White-Tailed Deer
(Odocoileus virginianus)
Ontario, Canada


White-Tailed Deer Watching in Algonquin Park

The best chances for seeing deer are on early morning cruises along Highway 60 or 127. Particular animals occasionally hang around certain spots along the highway and are often see again and again. These hot spots can be obtained by enquiring at the Visitor Centre or the Information Centres at the gates.


The white-tailed deer is named for its most distinctive feature, the large white tail or "flag" that is often all you see as the animal bounds away through tall grass. The color of the deer's upper body and sides changes with the season, from a generally reddish-brown in summer months turning to a darker gray in the winter. White fur is located in a band behind the nose, in circles around the eyes, inside the ears, over the chin and throat, on the upper insides of the legs and beneath the tail. The deer sheds its hair twice a year, its heavy winter coat giving way to a lighter one in spring which is replaced again in early fall. A fawn's coat is similar to the adult's but has several hundred white spots which gradually disappear when the deer is three to four months old.

Whitetail deer have scent glands between the two parts of the hoof on all four feet, metatarsal glands on the outside of each hind leg, and a larger tarsal gland on the inside of each hind leg at the hock. Scent from these glands is used for intraspecies communication and secretions become especially strong during the rutting season.

Males possess antlers which are shed from January to March and grow out again in April or May, losing their velvet in August or September.

Antler growth begins normally in April to early May. The new antlers are tender and velvet covered, with the velvet shed in early September on almost all bucks. An occasional male, possible one-half of one percent, does not shed the velvet at all.

The antlers are shed annually in January or February and regrow through out the summer.

The time of antler shedding varies among individual deer and somewhat by area. Most bucks drop their racks in January and February, but rarely may carry them into early May. Contrary to some opinions, numbers of points are no indication of age, but are of some value in judging the animal's condition.


The whitetail's amazing adaptability allows it to live in virtually every region and climate of North America. Naturally, deer behavior differs slightly from region to region.


Whitetail deer inhabit most of southern Canada and all of the mainland United States except two or three states in the west. Their range reaches throughout Central America to Bolivia.

Food Habits

Whitetail deer feed on a variety of vegetation, depending on what is available in their habitat. In eastern forests, buds and twigs of maple, sassafras, poplar, aspen and birch (to name a few), acorns, clover, alfalfa, tree buds, apples, berries, mushrooms are consumed, as well as many shrubs. Whitetail deer are crepuscular, feeding mainly from before dawn until several hours after, and again from late afternoon until dusk.


American Indians believed the moon, wind and rain affected deer movements. Current studies confirm that deer activity indeed varies depending on temperature, moon phases and even barometric pressure.

Whitetail deer are the most nervous and shy of our deer. They wave their tails characteristically from side to side when they are startled and fleeing. They are extremely agile and may bound at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through tangled terrain in a forest. Whitetail deer are also good swimmers and often enter large streams and lakes to escape predators or insects or to visit islands. Their home ranges are generally small, often a square kilometer or less. Whitetail deer do not migrate to a winter range but yard up in their own territories during heavy snow. They are notorious for continually using the same pathways when foraging, but will not bed down during the day in areas that they have used previously.

Whitetail deer move most often and for the greatest distances during spring and fall. In late spring, does may travel in search of fawning sites, although adult females move less than other deer. Greater travels are made by yearlings, on their own for the first time. Travel increases in fall after the harvest, as deer leave croplands and begin mating activities.

Whitetails, especially mature bucks, are active at night, preferring to feed, mingle and mate under a cloak of darkness. But no deer is completely nocturnal. They are most active at dawn and start to move again at dusk. Whitetails have developed keen senses to help them avoid predation. Whitetail deer have good eyesight and acute hearing, but depend mainly on their sense of smell to detect danger. Their most outstanding characteristic is their large whitetail which is used to signal other deer when danger is present. They have scent glands on there legs and feet which are used to produce scents to communicate to other deer.

Deer typically bed down at midday. Studies have shown that they rarely if ever bed in the same exact spot twice; perhaps that deters a predator from catching their scent and lying in wait for an easy meal the next day. Deer do not sleep for long periods of time. Rather, they dose, always trying to stay alert.

Although whitetails are social animals that are found in herds, the sexes stay largely divided. Outside the breeding season, a mature buck almost never stays with a "doe unit", or a group of does and fawns. Bucks travel alone or band together in bachelor's clubs for most of the year.

Whitetail deer are generally considered solitary, especially in summer. The basic social unit is a female and her fawns, although does have been observed to graze together in herds of up to hundreds of individuals. Females generally follow their mothers for about two years, but males leave the group within the first year. Bucks may form transient groups of 2-4 in the summer, but these disband prior to the mating season. Males begin rutting as early as September, and at this point become entirely preoccupied with obtaining matings. They do not guard harems (as with elk) but rather fight each other individually, clashing antlers to gain access to a particular female.

Whitetail does are painstakingly careful to keep their offspring hidden from predators. When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.

Whitetails communicate with vocalizations and scents. Although whitetail deer are not especially vocal, although young fawns bleat on occasion. Injured deer utter a startlingly loud "blatt" or bawl. Whistles or snorts of disturbed whitetails are the most commonly heard sounds.

For example, a buck trailing a doe in the rut might utter the "tending grunt." She might bleat back. A buck rub-urinates in a scrape, peeing over his tarsal glands to lay down scent that might attract a doe or challenge another male.

Breeding Biology

Most whitetail deer (particularly males) mate in their second year, although some females occasionally mate as young as seven months. Bucks are polygamous although they may form an attachment and stay with a single doe for several days or even weeks until she reaches oestrus. Does are seasonally polyoestrous and usually come into heat in November for a short twenty-four hour period. If a doe is not mated, a second oestrus occurs approximately 28 days later. Mating occurs from October to December and gestation is approximately 6 and a half months (201 days). In her first year of breeding, a female generally has one fawn, but 2 per litter (occasionally 3 or 4) are born in subsequent years.

Fawns are born in May or June. At birth, Fawns are born with a coat with many white spots which help to hide it and weight between 1.5 and 2.5 kg. Their coats become grayish lose their spots by their first winter. After it is first born it has no scent so it cannot be smelled by an predators. A fawn is capable of walking shortly after birth, but its movement is limited during the first few days. When the fawn is two or three weeks old, it begins eating vegetation in addition to nursing.

A fawn is normally weaned when it is about four months old, but is capable of surviving without milk at three months or less. About 30 percent of the fawns do not survive until fall.


Man, coyotes, wolves


Life span in the wild is 10 years, but whitetail deer have lived up to 20 years in captivity.




Fore and Hind Prints

Length: 2.0 -3.5 in (5.1 - 8.9 cm)
Width: 1.6-2.5 in (4.1 - 6.4 cm)


5.0 - 10 in (13 - 25 cm)


Walking: 10 - 20 in (25 - 51 cm)
Jumping: 6.0 - 15 ft (1.8 - 4.6 m)

Size (buck > Doe)

Height: 3.0 - 3.5 ft (91 - 110 cm)
Length: to 6.3 ft (1.9 m)
Head and body length is 150 to 200 cm
Tail length is 10 to 28 cm
Height at the shoulders is between 80 and 100 cm.


120 - 350 lb (54 - 160 kg)
Max Weight buck 400 lbs, doe 250 lbs
Top Speed 35 mph
Jump Height over 10 feet

Similar Species:

Moose and Elk


Young Moose prints may be simila in size, adult leave much longer and wider prints. Elk leave similat, larger prints, but have limited range.