Of all game animals in the world, whitetail deer are the most unique and multi-faceted, spawning tons of debate around the campfire. That is why this week in our fourth installment of this six-part series; we are going to learn some wild and wonderful things about deer.
Texas has more than 3.5 million whitetail deer. That is nine times the size of the whitetail herd in all of North America in 1900. In fact Llano, Mason, Gillespie and Kendall Counties combined now have more deer than the entire nation had at that time.
There are 17 of recognized subspecies of whitetail deer in the United States, four of which occur in Texas. These are the tiny Carmen Mountains whitetail, the Texas whitetail, the Kansas whitetail and the Avery Island Whitetail. The Avery Island variety is our native local strain and it ranges along the Louisiana coast and prairies into Southeast and East Texas. However, much of this bloodline has been changed over the years due to release of deer from other parts of the state.
There is much debate over how high deer can jump. Most deer from a standing position can clear an eight-foot fence.
The heaviest whitetail deer on record was killed in Minnesota in 1926 and weighed 511 pounds. The animal dressed out at 402 pounds. The key deer is the smallest subspecies of whitetail, averaging 45 to 75 pounds with most mature deer somewhere around 55 pounds on the hoof. These deer only live on a few of the Florida Keys and are an endangered species under supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Deer do not have a gall bladder, which scientists say allows them to eat many foods that would be toxic to domestic animals.
Whitetail deer are known as vegetarians but scientists have observed deer eating quail eggs on several occasions. Quail are ground nesting birds, which make them accessible to deer. No evidence has been found of deer eating the eggs of turkey or ducks, which also utilize the ground for nesting.
Whitetail and mule deer have been verified to cross breed in some areas of the Trans Pecos of West Texas. In most areas where muleys and whitetails roam together, whitetails tend to dominate but occasionally the two species do mate and produce unique looking offspring.
According to the University of Georgia, whitetails can contract rabies although it is a rarity.
“Rabies is extremely rare in white-tailed deer, with 0-2 cases reported annually from 1980-1990 in the United States. “
“Only 1 deer in over 800 submitted to the SCWDS diagnostic laboratory has been infected, and this animal had raccoon-strain virus.”
“Rabid deer may display abnormal behavior ranging from severe depression to violent aggression, or they may appear uncoordinated, partially paralyzed, or unable to rise,” they reported.
One of the reasons hunters are so fascinated with whitetails is they are such a versatile species that can inhabit everything from deep, dark briar patches to beaches with just a scattering of cover.
They are also full of surprises whether it is eating quail eggs or the occasional individual that grows to elk size.
Chester Moore, Jr.