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DAVIS DEER TRAILS: What is a white-tailed deer?

DAVIS DEER TRAILS: What is a white-tailed deer?

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Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer

Wisconsin residents are fascinated with white-tailed deer for all sorts of reasons.

Deer are Wisconsin’s State Wildlife animal and are hunted by more than a half million Wisconsin gun deer hunters each November with some coming here from every state.

Millions more view deer, photograph them, and wish they could feed them as though they were pets or birds.

What is it that makes Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer so popular, so intriguing and mesmerizing?

What is a whitetail?

Wes Ellarson has worked with whitetails since beginning a university life in Stevens Point in 2012, and then studied them in five states. He spent five years working with the Southwest Wisconsin Deer, Predator, and CWD project.

“Deer have been a central part of my life since a kid when I’d wait for my dad to bring a deer home and waiting for my chance to get out in the woods,” Ellarson said.

Ellarson grew up in a hunting family saying, “everyone is different” when it comes to deer. To some, it’s trophies, others the traditions, and to him it’s a major source of protein throughout the year.

“Deer are ubiquitous in the state, they live in fields and woods, in cities and villages, many times causing conflicts and changing the quality of their own habitat.”

Deer hunting is what you make of it, he says anyone can be a deer hunter, with a bow or gun during their free time.

A deer’s life cycle begins sometime between the last two weeks in May and the first half of June. The best time to find a fawn is May 25-26. About this same time, adult bucks grow new antlers, which are covered with velvet.

Antler covering peels away in early September, about the time fawns lose their spots.

Bucks make ground scrapes with their hooves, and rub their antlers on young trees and shrubs, to the consternation of some homeowners when the plant dies from stripped bark.

Winter is the most difficult time for Wisconsin deer; food is scarce and sometimes covered in deep snow. By now, the bucks are losing their antlers.

Shed or dropped antlers hunting is sometimes approached with the enthusiasm of hunting the whole animal.

Wisconsin’s deer are much larger than those in the south, which are not much bigger than a sizeable dog.

Deer are prized by some because of their antlers.

The white underside of the tail, the namesake of this mammal, is most noticed when raised like a flag when the animal bounds away. A margin of white hairs show when the tail is flat against the hind legs, too.

Days old fawns can be easily captured and are sometimes illegally taken as pets. Still, this is a wild animal and when it gets older, it quickly becomes unmanageable.

Every stage has its beauty from the cute newborn, to nursing twins, reddish summer coats on adult does and bucks, velvet-covered antlers, to thick winter coats with hollow, insulating hairs, which allows inches of snow to build up on the deer’s back as it rests warmed by the insulating white precipitation.

Wisconsin’s nine-day, gun deer season is Nov. 20-28. Reach out to Jerry Davis at or 608-924-1112.


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