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Chapter 3—Lake Sturgeon, Alligators, White-Tailed Deer
This chapter highlights species that are points of focus during the fall months. The following accounts and information on lake sturgeon, alligators, and white-tailed deer will explain why these species are important wildlife resources and what is being done to responsibly manage these species. You can go directly to any of these sections by clicking on their name: White-tailed Deer; Lake Sturgeon; American Alligator.
The white-tailed deer is one of the best-known and easily recognized animals in North America. The White-Tailed Deer is a long-legged, fast-moving mammal. The genus and species of the White-Tailed Deer are Odocoileus virginianus. This deer is found over most of North and Central America and northern parts of South America. It lives in deciduous forests, conifer forests, rainforests, grasslands, farm land, marshes, and even deserts. It has a life span of about 9 to 12 years. Other members of the deer family found in North America include the elk, moose, caribou, mule deer and blacktail deer.
The white-tailed deer is a large animal, which varies quite a bit in size, depending on the particular subspecies (30 are recognized) and the region where it is found. In Georgia the adult whitetail deer's weight averages from about 70 to 250 pounds. Mature males are generally larger than females. The whitetail is an ungulate, or hoofed animal, with each foot ending in a cloven or two-piece hoof. The under parts of the deer's body are white with a white patch on the throat and another smaller band of white around the nose. The underside of the tail is also white. The upper body parts are colored reddish brown during the warmer months but in the fall, whitetail deer molt into their winter coats of dark, grayish brown. For several months of the year, male whitetail deer known as bucks are easily recognized by the presence of antlers on their head, which females, known as does, lack. Once in a great while female deer (doe) will also have antlers.
White-tailed deer have played a very important role in the history of our country. They were used extensively by Native Americans for both food and clothing and also by the early settlers. Extensive clearing of land, unregulated hunting, and loss of habitat brought the whitetail deer population to a record low by the late 1800's. Land use changes, strict game laws, and a lack of natural large predators have caused the whitetail deer populations to rebound dramatically. Whitetails are now the number one game animal in the United States.
HABITS AND HABITATS
Whitetail deer are extremely cautious and wary animals with highly developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing. When threatened with danger, they will often attempt to quietly sneak away. If seriously frightened however, a whitetail deer will often utter a loud, snorting or blowing sound, and then quickly run away while raising the tail upwards like a flag, exposing the white underneath as a visual alarm to other deer nearby. Bucks are primarily solitary animals except during the breeding season, also called the rut, when they actively seek out does for breeding. The breeding season usually takes place in November but in some areas it can be in September or December. Bucks rub their antlers against small saplings to mark their territory and also use them to fight with other bucks during the rut. After the breeding season, the antlers are shed and a new set begins to grow later in the following spring. Does often travel together, especially during the winter months, or a doe will often be accompanied by her young from the previous season. By late spring, the young deer begin to drift away from their mothers. Does give birth to their young in spring or early summer. The young deer, known as fawns, are almost scentless for the first few days of their life. White spots on a reddish brown coat help to camouflage the fawn on the sun dappled forest floor where it spends much of its time hiding from predators. The mother returns periodically to nurse the fawn until it is large enough to follow her about. Whitetail deer occupy a variety of habitats from forests to fields and swamps. They are most common where a variety of habitats are found, providing them with all their seasonal needs. Whitetails are herbivores, feeding on a large variety of plant materials such as tender young leaves, stems, shoots and when available acorns. Deer also seek out mushrooms and wild fruits and will feed on man's agricultural crops, such as corn and soybeans, often causing considerable damage.
ECONOMIC AND RECREATIONAL IMPORTANCE
The hunting of the whitetail deer is a holiday of sorts in many areas of the United States and Canada. Men and women look forward to their annual trek to the deer camp. Millions of dollars are spent yearly on hunting supplies and accessories, such as bow and arrows, rifles, tree stands, motels, and gasoline, making hunting an important part of the tourism dollar in communities across Canada and the United States. In areas where hunting is not allowed, overpopulations of deer often occur. These overpopulations can result in permanent habitat damage and the spread of diseases, such as Lymes Disease, which is spread by the tiny deer tick. Increased incidents of crop damage and vehicle-car accidents are also results of overpopulations of deer.
Venison (deer meat) is high in protein and roughly half the fat when compared to a similar cut of beef. Venison can be used in almost any recipe calling for beef. Keep in mind the low fat content though, and if you are lucky enough to have venison on your table, make accommodations for this so that recipes are not too dry.
1. Whitetails are the most popular big-game species in North America.
2. There are more whitetails in the United States today than there was 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 can almost double their number every year. With this high reproductive rate and lack of natural predators, they can rapidly become a problem because of their effects on the vegetation of an area and their propensity to cause vehicle accidents.
DEER HERD MANAGEMENT IN GEORGIA
In 1911, in response to the urging of concerned Georgia citizens and conservation groups, a law was passed stating that “The Department of Game and Fish” is established and to be headed by the state game and fish commissioner. Thus, the legislature set up the first department specifically recognized as the agency to deal with conservation. In 1955, with the beginning of the conservation reserve program, much farmland reverted to forest. Farmers were paid by the soil bank program not to farm and to plant pine seedlings. The resulting increase of natural habitat prompted the State Game and Fish Commission to begin restocking white-tailed deer in Georgia. This restocking effort continued into the 1970’s. In 1953, there were an estimated 33,000 deer in Georgia; by 1965, roughly 125,000 deer roamed the state. During the same period the Game and Fish Commission began to extensively use many of today’s management techniques.
• Land acquisition to preserve habitat
• Timber management programs that improve carrying capacity
• Controlled burning to promote new plant growth
• Wildlife openings, or food plots, which provide supplemental food during critical periods
• Doe hunts which help maintain the deer herd numbers within the habitat carrying capacity
• Enforcement of laws and regulations to protect the integrity of management efforts
As a part of the Executive Re-organization Act of 1972 under Governor Jimmy Carter, a new Department of Natural Resources was created. The Wildlife Resources Division of that Department has continued the management of deer in Georgia. Since 1987, there have been over one million deer in Georgia every year. The herd peaked at over 1.3 million in 1997. The current estimate is 1.2 million with the long range goal of one million to keep the deer herd healthy and well in line with the carrying capacity of the habitat (overall food supply).
PROJECT WILD ACTIVITIES
A number of Project WILD activities emphasize deer or concepts related to deer as a natural resource and their relationships to people.
• Oh Deer!
• Deer Crossing
• Dropping in on Deer
• Deer Dilemma
• What Did Your Lunch Cost Wildlife?
• Good Buddies
• What’s for Dinner?
• What You Wear Is What They Were
• Make a Coat!
• Deer Herd Management for Georgia Hunters—Contact your nearest WRD Game Management office to request a copy or call (770) 918-6416 or visit .
• Controlling Deer Damage in Georgia—Contact your nearest WRD Game Management office to request a copy or call (770) 918-6416 or visit .
• White-Tailed Deer Fact Sheet
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