Whitetail deer are amazing animals throughout much of North America and some sections of Central and South America. Their mating season provides an opportune time for observant hunters, nature photographers and those who enjoy the the mystery and beauty of our wildlife. On the downside, mating season poses a serious danger to drivers; an awareness of the mating habits can prevent serious injuries and vehicle damage.
Mating habits of the whitetail are dependent on several factors including seasonal changes weather related conditions. In general, the mating period begins as daylight decreases and the cooler fall weather begins to push out the summer heat.
Throughout the spring and summer, the does have been rearing their fawns and they remain grouped together; a doe will have one or two fawns but occasionally three. Most doe will breed during their second season, however, a year old may also breed at times. The doe without a fawn is usually solitary. However, the doe will tend to group together, particularly in feeding areas, as the fawns mature and the summer begins to wane.
The bucks, on the other hand, can tend to hang together in groups of about three, enjoying the summer. In the early spring, March or April in most cases, their antlers begin to grow. The bucks antlers are a significant part of whitetail communication and the mating process.
Depending on genetics and nutrition, a whitetail buck’s antlers can grow ½ inch per day. A buck’s antlers are covered with velvet, a living tissue like skin but with fur. The velvet contains small blood vessels which help to provide nourishment to the antlers.
As the velvet begins to die in late summer and early fall, and the once fawns are old enough to venture around by themselves, a new mating season is just beginning. The time for this and many others is about mid-September. At about this time, the groups of bucks separate and become solitary. The rut, or mating season, is getting underway.
The bucks will begin to scrap trees and shrubs to remove their velvet and to mark their territory. The antlers, along with their scent, are used as a means of communication between other bucks (stay away) and to the doe (buck available). During mating season, called the rut, bucks leave many tell-tale signs about what they are up too; doe know how to read these signs.
Big bucks will rub a small tree as well as a big tree and are usually the first to start; younger bucks generally rub smaller trees at a later date; the doe are well aware of what is happening. In some instances, there will be a lot of buck rubs in a certain small radius; this could indicate the likely presence of a dominate bucks core bedding area and he is communicating this to both the does and other bucks.
Buck rubs on trees are also an indicator of a bucks direction of travel, both to and from a core bedding and feeding area, it is another means of communication between a buck and a doe during the rut or mating season. At times a buck looking for a mate will use a signpost rub, a very aggressive tree or shrub rub with deep gouges in the bark
Bucks will also use what is called the scrape to communicate with a doe and send a warning to other bucks. Basically, the buck will scrape up the ground, leave overhead signs on branches, and leave his scents on both for the doe to read. The scrapes are usually found along trails and can be up to four feet long and two feet wide. The mature buck has seven glands which are used to communicate during the entire mating season at one time or another.
One of the most amazing woodland or meadow sights to watch is the conflict between two bucks over territory or a doe. The buck’s heads clash together, often violently, and the fight can lead to serious injury and in some rare cases death to one or both.
The doe are reading the signs and watching; they are cautious and attentive to their surroundings. As the doe enters estrous, she actively seeks the buck whose telltale signs have already been announced. The length of time for estrous is also dependent on weather conditions and if a doe is not bred during the first of her “hot flashes” a second estrous can happen after about 28 days.
This habit during the mating season signals a lot of caution and opportunity for drivers and hunters. Both bucks and the doe during peak estrous don’t pay a lot attention as they run and frolic without regards to much else except meeting up with each other. It is a signal for both driver and hunters to use caution and be observant. Bucks in particular become obsessed with finding the doe, day or night. They will seldom stop to either eat or sleep.
Once the major rut is complete, most deer focus once again on eating and getting prepared for the long winter months. However, there can still be some mating behavior from does which were not bred during the initial phases and younger bucks.
But soon after the rut, or mating period, the bucks who once proudly displayed their antlers loose them for the the rest of the winter month. The discarded antlers, called sheds, are a signal that a rest period has begun and a new cycle or process has already begun for the next season.