What Is The Lifespan of Whitetail Deer?

dom doeTwo of the most amazing facts from the 2018 deer season:

A young hunter in Vermont shot a wild doe that, according to a tooth-wear analysis, was 20 years old!

And another hunter in Vermont killed a 12-year-old buck!

Which begs the question: How long do deer live?

In captivity, whitetail does have been documented to live 18 to 25 years, and bucks 14 years.

In the wild, where hunters consider a 5-year-old buck to be an old one, deer have the capability to live longer than you think.

A doe in Louisiana was aged at 21 1/2 years.

Recent data from Pennsylvania confirms 3 wild does to be at least 13.5 years old.

Interestingly, other does from Vermont in past seasons have been documented at 16 to 20 years. (My theory is that deer up there live so long because there are relatively few deer in the state, 130,000 according to recent estimates; there are relatively few deer hunters; and not as many deer are killed by cars in Vermont as in other states.)  

Noted whitetail researcher Leonard Lee Rue III documented ages in both wild and captive deer dating back to the 1930s. Rue’s oldest documented wild deer ranged from 16-1/2 years to 19-1/2 years.

“Females of almost all species of mammals, including humans, just live longer,” he said. “The males of most species are usually 20 percent larger than the females. Perhaps males are worn out sooner by this extra weight and the extra food that has to be eaten and processed to achieve and maintain this weight.”

 

2018 Pennsylvania Deer Harvest Highest In 14 Years…State “has never managed whitetails better.”

???????????????????????????????From the York Dispatch: “The (Pennsylvania Game Commission) reported that a total of 374,690 deer were harvested during the state’s 2018-19 hunting seasons, which closed in January.

“That total tops the previous year’s harvest of 367,159 by about 10 percent.”

The 2018 antlerless harvest of 226,940 was up about 10 percent over last year. Data show that most does—64%–killed by hunters were 2.5 years old, and the remainder were 1.5 years old.

The 2018-19 buck kill of 147,750 was down 10% from the previous season. The commission says that steady, heavy rain during opening weekend of gun season was the biggest reason for the decline—it kept a lot of hunters out of the woods, and the bucks didn’t move well in the poor conditions.

During any year, about half of Pennsylvania’s overall buck harvest typically occurs on opening day of firearms season. It’s like that in many states.

In a positive trend that you see in states across the country, the percentage of older bucks in the 2018-19 PA harvest was high. About 64 percent of the bucks shot by hunters were at least 2½ years old.

“That almost two-thirds of the bucks…were at least 2½ years old is a tribute to the science our deer managers use and the sacrifices a generation of hunters made in the commonwealth,” said Bryan Burhans, the game commission’s executive director. “The bucks being taken every day in Pennsylvania’s deer seasons are living proof that this commonwealth has never managed whitetails better.”

In the photo: Longtime BIG DEER blogger Terry “Big Daddy” Murphy shot this buck on October 16, 2018 on his land in Potter County. It was Big Daddy’s 40th archery buck in 40 years of hunting Pennsylvania, which is a 1 buck per year state. 

How Will “Bomb Cyclone” and Snowmelt Flooding Affect Deer?

floods deerThe recent bomb cyclone combined with spring snowmelt has swelled some Midwest rivers to record levels and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. The governors of Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have declared emergencies. Some of the water-logged areas are bracing for more rain this week.

 

How will all this flooding affect whitetail deer in the region?

Biologists say that rising floodwaters of river and creeks won’t kill many if any adult deer, though it will displace the animals for days and weeks. But the deer will eventually filter back into their habitats once the waters recede.

Good news is that pregnant does will move out of rising water now and for the next few weeks. The primary concern for deer herds in and around flood zones is later on in May and June, when the does start dropping fawns.

“But fawn survival in flood plains is typically very high, even during flood years,” says noted whitetail scientist Grant Woods. “To cause any significant problems in a herd, the water levels would have to rise very rapidly and be timed when the peak of fawn births occur, and before the fawns are mobile. This is a relatively narrow window of time. Rivers rarely rise that quickly, and does are excellent mothers.”

One concern, though, is how the current Midwestern flooding might wash away and/or flatten preferred fawning cover for later on this spring. “If does are forced to fawn in fields or woods where there isn’t as much cover as usual, coyote predation on the fawns can increase,” says Grant.

The cumulative effects of the bomb cyclone, snowmelt and flooding later on this spring could impact fawning cover in some areas, but that remains to be seen.

CWD Changing The Way We Process And Eat Venison

Starting out the new year with this guest blog from our friend Luke Strommen, who lives and hunts with his wife, Tara, and daughters out on the Milk River in northeastern Montana. Luke is one of the most ethical and responsible deer hunters I know:  

It was a tough year to get out and hunt with our girls because they were so busy with school stuff and extracurricular activities, etc. I’m sure you parents can relate.

