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Wisconsin Wildlife Notebook Looks are Everything White-tailed Deer You might hear your friends call Wisconsin's deer "whitetails," or "whitetail deer." These are folk names. The more accepted common name used by wildlife biologists and other scientists is White-tailed deer (scientific "white-tailed deer." name: Odocoileus virginianus) bring a sense of awe and An adult male reverence to explorers of is called a Wisconsin's wild places. Being a buck. large, strong, fast and graceful mammal, this charismatic creature captures the hearts and imaginations of people across the state...from men and women who dream of the An adult upcoming autumn hunt to female is those who simply like to watch called a doe. these nimble animals in forest and field. No other Wisconsin native mammal stirs our Newborns are referred to as fawns. Deer that are over one emotions nor engages us in year old but less than two years old are called yearlings. public debate quite like the whitetail. In 1957, a class of Jefferson County elementary school children prompted the A group of deer is called a herd. introduction of a bill to nominate the badger as Wisconsin’s official game White-tailed deer are easy to identify. Adults animal. Citizens from northern Wisconsin spoke out in serious opposition...claiming that stand lean and strong about 2.5 to 3.5 feet the white-tailed deer should be Wisconsin’s official animal based on its large population, tall at the shoulder on long, slender, physical attributes, and considerable economic benefits. A compromise was eventually graceful legs. Their hairy coat is reddish tan struck. The badger won the title of State Animal while the white-tailed deer won the title of in summer changing to medium brownish State Wildlife Animal. gray by Labor Day. Their throat, belly and inner legs are white. Fawns have a reddish coat with white spots that resemble the light patterns playing on a sun-dappled forest floor from birth until about the autumnal Equinox. Deer have relatively large, upright ears that almost In southern Wisconsin, no always stand alert...the better to hear coyotes, wolves other wild animal looks like a and people with! Their snouts detect scents much deer. In the north, around better than people’s noses can. Their large, dark Clam Lake in the brown eyes help them see in the dark, shadowy times Chequamegon-Nicolet of dusk, dawn and night. National Forest, the only other mammal you might They have an 18-inch long tail, with a white underside confuse with a white-tailed (hence the name "white-tailed deer"). They wave their deer would be an elk, but tail like a distress flag when they are startled or elk are four times as large as suspicious. This may be the only sign you see of a live white-tailed deer. deer in the woods. Adult bucks are about 6 to 7 feet from nose to tail. They weigh in the range of 125 to 180 pounds, but may reach 200 pounds. Does are not as long and weigh between 110 to 150 pounds. Fawns weigh a mere 5 to 8 pounds at birth and stand less than two- feet tall on wobbly legs. Moose occasionally wander through the northwestern counties of Wisconsin, but they are so huge, with such unique features and a dark coat, that you probably would never confuse a moose with a deer. All three mammals, the deer, elk and moose, are ungulates, or animals with hooves. Occasionally, unusual colorations occur in the deer population. Ways of the Wild Albino deer lack any form of skin Does usually live in a home territory of less than one-square mile. Bucks may establish larger pigment and are all white except for territories, about 2 square miles. Does often spend their days most of the year in small family pinkish eyes and pinkish nose. The pink groups...with fawns and sometimes with last year’s offspring or yearlings. In winter, does and tint is due to blood flowing through their offspring often group vessels just below the skin's surface. together to feed and fend for themselves through the harshest However, not all white deer are albinos. time of the year. Bucks are often In rare cases, some white deer have no solitary, but may form small bands albino pigmentation. These are called (bachelor groups) during the lutino deer. Both albino and lutino deer summer. Old bucks often live are protected from hunting in all parts of alone all year long. Wisconsin, except in the “Disease Eradication Zone” in Chronic Wasting During severe northern Wisconsin Disease units. winters, dozens of deer gather together in herds. Deer may travel 10 or more miles to join these herds, seeking traditional wintering ground cover called Occasionally deer yards. Most northern deer you might see a yards are found in sheltered areas deer with of conifers, such as white cedar swamps. Here, sturdy evergreen boughs arch overhead, the patches of wind is not as raw and snow depths are usually less than in the surrounding open areas. When white. These northern winters are long and rough, the large numbers of deer living in these yards maintain are called well-packed trails that make movement and escape from predators easier. They also browse piebald deer. the tips of the nearby evergreen branches. Melanistic deer are very rare and are all black. As autumn approaches, hormonal changes in both Wisconsin’s peak of the rut bucks and does cause physical as well as behavioral occurs in early to mid changes. Does separate from their fawns as bucks November, though breeding begin to establish breeding territories. So begins the can continue into