“Summer is the time white-tailed deer are sharing the success of the species, having fawns, which is their whole purpose for living,” said Bill Jensen, North Dakota Game and Fish Department big game management biologist.
It’s not like white-tailed deer are out of sight in summer – their reddish warm-weather coats fairly shine against verdant surroundings – but they are mostly out of mind.
In all fairness, our awareness of North Dakota’s most abundant and popular big game animal is jumpstarted in autumn, when leaves turn, grasses lose their green and hunting season nears.
If you think summer is a time of indolence for whitetails because the leaner, crueler months of snow and cold are behind them, think again. It’s during this stretch of shirtsleeve weather that they are browsing on new forbs and succulent growth to progressively restore what they lost in winter. And adult does, you must remember, are doing this while raising one fawn, or sometimes two.
Spotted fawns are born in May or June, begin nursing soon after birth, and are taught early on to hide motionless from predators in tall grass or other vegetation while adult does wander in search of food.
“For the most part, adult does aren’t moving much at this time,” Jensen said. “They are confined to an area of about a half-mile or so from where their fawn is located. They do this until their fawn is able to follow their heel.”
The cute, big-eyed fawns feature reddish coats, with dozens of white spots, which help the nearly helpless young blend into their environment. This is typically the time in their lives when humans sometimes intervene, unknowingly assuming the animals have been abandoned and need “rescuing.” This isn’t the case, of course, as adult does are likely nearby watching unseen.
Fawns typically nurse until August, but at about 3-4 weeks of age they start sampling vegetation, while learning other skills needed to elude predators, survive and bolster North Dakota’s deer herd.
Whitetail bucks on the other hand are removed from fawn-rearing, hanging in bachelor groups and building body fat to fuel them through the rut and coming winter.
Bucks are also growing antlers in summer, a process started in early spring when daylight hours lengthen. Soft-growing antlers are covered in hairy skin called velvet. When the velvet is shed in September, what lies beneath is bone.
Whitetail buck fawns grow two small bump-like antlers, or buttons, their first year, and will grow their first true set of antlers the following spring and summer.
In late August and early September, whitetails start to shed their reddish summer coats for darker, brownish gray winter coats.
“We tend to get some calls from the public at this time because deer look ragged and people think maybe they are sick,” Jensen said. “They are simply putting on a new coat in preparation for what lies ahead.”