Stuck in a Rut: White-Tailed Deer
By Jennifer Meikle, Environmental Educator
When summer comes to an end and fall begins, bringing cooler air and dwindling daylight, two things start happening within the White-Tailed Deer populations in Connecticut. The velvet covering that forms on a male deer’s growing antlers every year during the warmer months begins to harden as the amount of sunlight lessens and must be rubbed off. This velvet coating is a special tissue and full of blood vessels and nerves. It helps supply the developing antlers with nutrients and oxygen, and once they are fully grown, they no longer need the velvet to provide nourishment. The antlers harden and are now prepared for what they will be used for: to attract mates. Deer will use anything available to them to scrape the dry, itchy velvet off, which usually involves the bark of a tree. This behavior often leaves trees with exposed inner layers due to heavy scraping. This is a reoccurring process because bucks shed their antlers each year, and that fact is also what differentiates antlers from horns. While antlers are shed and regrown each year, horns do not fall off and will continue to grow throughout an animal’s life.
During this time, bucks are also getting ready for the upcoming rut period (or mating season) by marking their territory and announcing their presence. Like many other species, deer mark their scent on trees to let all the other deer know that they have claimed the area and to attract a doe (or multiple) to mate with. They stake their claim on an area by rubbing the scent glands in their foreheads on trees, which further scrapes away bark with their antlers. While White-Tailed Deer rutting season is generally anywhere from late October to early January, the peak of rutting season in Connecticut is the last two weeks of November. Drivers and hunters should be aware of deer mating season and take caution because during this time male deer aren’t paying attention to much aside from chasing down a potential mate and they are more likely to run into roads or cars.
The male deer use their antlers to spar during mating season, clashing their heads together violently over territory or a doe. After the mating season ends, bucks experience a drop in testosterone which causes them to shed their antlers, typically from mid-December to late January. It is not uncommon to encounter shed deer antlers on a walk through the woods! Fawns are born in June, and females usually have one to four babies. According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, twins are commonly born in Connecticut, and triplets and quadruplets have been recorded as well! Although seeing a deer in the yard or in the woods is familiar to some, it is incredible to learn more about the parts of their lives that often go unseen.