December. early breeding season known as the pre-rut. Peak conceptions occur in mid-November. During the In early October, bucks start marking their territory rut bucks often engage in with rubs, made when bucks rake their antlers on "antler to antler" combat saplings and brush. Bucks may make as many as 30 with challengers in their or 40 rubs in one morning and up to 300 rubs territory. The fights, which during the entire breeding season. may last 30 minutes or so, help establish a buck's dominance. By mid to late October, as the breeding season gets more fully under way, bucks begin making scrapes. Scrapes are made by a buck scratching the ground with its front hoof near a small tree with overhanging branches. It makes an oblong clearing on the forest floor about 1-4 Fighting bucks rush at each other with heads feet long. The buck usually licks an overhanging branch and rubs it with its forehead. The lowered, crashing their antlers together. They buck then urinates down its hind legs. The urine dribbles over the tarsal glands and leaves a push and twist each other trying to knock strong odor on the scrape. Scrapes are a hot spot for breeding. A buck's scrapes signify to their opponent to the ground. Sometimes other deer his presence and readiness to breed. Bucks regularly visit their scrapes on daily bucks lash out with their hooves at their routes throughout their territory. Bucks often reopen the same scrapes year after year. challenger. Common wounds during these battles include punctures and scrapes on the opponent's neck, face or even rump. Sometimes sparring bucks lock antlers and cannot free themselves from each other. These die a slow death. photo courtesy of Don Howard White-tailed deer usually become sexually mature during their second year, but buck and doe fawns in Wisconsin's agricultural range frequently breed their first fall. Bucks mate with several does within their breeding territory during the rut. Does produce a strong odor when they enter their breeding cycle, a cycle that is also called estrus. At this time of year, the does are said to be in heat. Bucks can detect a receptive After a doe is successfully bred, she enters a gestation period of 196-201 days. At the end of doe from quite a distance and this period, usually in May or early June, she seeks a secluded spot, sometimes near her own will follow her around for birthplace to give birth. If this is her first time breeding, she will likely produce a single fawn. several days until she is ready Older does usually produce twins or, rarely, triplets, depending on the doe's age, nutrition and to breed. He may also follow winter conditions. other does in his territory, as well. You will sometimes see A fawn weighs 5-8 pounds at birth bucks actively pursuing does and has a reddish-brown coat with in forest and field, seemingly spots. It moves very little the first oblivious to people, cars and few weeks, relying on its natural other potential dangers. camouflage and nearly scentless body to escape predators. During this time, the doe returns several times per day to nurse and groom her fawn. The fawn is generally weaned after 10 weeks yet it remains with the doe until the breeding season starts again the following autumn. A fawn’s spotted coat is replaced in 4-5 months and it reaches its maximum size in 3-5 years. When a doe is finally ready to breed she signals to the buck by holding her tail straight out from her body. A buck may breed the In Wisconsin, a doe may live same doe several times. over 11 years in the wild and When she is no longer bucks may live over 8 years, receptive to him he but such cases are very rare. seeks out another doe Deer are more likely to live in heat. If a doe is not longer in northern Wisconsin bred during the rut, she where more habitat allows will come into heat them to escape the pressures again about 30 days of hunting. However, most later. bucks killed during each year's hunt are yearlings and most bucks do not live to be older than 3 years of age. The average age of the entire deer herd in fall is about 2 years. What’s for Dinner? Tracks 'n Trails Whitetails are vegetarians, or, what wildlife Tracks: Look for the heart-shaped track typical of biologists call herbivores. Deer have a deer. Each "heart" is about two to three inches long variety of foods from which to choose and is created by the heavy front toenails on each hoof. throughout the year. The average deer will eat about 3-5 pounds of food per hundred pounds of body weight a day--that’s about one ton a year for each deer! During the warm months, when plants are lush and green, deer eat well. During spring and fall deer seek food in small openings and along the edges of fields in search of grass and leafy greens, called forbs. In farming areas, from July through October, deer feed in fields In soft mud or deep snow, you may see four toenail of corn, soybean and alfalfa. As fruits and nuts ripen in the fall, prints per track. The two smaller nail prints behind the deer feast heavily to gain as much weight as they can before cold main larger toenails are made by the "dew claws" that weather arrives. grow slightly higher on the deer's foot. The pointed portion of the hoof print points in the direction the As autumn wanes, deer deer is traveling. depend on corn and soybean kernels laying waste in the harvested fields. They also enjoy the occasional apple or other late fruit that has fallen to the ground. Trails: Like people taking the same route to work or school each day, deer tend to travel the