exact same time, the coyotes can only handle so much. As a few weeks and months go by, the number of fawns the coyotes would ultimately take out become less and less. Now if you have an unbalanced herd and fawns are being born throughout the month, coyotes will capitalize on this and begin to thrive on the abundance of small fawns.
So, taking a look into the early season and as you pull your cards from your trail cameras, see how many fawns there are with their mothers still. If you happen to shoot a doe early on, check to see if she is dried up or still producing milk. If you happen to shoot a doe that is still producing milk, there is a good chance her fawn or fawns may still be alive. If you begin to see multiple does in your area that do not have any fawns into early hunting season and are dried up early on, there is a good chance you have a major predator problem and it should be addressed.
As hunters, we are the major investor and contributor to our conservation. Whether through donations, purchasing of gear and equipment or just only through your hunting license purchases, you as a hunter contribute. There are many organizations that work towards the improvement of our lands and wildlife, but one specific company that focuses on the white-tailed deer. That organization is the Quality Deer Management Association. Much of the information above you can find digging through their website. However, to save time, it's much easier to become a member and take their Deer Steward Class.
The Deer Steward Level I Class is an online course that will teach you many things like what is mentioned above. You are able to take it at your own pace and you will learn far more than you thought you could about deer and deer hunting. Information based on case studies, not opinions and information gathered afield in many different areas of the country. If you want to become a better hunter or just for more information on white-tailed deer, I highly suggest taking the Deer Steward I class offered by the QDMA.