The white-tailed deer is the smallest member of the deer family in Kansas. Its pelage is brown above (reddish brown in summer but grayish brown in winter), white below, and fringed with white laterally. Its ears are not especially large. Its tail is long and bushy (brown above and white beneath) and is noteworthy in that, when the deer is alarmed, the tail "flags" (it stands erect and waves back and forth). Antlers (generally only in males) have one main beam on each side that sweeps up from the head and then forward without forking (as in the mule deer). The main beams have 3-6 unforked tines, or points, that project upward.
The only similar species in Kansasis the mule deer. As noted in the account of that species, the two can be easily based on physical appearance. Additionally, no one can fail to recognize a white-tailed deer when it bounds away with its large tail held erect and sweeping back and forth.
White-tailed deer currently inhabit most of the United States and southern Canada southward through Central America to northern South America. Because of the lack of trees, white-tailed deer doubtfully occurred west of the Flint HIlls in Kansas when the state was first settled. Excessive hunting decimated populations of the species in eastern Kansas, and the species was essentially extirpated from the state. As a result of introductions and careful management by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, populations began to recover in the mid-1900s and the species now is abundant statewide. There is even anecdotal evidence suggesting that the white-tailed deer is replacing the mule deer in areas where the latter formerly was common.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences)
Barton (1), Bourbon (4), Butler (2), Chautauqua (1), Cheyenne (1), Clark (1), Coffey (3), Cowley (1), Crawford (1), Douglas (13), Ellis (7), Ellsworth (2), Franklin (7), Gove (2), Grant (1), Greenwood (2), Hamilton (1), Hodgeman (2), Jefferson (1), Jewell (1), Johnson (3), Kiowa (6), Labette (1), Leavenworth (16), Lincoln (1), Logan (1), Lyon (1), Marshall (1), Meade (5), Montgomery (1), Morton (1), Neosho (1), Ness (1), Norton (1), Osborne (1), Phillips (4), Pratt (1), Rawlins (3), Republic (1), Rooks (12), Saline (3), Scott (1), Sheridan (1), Stanton (1), Trego (1), Wabaunsee (2), Wilson (7), Woodson (11), Wyandotte (1)
Rut lasts from late September through January, peaking in November. Bucks compete for individual does and build harems. As with other deer, the neck and shoulders of the males become swollen. Gestation lasts about 202 days, after which a doe bears one to two fawns depending on her age and condition, usually in May. Triplets are rare. At birth, a fawn weighs about 1.7 kg. During the first week of life, the fawn remains concealed while the doe feeds. Later it begins to follow the doe short distances, and after a month accompanies her everywhere. Weaning to solid food takes place over a period of several months, but by autumn the young are independent. Fauns frequently remain with their mothers during winter. They lose their spotted coat when the molt in August or September. Fawns may breed at 6 months of age and may produce offspring as yearlings, although litter size usually is reduced. However, most females do not breed until they are 1 1/2 half years old, which is also when males achieve sexual maturity.
White-tailed deer are gregarious, forming both family groups and mixed foraging groups. Males are solitary during rut except when pursuing or tending estrous females. Dominance hierarchies influence behavior. The matriarch is dominant in family groups, whereas size and condition determine dominance in males. Activity is crepuscular, and white-tailed deer rarely are seen during the day. They are wary when moving to feed or to a bedding site. Bucks in rut are noteworthy for their "rubs" and scrapes that are used to establish dominance and to communicate with females. Thirteen distinguishable vocal and non-vocal sounds that are used in communication among individuals have been recognized. During spring and summer males are solitary and previous family groups disperse, but in fall and winter they may gather in small bands to browse and shelter. Where food is plentiful, white-tailed deer may concentrate and remain for some time, forming "deer yard." In other cases, when food is more dispersed, the "yarding" habit is not seen.
White-tailed deer are both browsers and grazers, selecting the most nutritous forage available. Grasses and forbs dominate the diet in spring and early summer, whereas succulent new-growth leaves and twigs are favored in mid-summer. In autumn fruits are important in the diet, and in winter foods consumed are determined largely by availability. Agricultural crops are an important year-round source of food.
Predators and Defense:
Before large predators were eliminated, the principle predators on adult deer were pumas and wolves. The puma has returned to Kansas and probably preys largely on deer. However, natural predation on adults is inadequate to control deer populations, and hunting picks up some of the slack. Nevertheless, deer tend to overpopulate.
Growth and Longevity:
Adult males may attain the following dimensions: total length 1040-2400 mm; length of tail 100-365 mm; length of hind foot 280-540 mm; length of ear 140-230 mm; weight 90-125 km. Females average 20-40% smaller. White-tailed deer may live 20 years or more in captivity but seldom live longer than 10 years in the wild.
White-tailed deer in Kansas likely are of mixed parentage, resulting from interbreeding of individuals of at least Odocoileus virginianus texanus (which were introduced from Texas and Oklahoma) with individuals of Odocoileus virginianus macrourus (which were introduced or immigrated from Missouri). Most references show the former subspecies occurring west of the Flint Hills in Kansas, and the latter subspecies occurring in eastern Kansas.
Odocoileus virginianus first appeared in the Pliocene, likely in Middle America. It become common in eastern and central North America during the Pleistocene. Data from Paleo-Indian sites suggest that it was a dietary staple.
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1956. Taylor, W. P. (ed.). The Deer of North America. The Stackpole Co., Pp. .
1959. Taylor, D. L., and J. B. Elder . Preliminary survey of deer in Kansas. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci. 62:67-79. . . : pp. .
1964. Anderson, D. D. . The status of deer in Kansas. Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist. Misc. Publ., 39:1-36. . . : pp. .
1987. Choate, J. R.. Post-settlement history of mammals in western Kansas. Southwestern Naturalist. 32(2): pp. 157-168.
2008. Timm, R. M., G. R. Pisani, J. R. Choate, N. A. Slade, G. A. Kaufman, and D. W. Kaufman. Mammals of Kansas. http://www.ku.edu/~mammals, Pp. .