same, well- During winter, deer worn paths. These trails are very narrow and connect depend upon their fat the places where the deer eat and where they rest. reserves they built up during summer and fall for about 30% of their energy. They also rely on the small amount of nutrition provided by the Hair: Look for tips of tree and shrub branches. tufts of hair tangled on brush or fence Deer get much of their water from the moisture in green wires. This is a plants. But in hot weather, deer must visit streams or water clue that deer holes several times a day. In winter, they eat snow. are near. Feeding Signs: A deer does not have upper front teeth just a thick, rough gum pad. A Rabbit-clipped deer, therefore, cannot neatly clip twigs from the branches upon which it browses. Instead, it either pulls and twists at the twigs with its lower teeth clenched against its upper gum pad, or it chews and twists off the twigs with its grinding back teeth. As a result, the tips of these deer-browsed twigs are ragged. Don’t confuse these twigs with those bitten off by rabbits, mice, meadow voles or other rodents. These small mammals have powerful jaws with both upper and lower front teeth sharpened into little enameled chisels. When these small mammals clip a twig, they leave a clean, neat cut made at a 45 degree angle. Deer- clipped Droppings: Deer droppings are black or brown and left in small piles along deer trails. Unlike rabbit droppings which are very dry and quite perfectly round, a deer dropping is usually oblong. During summer when the deer eat a lot of moist leaves, their droppings are softer and often occur in clumps reminiscent of brown clusters of flattened grapes. Beds: Deer lay directly on the ground to rest. These beds are oval in shape, about 3 to 4 feet long and 18 inches wide. In summer, look for matted grasses in old fields and pastures or flattened leaves under trees or shrubs. In winter, watch for melted or dented areas in the snow. Deer often bed together so you will frequently find two or more beds in a bedding area. Antlers: Bucks shed antlers from December through March. Buck rubs: As previously discussed, when the rut draws near, bucks Sometimes bucks shed a complete set of antlers in the same area. begin to spar with tree saplings and branches. This rubbing action It is more common, however, that bucks lose each antler provides an outlet for releasing pent-up aggression and anxiety that separately, often at great distances from each other. If you are builds up just prior to the breeding season. These also serve as visual fortunate enough to find a shed antler in summer, you will signs to other deer. Look for shredded bark about one to two feet probably find that part of the antler has been chewed by mice, above the ground. Fresh rubs may be found from September through squirrels, porcupines and other woodland rodents that rely on November. antlers as a good source of calcium and phosphorus in their diet. Occasionally, deer have unusually shaped antlers. While a typical Scrapes: During the rut, bucks often scrape away the forest floor adult buck has 3-5 tines or tips on each antler, there have been underneath a low-hanging branch. Usually these scrapes are oblong cases where the legendary "30-point buck" has been taken in the and about 1 to 4 feet in length. Look for a broken twig above the wild. Sometimes, the tines are palmated or flattened similar to scrape. This is where a buck has rubbed the gland near the inner part moose antlers. Still another odd variety of antlers are those with of its eye on the twig. drop tines in which some of the tines point down toward or even under the jaw of the deer. The image to the right shows a close-up of the base of a shed antler. Skull and jaw: Notice the large nose area and the lack of upper front teeth. The wear of teeth help biologists determine the age of deer. The older the deer, the more worn the molars. A white-tailed deer runs incredibly fast. Its Survival of the Fittest long, powerful legs enable it to run up to 40 miles per hour. Deer have been known to Like all animals designed for survival, the white-tailed deer comes equipped with a wide variety jump over fences 9 feet high and leap 30 feet of "tools" to help it endure the stresses of life. Adult deer and their fawns have many in one bound. Deer can also swim 13 miles predators, including coyotes, timber wolves, black bears, people and--out west-- mountain per hour. Sharp hooves provide excellent lions and grizzly bears. Their main defenses are running away and hiding, although they do traction in field and forest. use their hooves, antlers, and teeth as a last resort. White-tailed deer also have a very high reproductive rate that is typical of animals near the bottom of the food chain. Under natural circumstances, this high birth rate is necessary to maintain their numbers in the face of constant loss to predation and variation in food supply. The large eyes of a deer are situated on the side of its head. This allows the animal to see not only straight ahead, but also to its side and behind it without moving its head. Their night vision is excellent and their daytime vision is very good, especially for detecting movement. A deer's oversized ears help it hear very well. It can rotate its cupped ears like a radar dish to help it pick up even the faintest sounds made in the nearby woods and fields. Their ears are spaced widely apart on their head to enable them to use triangulation to pinpoint sounds. All these features help the deer detect or out- A