The whitetail’s coat is brown during warm months and gray or brown in the colder months. The tail is actually darker colored on top. The white underside is only displayed when the deer is running from danger. Not surprisingly, quite a few varieties can be found over the vast territory occupied by the whitetail. The largest of these may weigh up to one-hundred-ninety pounds. This northern white-tailed deer is found in the northeastern United States and into parts of southern Canada. In 1926, the largest recorded specimen of this variety weighed in at over five-hundred pounds. Most whitetails live eight years or less. Unlike most other horned game, the whitetail’s antlers do not give away its age. The number of points on a buck’s rack are seemingly random, and don’t reflect the number of seasons he has survived.
These deer feed on buds and twigs from smallish trees and shrubs. They will also graze on green plants such as clover. Whitetails living near agricultural areas will feed on nearly any crop available. The whitetail is the most hunted big game in North America.
The reason may have to do with the fact that this versatile deer survives and thrives in several types of habitat all over the continent. Don’t think that it’s a popular target because it’s an easy animal hunt, though. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s true that whitetails can be found in southern Mexico, over most of the US, and half way to Alaska. But each individual doe or buck has a relatively small home range. They are intimately familiar with every element within their personal area, which is usually less than a square mile, and quick to notice changes.
These adept animals have extremely strong senses of smell, and can detect human scent from several hundred yards away. To combat this, some hunters will use bottled scents made with fox or skunk urine around their stands to hide their own scent. They may also use an attractant made from doe urine to attract the deer to their shooting zone. The have extremely strong hearing and are visually quick to detect lateral movement. Their coats blend perfectly with grassy or bushy cover. The most common strategy used by the deer to avoid hunters is sit still.
Not moving is almost an art form for these animals. When they do decide to flee, they are likely to move slowly. They easily locate escape routes thanks to their knowledge of their surroundings. When alarmed, they may loudly snort and stamp their feet in warning feet before bounding away with their telltale white tail held erect.
After running a short distance at speeds up to forty miles an hour, the deer will cautiously scan behind them to see if the danger is passed. Once again, they will seem to be nearly invisible at this point. The whitetail can go from a full sprint to standing completely still in no time. If necessary, the deer can jump over objects as tall as eight feet and will swim across lakes. Whitetails can sense impending weather changes, and feed heavily in preparation for difficult conditions. They also change their eating habits during full or exceptionally bright moons. They are aware of hunting in surrounding areas. Whitetails commonly mix up their feeding schedules during hunting season. They limit their exposure during light hours by eating earlier in the morning and later at night. Early in rutting season, both bucks and does are less cautious and more vulnerable to good hunters. Bucks will become preoccupied with scraping the ground to attract mates. Does will be equally distracted by looking for the scraps. They are also more likely to wander from their intimate surroundings at this time.
Finding whitetails is still extremely difficult, even during these times. Good hunters do plenty of pre-season scouting. They look for movement paths used by the deer in the tall grasses and bushes. Day trails wind through trees but never cross clearings.
Deer are far too cautious to venture across clearings during daylight. Trails across open spaces like meadows or crops are referred to as night trails. Hunters know not to bother setting up on a night trail during daylight. When a hunter believes he has found a deer’s personal habitat, he tries to anticipate its escape routes. When hunting solo, there is little to be done about escape save making your first shot. Team hunting, however, is designed to account for every possible contingency. Driving is a common t echnique when several hunters are available at once. Every drive has a leader who is hopefully as familiar with the terrain as the game. Post ers are stationed in stands with good visibility.
Drivers spread out upwind of the deer’s cover. Once all hunters are positioned, the drivers walk slowly downwind. This causes the deer to be flushed ahead toward the posters. From their elevated stands, the posters should be able to take high percentage shots with rifles. Driving can be extremely dangerous for hunters if not executed properly.
All members of the drive must know exactly where everyone is before shooting. It’s also common for a wiry whitetail to double back in between the drivers and leave no target for the posters. Solo stand-hunting is another way to try to bag white-tails. Hunters will look for intersecting deer trails or ground with fresh scrapes. They will build their tree or tower stand, and return another day. Once in position with weapon at the ready, the hunter must remain as still as possible for hours on end in anticipation of a deer carefully passing below. The most instinctually and physically taxing approach to going after the unbelievably patient whitetail is still-hunting.
For this to succeed, the hunter must move as slowly as the hunted. Each step is gradual and measured. If the still-hunter accidentally makes a noise, he must freeze in place for several minutes until any nearby deer have forgotten the disturbance. The still-hunter constantly scans and rescans his surroundings for any sign of deer. All the while, he has his weapon at the ready for even the slightest chance to bag this elusive prey. Still-hunting effectively requires years of practice and rare mental discipline. If a hunter does not have these qualifications, still-hunting will be highly unlikely to bear fruit. If he has what it takes, on the other hand, a still-hunter may feel a whitetail and have a story to tell for a lifetime.