Mammals: White-tailed Deer

    Kootenai Country Montana grows some of the most healthy whitetail deer in the state. Bucks are most often large, heavy, plentiful and have great racks and genetics. Our remoteness enhances our wildlife populations who are relatively spared from any major drops in numbers due to predation, disease or winterkill on an average year.
    White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are habitat generalists here occupying forests, wetlands, river and creek bottoms and open brushy areas. At the higher elevational limits of their range, these deer will...

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utilize dense vegetation such as bitterbrush and ceanothus hillsides in winter. Overall diet may consist of leaves, fruits, tips of twigs, berries of browse plants including bunchberry dogwood, and woody shrubs such as chokecherry, serviceberry, snowberry, ninebark and oceanspray especially in winter. In northwest Montana, winters can be rough and whitetails will consume Douglas-fir, Oregon grape, and lichens that are found in mature and older growth stands. These groups of trees usually have good tree canopies and also provide needed thermal cover. Additional seasonal supplements may include fungi, forbs, grass and sedge species which are usually available spring, summer, and early fall.
    Summer coats are a reddish-brown and winter pelage is a grayish-brown. The outside of the lower hind feet have small scent glands that are somewhat tear drop shaped. Adult bucks may weigh 225-300 pounds, with does hitting the scales at 150-190 pounds. Antlers on males are composed of a main beam with prongs issuing from it. Usually, there are 3-6 tines projecting upward from the main beam. Whitetails will emit a loud whistling snort when they scent animal and human predators. The name whitetail is related to the fact that when alarmed, they will erect the tail which has a foot-long white underside and wag it causing a flashing as a warning signal to other deer.
    Vocalizations can include snorts when alarmed, guttural grunts by older bucks, and low bleats by fawns. Whitetails must be relatively secretive and nocturnal as they have many predators and are a prey base for numerous carnivores. The main predation on adult deer come from mountain lions, bears, and wolves. Although these deer can run at 35-40 mph, and jump 30-feet horizontally, and 9-feet vertically, many fall to their local predators. Young fawns born in May-June after a 6-month gestation period may be preyed upon by coyotes, bobcats, lynx, and Great Horned owls. Mother nature does her best to protect the fawns, which are reddish, white spotted and have no scent in the early stages of life.
    The necks of rutting bucks swell up during breeding in mid to late November, and adult males shed their antlers in December to January. Although we are susceptible to some harsh winters, and have our share of wild predators, white-tailed deer populations in suitable habitat in Kootenai Country Montana remain relatively stable and healthy.
(Author’s Note: Reference - A Field Guide to the Mammals, by William H. Burt; I.D. of Montana’s Big Game Mammals by Bart O’Gara and Robert Neave.)