large portion of the deer's brain is devoted to identifying and interpreting odors. The long distance predators before it's too late. snout of a deer contains a complex series of folded membranes covered with sensitive scent- gathering cells, making the deer's sense of smell 100 times more sensitive than our own. Deer can detect even the faintest of odors in the woods. Deer are mostly considered browsers--animals that eat leaves, twigs and shoots--but they also graze on grass. Their teeth are designed to chew these tough plants and woody fibers. They have sharp lower incisors and thick, rough pads on their upper gums used for tearing off leaves and twigs. They use their large molars for grinding up this plant material. The rigid cell walls of plants are composed of cellulose, a pure carbohydrate that has as much food value as starch. Although we and a host of other animals can easily break down starch, we cannot break down cellulose, because we do not have the microorganisms that produce the enzyme called cellulase that breaks apart the tough cellular structure of these plant walls. Deer, and other even-toed, hooved animals such as elk, To increase its chances of survival, a deer moose, goats, sheep and cows, are ruminants or “cud- must successfully communicate with chewers.” To ruminate means to ponder or think things over, other deer. The animal communicates in and that’s just what ruminants appear to be doing when they a wide variety of ways. It visually uses are digesting their food. Deer and other ruminants gather body language by posturing its tail, ears, their food quickly and gulp it without adequately chewing it. eyes and body to tell other deer about Deer have no upper front teeth, so they much pinch and tear potential dangers and to communicate plant matter. Later, when the animals are resting in seculsion, family relationships. watchful of predators, they regurgitate their meal in small mouthfuls, called cud. They re-chew their cud and swallow When a deer is alarmed, but cannot it again. identify the source of potential danger, it will often and repeatedly lift one of its forefeet very slowly and gracefully, pause a second and then stamp it down with great force. This stamping tells other Ruminant stomachs are four-chambered. The first, and largest, stomach chamber is called the deer that potential danger is nearby. It rumen. It stores the food until it can be regurgitated and rechewed later when the animal is also urges the potential predator to at rest. Cud-chewing helps to further mechanically breakdown the food. The re-swallowed reveal itself. slurry is passed on to the next chamber, the reticulum. Both the rumen and reticulum have colonies of microorganisms that ferment the food by producing cellulase capable of slowly breaking down the fibrous plant material. This fermentation produces heat. So, in hot weather, deer seek cool, shady spots to chew their cud. In winter, the rumen acts like a furnace. Except in extreme cold, this internal furnace allows deer to stay bedded without having to get up and move around. After about 16 hours, the food passes to the third chamber, the omasum, where intensive If the source of threat reveals itself as a real danger, digestion occurs. Finally, the food enters the last the deer will swiftly turn and lift its tail high in the air, compartment, the abomasum, where acid wagging it loosely from side to side. This motion breaks down protein. In these last two reveals the white underside of the tail, as well as the chambers, water, minerals and other nutrients white rump patch. This wagging white "flag" begin to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The effectively alerts the entire herd in a moment, even slurry then passes into the intestines where more though no sound has been made by the frightened water is absorbed. Deer digestion is so very deer. A casual wagging of the tail means that all is efficient that only about 5 percent of the meal well. cannot be digested and is expelled as hard, relatively dry pellets. Where in Wisconsin? Like all animals, deer need appropriate food, water, shelter and space, all in the proper configuration to survive. While deer occur in every Wisconsin county, they prefer to live at the edge of two different types of habitats. For instance, deer are quite abundant in agricultural areas that have woodlots and wetlands in the vicinity. In Wisconsin's northwoods deer seek forest openings, either natural openings or those that occur after a timber harvest or those found along hiking trails and roads. Southern farm woodlots and young forests in the great northwoods provide shelter for deer, while farm fields, old pastures, forest openings and trails provide the lush vegetation that deer eat. Wetlands, spring holes, and fast moving streams provide a source of year-round drinking water. Deer also vocalize among themselves. They blow and snort when they are alarmed by some The edge where forest meets field is usually a thick tangle of vines and shrubs. These are danger at a distance. Their blows sound like repeated "whooshes," while their snorts are perfect places to hide a newborn fawn from predators. In addition, the short tree saplings that single, short explosive sounds made as they turn to run from the danger. These vocalizations sprout in these areas, along with the shrubs and vines, are at just the right height for a deer to help warn other deer of impending danger and sometimes startle the approaching predator reach when feeding. Thick, mature hardwood forests provide