MT summer strommen 1

My oldest daughter, Summer, got to go the second to last day of the 2018 season. We hit the rattling sheds and made a ruckus with some leaves and low branches. After two close encounters on rack bucks, when an ethical shot wouldn’t present, I talked Summer into taking hike to warm up before letting her call it quits.

It doesn’t look cold in these photos, but high humidity and low temps got Summer’s fingers and toes pretty cold when we were sitting on the ground in the tall grass.  Summer’s tough, though, and loves to hunt, so we hiked a few hundred yards downriver.

We came up off the riverbank and saw this buck was coming straight at us from 50 yards, with no idea we were there! We quickly belly crawled to a small ash tree that Summer tried to use to steady her .308, but the buck was on a mission and not wasting any time. When she got the rifle up he was at 30 yards!  He saw us and stepped sideways for a quick moment, but continued on his way while giving us a sideways glance. He didn’t care about us…he was seeking and seeking hard as the final phase of the rut was on.

Summer was ready when I was able to get the buck to stop and look at us…at 23 steps!  She raised her .308 and made a great off-hand shot (I use a 2.5-10X scope on that rifle, and it was set at 2.5X). The buck staggered 30 yards before he fell over and she got to see it go down. It was really exciting, because she thought she had missed him!

MT summer 2

After recovering the buck, I started a small fire to warm us up. That wasn’t a small task because with the melting snow, the past days of sleet, and the foggy morning, everything was wet.  Summer knew we always kept a fire kit with us in our survival pack. We whittled some dead limbs to the drier core, built a tepee of them and the trimmings, tucked some of our dryer lint up inside the tepee and lit it with a waterproof match. A little pampering and feeding and Summer had the fire going well. She pulled off her socks, and I gave her a new pair from our pack (100% wool, old surplus army issue) to put on her damp, cold feet, and she was warm again by the time we cleaned her buck. (BTW, we have built fires before while out hiking and shed hunting, and I think it’s a great skill for all kids to learn…a necessity in my book, really.)

It was the best buck we had seen all year, and it just happened to be drawn by in Summer’s rabbit foot. This was the first year that she could choose whether or not to shoot or pass on a buck. I let my girls be picky only after their first two bucks; for the first two bucks they shoot, I make them take the first buck that gives them an ethical shot opportunity.

We took Summer’s buck to a CWD check station, where the fellas there removed glands from the throat, a piece of tissue, and a tooth from her buck. They gave us a card with a number and told us to check back in 2 to 3 weeks for the results, as they were sending the samples to Colorado State University for testing.  Authorities had found 2 mule deer in Valley County with Chronic Wasting Disease, so I was concerned.  The counties on both sides of us were positive for CWD deer also. I want to teach my girls the “new” way to take care of your harvest and how to be safe cleaning and processing it.

MT summer 3

After checking the results online, Summer’s buck was good to go on our plates. This was one of the rare years where we didn’t BBQ up a back strap or loin the same day we killed the deer. Since I intend to have every deer we shoot tested for CWD before we eat it, that is now a thing of the past for us…sadly enough. CWD has me concerned about consuming our game meat, and I am not taking any chances with my girls,  at least until science shows us there is positively no threat that CWD infected deer can pass the disease or any illness on to humans that consume it.  

As for now, we are thawing out some back strap from Summer’s deer for dinner.

Here’s a helpful link about CWD and the precautions you can take.—Thanks, your friend Luke.

 

October Velvet Mystery Bucks

tx travis velvet buck

Got this from Travis:

Hi Mike: Thought you might be able to shed some light on this. We took this deer October 19 on the Texas/Oklahoma border north of Dallas. As you can see it’s still in velvet!  That’s not normal for around here. Any insight on this, and does this change how we plan for the rut?

I emailed back: Did his nut sack look normal or small? If a buck injures his testicles (or if they didn’t drop as he grew) it affects his hormones and a buck might not shed the velvet. Let me know.

From Travis: I finally heard back from my buddy. You called it. The testicles were small and not near what you’d expect. And in a strange coincidence another friend shot this Colorado mule deer buck (below) last week and it was in velvet too! Wouldn’t you know it, his nuts were smaller than grapes and it had nipples. This is a weird world.

CO travis velvet buck

Weird yes, and here’s the explanation.

Commonly called a “stag,” the oddball buck retains the velvet on his antlers due to low testosterone levels. Scientists refer to this condition as cryptorchidism and it’s rare. It can result from a birth defect or disease that causes a buck’s testicles (one or both) not to drop normally. Or, a buck may injure his nuts, say on a wire fence (ouch). Cryptorchidism can occur in whitetails or mule deer.

A stag buck is different, and he doesn’t engage in the seasonal rituals of normal bucks. Cryptorchids don’t rub or scrape in the the rut. They lack the chemical stimulation to express dominance or individualism. Their necks don’t swell. A stag doesn’t shed his antlers; they remain in velvet year-round

A cryptorchid buck is rare, and if you shoot one I’d mount it and have a taxidermist preserve the velvet antlers.

No, a stag buck in velvet in October or November is an anomaly and his presence has no effect on the normal rut.