White-Tailed Deer Fact Sheet
Range: Most of North America, except for
extreme northern and western parts; Central America; and northern South
Status of the Species: The white-tailed deer today in the United
States occupy more habitats over a greater range and in larger numbers
than ever before. At the start of this century, they had been eliminated
from most of their range in a number of states. The species occurs in
low numbers in much of Central America and northern South America. Their
low density in these areas stems from overhunting.
Status of the SRS Deer Herd: The white-tailed deer on the Savannah
River Site in Aiken, S.C., had been reduced to very low numbers, perhaps
only a couple of dozen deer in the swamp and lowland forests, during the
early 1950s. Whit the establishment of the SRS, the herd expanded to more
than 5,000 deer, and hunting during the fall and early winter commenced
in the late 1960s. The current herd size is slightly more than 4,000 after
annual hunts. The herd has an even sex ratio, high levels of genetic diversity,
and deer are in good condition as measured by the amount of body fat.
Because of hunting, few deer live beyond four years of age.
Habitat Description: White-tailed deer occur in every habitat on
the SRS, except in the deep swamp. It is naturally considered a forest
species, occuring on the edge of forest openings.
Breeding Biology: Whitetails are seasonal breeders with the peak
occurring in early November, and the majority of all breeding occurs within
one month before and after this time. On average, 40 percent of females
breed their first year as fawns and nearly 100 percent of adult females
breed during each year of their life. Females have one, two or occasionally
three offspring. The usual number is two. On average, there are about
180 offspring produced per 100 females in the population each year.
Feeding Biology: Whitetails are predominately browsers, feeding
on shrubs, vines, woody stems and both soft and hard mast. They even eat
poison ivy as unwary hunters have found out when sorting through their
rumen contents. Deer rarely graze on grass species.
Research: Scientists at the University of Georgia have studied
white- tailed deer on the SRS since the late 1950s. Scientists have written
more than 100 scientific papers, theses or dissertations, and reports
about this species on the SRS. These publications have involved more than
100 researchers at more than 30 universities.
The SRS deer are among the best studied genetically of any mammalian population.
White-tailed deer is one of the keystone species on the SRS -- it can
affect most other terrestrial animal and plant species. Ecology Lab scientists
have studied most aspects of the biology of this species. Studies have
focused on prenatal and postnatal growth patterns, body condition, fat
dynamics, radioecology, mineral cycling, genetics, antler development,
food habits, habitat relationships, reproductive biology, developmental
asymmetry, age structure, population fluctuations, and number of car accidents
involving deer. The number of deer on the SRS is primarily controlled
by the harvest of deer by hunters, and a correlation exists between the
rate and magnitude of change in deer-car accidents and the number of deer.
1. Whitetails are the most popular big-game species in North America.
2. There are more whitetails today in the United States than there were
when Columbus discovered America.
3. Whitetails provide millions of people with recreation, food, clothing,
decorations and even utensils.
4. Whitetails are among the most genetically variable mammals studied.
5. Whitetails on the SRS can almost double their number every year, and
with this high reproductive rate and lack of predators, they can rapidly
become a problem because of their effects on the vegetation of an area
and their propensity to cause car accidents.