little shelter and their trees are into revealing its location or even leaving the area. Their "whooshing" sneezes help clear their too tall for deer to browse upon, though these forests are good sources of nuts and acorns. nasal passages to help them detect odors more effectively. If a deer, especially a fawn, is injured, trapped or otherwise terrified, it will make a high pitched sound in a manner similar to how a cow calf bawls for its mother. If it is chased by a predator, the usually quiet fawn will make "bleating" sounds as it runs away. This will alert the doe who often comes rushing to the aid of her fawn. Bucks often grunt when they are searching for a mate or when tending a doe in heat. Deer spend a lot of time in deep forest and thickets. Therefore, they rely heavily on chemical scent to communicate with each other, since scent travels farther and lasts longer than either visual or vocal communications. Deer have a variety of glands on their toes, legs, near their eyes and on their heads. They leave scents when they walk, urinate, rub on trees or make scrapes on the ground. When deer populations are extremely high they take a tremendous toll on our landscape. They How’s it Going? wreak havoc on farm fields, apple orchards, and home gardens. Farmers suffer about 36 million dollars worth of deer damage to their crops each year. Large urban deer populations Wisconsin’s deer population is at record high levels, despite years of wildlife biologists and affect people and communities in surprising ways. Homeowners annually spend thousands of legislators trying to manage it through liberal hunting seasons and bag limits. On the one dollars replacing shrubs, flowers and trees destroyed by hungry deer. hand, this means that our state has excellent habitat to sustain a large herd. On the other hand, it means that deer are at a dangerously high density. Where predators and deer hunters Deer cause traffic hazards, damage to automobiles and sometimes death to the drivers or are absent--such as in urban areas--the naturally high birth rate of deer leads to unregulated passengers. In one year’s time from 1989 to 1990, over 38,300 deer were killed by cars and herd growth and over-population. Deer in urban areas also live longer thus compounding the had to be physically removed from Wisconsin’s streets and highways, at taxpayer's expense. A already high birth rate. People living in cities and suburbs have actually increased deer habitat 1991 Wisconsin State Journal article reported that the total direct cost of deer-car collisions by providing safe havens and good food. Many new home developments are built near green equalled $87 million dollars. Deer have also have been known to crash through plate-glass belts that provide great food and shelter. Homeowners also plant their yards with a variety of windows and get trapped in unlikely places such as Milwaukee’s Summerfest grounds, the tasty and readily accessible plants. Some people also supplement the natural food supply with Wisconsin State Capitol building, shopping malls and in the line of landing aircraft. Less salt blocks, corn and deer pellets. As well-intended as this artificial feeding is, it can help spread measurable is the ill will generated by the inevitable conflict between neighbors who feed deer diseases, including Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), bovine tuberculosis (TB) and cranial and those who wish to reduce their numbers. abscessation syndrome (brain infection), and cause deer to suffer severe, sometimes fatal, digestive tract disturbances from the abnormal diet. CWD was first detected in Wisconsin’s deer herd in 2002. TB has been found in Michigan and Minnesota free-ranging deer imperiling their agricultural industry. The future impact on the deer herd due to this disease is still uncertain. The loss of this understory cover by deer over-browsing destroys habitat for these animals. But the understory has another important function. It protects new seedlings and saplings. When the understory disappears, seedlings of oaks, hemlocks and many other types of trees and shrubs lie exposed and vulnerable to being eaten by deer. Local land managers and biologists are now noticing the absence of many hardwood and brushy seedlings in areas with high numbers of deer. Lilies, orchids, trillium, Solomon's seal, false Solomon's seal, enchanter's nightshade, in addition to the tender young oak and hemlock seedlings, are among the most popular items on the deer's forest menu. In addition, deer aid in the disruption of the native flora which allows alien weed species, such as garlic mustard, tartarian honeysuckle and buckthorn to take hold. Deer sometimes pose risks to human health. They, like some other mammals, tote along a tiny tick called the deer tick or bear tick. These ticks are known to carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, though not all ticks are carriers of this bacterium. As much as people adore deer, in certain places, there are just too many of them for the good of the landscape, and the overall health of the herd. Deer pose a serious threat to Wisconsin's natural areas, hampering wildland conservation efforts as effectively as do invasive species and loss of habitat. Foraging deer determine how tall palatable plants will grow, whether the plants will bloom or not and, in some cases, whether the plants will exist at all. Due to their nature, deer browse and graze intermittently, one plant here and another there, returning the next day for more, especially in