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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

                                                              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
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
                                  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
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.


                                                          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

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 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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