areas that protect deer in refuges during the deer hunting season. Tour one of these refuges and you’ll find obvious browse lines where deer have munched the leaves as high as they can reach. Eventually, some of these plants die, as pieces are lopped off bit by bit, year after year. The low layer of vegetation below the browse line is the woodlands' understory. This important layer of the forest provides habitat needed by smaller brush-dwelling animals such as salamanders, frogs, toads, shrews, deer mice, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and a variety of understory nesting birds from ruffed grouse to wood thrushes and ovenbirds. to carry such items as ceremonial pipes and tobacco. Ceremonial drums and the tips of History of Deer in Wisconsin drumsticks were covered with this material. Buckskin was also used as covering over wooden frame shelters. Strips of untanned rawhide were used for the lacing within showshoe Ancient native cultures held a deep respect for the large, frames. Tanned fawn skins supplied the cloth for lighter weight summer shirts and fancy swift mammal that runs on cloven feet. Wisconsin's Mound work. Sinewy tendons provided bow strings and sewing thread. Hooves were used for rattles. Builders built earthen mounds in which they buried their The fatty marrow in leg bones was used by some tribes as a hair oil. dead. Some were constructed in the shape of deer in Dane, Trempealeau and other counties. These early people, Antlers and bones provided tools and ornaments. Archeological excavations of ancient as well as more recent native cultures, relied heavily on deer campsites have produced polished bone awls made from the shin bones of deer and antler-tip for many things. In fact, scientists believe that each native arrow points with bases hollowed out so that shafts of wood could be fastened to the points. American in areas where deer were prevalent, may have Archeologists have also unearthed bone skin scrapers and fish hooks. "Bull roarers" made consumed as many as three deer each year. from a pierced deer scapula (shoulder blade) attached to a piece of rawhide are believed to have been used to summon chiefs to council. Tribesmen would whirl this bone above their head to Deer meat, or venison, contributed significantly to many produce a loud, low vibrating sound. native American diets. However, in areas where bison were readily accessible, bison meat was apparently preferred to Historians have estimated that between 23 and 35 venison. For instance, in 1673, Joliet and Marquette saw million deer roamed the nation from about the year many deer along the lower Wisconsin River in the area now 1500 to 1800. In1787 what is now Wisconsin was known as Dane, Iowa, Richland, Crawford and Grant incorporated into the Northwest Territory. Our state was still a wilderness at this time with 6/7 of the area counties. However, they reported that covered in forest. Deer were an important part of the the local native tribes did not care for economy during this period. White fur traders venison. Rather, they killed bison which handled thousands of deerskins brought in by native roamed the area in herds of 30 to 50. American's each year. In 1804-05 a French clerk with Nevertheless, venison provided much the Northwest Fur Company stationed in Lac du needed protein to many native people’s Flambeau, inventoried almost 10,000 deer skins taken diets. In addition to fresh-cooked meat, by natives in an area now known as Iron, Oneida and native Americans preserved venison by Vilas counties. In 1806, thousands of pounds of deer drying it into jerky which could later be tallow were shipped from Green Bay to Fort Mackinac. boiled with bear fat to form a nutritious broth. Meat-covered bones were used to In the days of the early European explorers, before the season corn, hominy and beans. days of logging and white settlement, white-tailed deer lived in many regions of Wisconsin, but they were Native tribes used deer hides for clothing particularly abundant in the southern part of the state and shelter. They preserved the hides by where open oak woodlots were interspersed with soaking them in a solution of deer brains tallgrass prairie. In 1804, plenty of deer were reported in the Milwaukee area where rich in a natural chemical preservative purchases were made of "summer furs"--apparently the red-coated hides of deer. Deer were called tannin. The resulting thick, also abundant near Madison and in Jefferson County. In 1832, early white settlers tell of large tanned hide of a deer was called herds of deer in Walworth County. In Lafayette County, a white settler counted more than 50 buckskin, regardless of the gender of deer in one herd. He may be the first person to have recorded deer damage to crops in the deer. This tough material was used Wisconsin, for in 1834 he reported garden damage within a fenced area. to make moccasins, mittens, fringed leggings, robes and wraps as well as bags After the whites won a war they waged against Black Hawk in 1832, a large number of native But by the 1870s both settlement and market hunters in the north shipped enormous Americans were moved from southern and western Wisconsin to reservations west of the numbers of deer carcasses to Milwaukee and Chicago markets. In Green Bay, most of the vast Mississippi River and in northern Wisconsin. Land offices were opened in Mineral Point and winter supply of venison shipped into the city came from within 50 miles of the city limits. Green Bay followed by a huge influx of white settlers. The changes they made to the native Venison was sold for 5 to 6 cents a pound in Eau Claire and the meat was plentiful in the habitat in southern Wisconsin due to their farming and logging practices affected local deer Prairie Du Chien market. Hunting in the northwoods became popular and hunting guides herds. In addition to the dramatic changes in habitat, unrestricted subsistence shooting, advertized excellent sport in Adams, Marientte, Oconto, Portage and St. Croix counties. Deer deliberately setting fires to chase deer to hunters, hunting with hounds and horses, hunting at hunting laws were not uniform throughout the state. They were mostly political in nature and night with torches, and market hunting caused deer abundance to drastically decrease in the not based on a deer conservation concept. southern counties of our state. The state's population In 1851, within a few years of Wisconsin statehood, the public became so aware of the jumped from 35,000 people unnecessary slaughter of deer, that the legislature passed the first deer control law. The law in 1870 to over 100,000 in provided for the protection of deer by closing the hunting season for five months, from 1880. People began burning February 1 to July 1. However, these laws were enforced only by the local officers on foot or the slash and brushland to with horses. During the 1800s the common belief was that one could take whatever wildlife open up the north country to was wanted. By the Civil War, hunters had begun to increase their activity in the central and agriculture. Railroads northern forests, market hunting began in earnest and deer had largely disappeared from the penetrated the otherwise southern oak woodlot and prairie region of the state. inaccessible forests making it easier for sport and market hunters to venture into deer By the 1860's the infant territory. The railroads lumbering industry began to advertised the north as a employ hunters to shoot deer sportmen's paradise. The as food for logging crews. coming of the railroads also The dry slash left by loggers made the supply of venison became a wild “raging sea of readily available to city flame" in the Black River, markets. In the 1890's many areas of northern Wisconsin had plenty of deer, but they were Chippewa, St. Croix, decreasing rapidly because of unrestrained killing. Newspapers of the time commented on the Wisconsin and Wolf pineries. wholesale slaughter of deer. People complained about the deer slaughter on the Peshtigo and These wildfires took their Pike Rivers in Marinette County, and of killings where men left the carcasses in the woods to death toll on deer, but set the spoil. Deer were slaughtered at night and many hunters commonly used dogs to trail deer. stage for improved deer habitat. Market hunters filled the woods. They swooped through Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, hunting first one state, then another. Illegal game flooded the Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis markets. Game brokers, or game fences, in Milwaukee received carloads of venison, Interestingly, the response of the deer herd to white people's encroachment into the great acting as clearing houses for illegal shipments out of state. One way that these illreputed northwoods had the opposite effect of settlers’ disruption of southern Wisconsin habitats. dealers evaded the law was to ship venison in barrels covered with partridges or to conceal deer While the northwoods always had deer, the logging of northern forests created better habitat in shipments of Christmas trees. Some venison shipments were labelled "mutton." In 1885, for deer due to the conversion of pine stands to brushland. Pine was never a good habitat for reports estimated that 10,000 deer were shipped out of state, in spite of laws prohibiting such deer. The brushy aspen and birch that grew up after the logging improved food and cover. As shipments. In 1886, a newspaper account told of the oldest and most experienced hunter in a result of this changing habitat, northern Wisconsin witnessed an astounding increase in the the vicinity of Eau Claire killing 3 tons of venison. In Ashland County, a deer carcass was deer herd during a short time after logging. shipped out in a coffin as a corpse, in 1887, after the railroad company refused to receive it as properly labelled. Wagonloads were taken into Wausau almost daily. During the peak of the 1890s lumbering era forests that were previously inaccessible to Wisconsin's deer population reached its lowest point just prior to World War I. More laws hunters had opened up. Thousands of miles of logging roads and railroad grades became were enacted on behalf of the deer. In 1905, dogs hounding deer were now declared a public hunter access routes into the cutover area. The disasterous fires that swept the northwoods nuisance and prohibited statewide. The use of salt licks and elevated deer stands was during this time period must have also accounted for a tremendous loss of wildlife and wildlife outlawed. Thirty-six southern Wisconsin counties were closed to deer hunting in 1907. In habitat. The Phillips Fire in 1894 burned over 100,000 acres in Price County. The earlier 1909, hunters were limited to killing only one deer, instead of two. In 1915, hunters were Peshtigo Fire of 1871, larger than the famed Chicago fire, burned 1,280,000 acres and restricted to hunting antlered bucks only. A forest protection plan was developed and the first devastated a number of our northeast counties. fire lanes were created. During this decade, railroads such as Milwaukee, Northwestern and Wisconsin Central lines By the 1930's, with improved forest protection providing a young second growth of food and continued to increase their revenue by publicizing such great northwoods hunting spots as cover in the northwoods; an efficient organization of conservation wardens enforcing the Ashalnd, Manitowish, Rhinelander and Tomahawk. Hundreds of non-resident hunters game laws; the effective elimination of hounding of deer, market hunting and other illegal flocked to our northwoods from Illinois, Indiana and Ohio on railroad cars. But during this deer hunting methods; and restrictive hunting regulations in place, the deer herd began to same decade, public opinion turned in favor of deer protection. The shooting of large rebound with a substantial increase. This increase was so large that deer in some numbers of does and fawns was deplored. Sportsmen advocated shortening the hunting northernparts of Wisconsin, such as the Chequamegon National Forest, were threatened with season, and even closing it for five years, abolishing spring and summer shooting, and starvation. With this astounding increase in the deer herd came serious new problems. Now preventing the sale of game at any time. laws were enacted to help control the herd. The new field of Game Management carefully planned capture and release programs to reintroduce deer into areas where the animal had About a hundred years ago, only about 500,000 white-tailed deer survived in the entire U.S. long been absent...to abandoned farms, restored forests and brushland areas. But more They barely were hanging on in remote mountains, inaccessible swamps, and on large importantly, these new Game Managers educated hunters about the biological need for deer landholdings protected by landowners. The drastic decline in the deer herd and the public's herd control. Today, over 20 million white-tailed deer thrive in the United States. In 2007, demand for new and improved game laws, brought considerable legislative action at the turn hunters harvested over 525,000 in Wisconsin alone. of the 20th Century in the form of restrictions upon the hunter. The first bag limit was established in 1897. Hunters were required to accompany any deer carcass that was transported. Possession of fawn skins or skins in the red (summer color) was made illegal. Hotels and restaurants could serve venison only during the hunting season. It became lawful to shoot dogs chasing deer. Various counties closed deer hunting. Statewide, annual seasons began to open in November rather than in October and a shorter season was adopted. For the first time, hunting licenses were required by both resident and non-resident hunters. The federal government got involved, too, and enacted the Lacey Act which made it illegal to ship game killed in violation of local law. Unfortunately, hunters’ disregard of the new game laws was rampant so over-shooting continued into the early 1900s. Illegal shipments of deer meat also continued...this time labelled as butter, eggs and "veal." Resorts started serving venison as "mutton." And the railroads continued to make their customary campaigns in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio to attract out-of-state deer hunters to Wisconsin. High-powered rifles and muzzle-loaders gained popularity over shotguns. Looming on the horizon was the automobile: Only 6,000 autos were licensed in 1910. This jumped to 115,000 in 1916. Wisconsin's Biennial Report of 1917-18 stated: "Deer, as well as other wild game, have a new weapon pointed at them, more deadly than powder and bullets and much harder to escape, as the range is long and it reaches out into the remote districts where deer once found refuge safe from the pursuit of the hunter. The automobile has annihilated this space, and distance will no longer protect them." White-tailed Deer Management White-tailed deer are the most intensively managed animal in Wisconsin DNR’s Wildlife Management Program. That's because deer are valued by many people--from hunters to wildlife photographers. Deer have become virtual icons in many people's minds as one of the last vestiges of unsettled America. But these elegant creatures have also sparked contentious public policy debates over just how Wisconsin's deer herd should be managed. Deer populations can be maintained indefinitely where suitable habitat exists. Economically, deer and deer hunting generate a huge flow of income. 20 million dollars are collected in license fees alone. And hunters bring a big influx of dollars into rural communities in Wisconsin's great northwoods. The Department's official deer management goal is to maintain deer populations at levels that provide maximum recreational opportunity for hunters, wildlife watchers and other nature enthusiasts, while minimizing damage done to agricultural crops, motor vehicles and the native ecosystem. Scientific wildlife management programs, along with carefully planned and monitored hunting seasons, help Wisconsin's team of wildlife management professionals maintain a thriving white-tailed deer population. Each year wildlife biologists evaluate deer herd population numbers and establish appropriate hunting season dates and bag limits for white-tailed deer. For more details on how Wisconsin Wildlife Biologists manage the white-tailed deer population, check out our Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Management webpages on Deer Management.
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