So You Found A…

White Tailed Deer


White Tailed Deer

An adult whitetail buck will rarely stand over waist-high to the average man and the belly may only be a mere 23 inches from the ground. The average weight is between 100 to 300 lbs.  Females average lighter in weight than males. Their preferred habitat is that of field and forest edges, woodlands, and wooded banks of rivers and streams but they have adapted well to our urban areas. The peak of the mating season, also called the rut, is in November but mating can successfully occur from September to February. Does frequently have twins, and triplets are not uncommon. Pregnancy lasts 6 1/2 to 7 months. The young are most often born in April, May or early June. Each fawn weighs between 6 to 9 pounds at birth and the eyes are open.


The female leaves the fawns alone (each one in a different hiding place for the first few weeks) but stays within hearing range. Fawns hold all urine and feces until the mother returns, for she will consume them to remove any trace of scent. The young have no scent to keep them safe from predators. Fawns depend on their mother’s milk until five weeks of age. At two to three weeks, they begin to forage and follow their mother. By the time they are four months old, most are weaned. Fawns lose their spots in late fall.  OWL does not have the facilities to care for adult deer. 

If I found a fawn, what do I do?

If you have found a fawn that does not look injured, leave it alone.

First Few Weeks

A doe normally gives birth to twin or triplets.  She “parks” them in different spots to safeguard them from predators and give them a better chance of survival in case a predator comes along. For the first couple of weeks of the fawns’ lives they are “bedded down” and left alone during the day.  The doe returns to them under the cover of darkness to clean, nurse, and care for them.  They don’t develop a scent for the first couple of weeks and their spots help keep them camouflaged. The fawns curl up in a “bed” site and remain motionless, laying their heads out flat on the ground.  This is called “freezing”.  The white spots on their fur help them to blend in with the sun-flecked ground.  Fawns lose those spots at 90-120 days of age.  The doe does not stay with her young during the day because she doesn’t want to attract predators to them.



Don’t Touch

If you find a fawn that you think is abandoned, do not touch it.  Leave it alone, walk away, and come back to check it 24 hours later.  If a fawn appears cold, weak, thin, or injured and bawling it may be orphaned.  Fawns that are having problems will have the tips of their ears curled down.  This is a sign of dehydration. (NOTE the CURLED EAR TIPS IN THE PICTURE) DO NOT FEED IT! Fawns have sensitive digestive systems and the wrong formula can cause it to have scours and enteritis. It may need intervention but call OWL first before moving it.  Injured fawns can be transported in a large laundry basket with a blanket in the bottom and the fawn wrapped in the blanket.  OWL does not raise fawns, but we do act as an intermediate contact for other rehabbers that do.  We also provide veterinary care for them.


Wait for doe to reclaim

If you have already picked up a fawn that should have been left alone, the doe will continue to look for it up to 48-72 hours.  Take it back at dusk to same area and leave it for the doe to reclaim.

Don’t attempt to raise yourself

Please do not attempt to raise a fawn yourself.  Not only is it illegal, it’s the worst thing you can do for the fawn.  Habituated and humanized “pet” deer have been known to kill people once they reach sexual maturity.  They need to be raised in a herd so that they learn social and behavioral skills that will help them survive in the wild.

human intervention

When deer truly need intervention

Human intervention can at times be more detrimental than helpful.  Some injuries in deer, while they might look terrible, must be left alone to heal as nature intended because the rehab process would be more harmful to the deer psychologically than it would be helpful physically.  Keeping this in mind, there are circumstances where human intervention is helpful, and at times necessary.

Deer/fawn hit by car and DOWN on the road, shoulder, etc. Some car vs deer accidents result in the deer running off into the woods.  If you are a part of, or witness to a car vs deer incident, please DO NOT try to move the deer. Call your local sheriff’s department or police department.

If an adult deer is hit by a car or otherwise injured and it is a minor injury, they may do fine on their own.  It depends on the injury. A deer with a limp, or some other sort of injury that can get away from you is mobile enough to travel and forage for food.  Leave it ALONE. This is the best option for adults.  White tailed deer are very resilient and can heal from minor injuries.  Adult deer are susceptible to a disease process called Captive Myopathy. The trauma of being caught, taken to rehab, and everything that follows is too much for them.

Common Concerns

  • Take note of deer-crossing signs and drive accordingly. They were put there for a reason.
  • Deer are most active at dawn and dusk. Be especially watchful during these times.
  • One deer crossing the road may be a sign that more deer are about to cross. Watch for other deer; they will move fast to catch up with leaders, mothers, or mates and may not pay attention to traffic.
  • When you see brake lights, it could be because the driver ahead of you has spotted a deer. Stay alert as you drive by the spot, as more deer could try to cross.
  • Wonder why the person ahead is driving so slowly? The driver may know where to slow down and be extra alert for deer. Don’t be too quick to pass and watch out.
  • Try to drive more slowly at night, giving yourself time to see a deer with your headlights. Lowering the brightness of your dashboard lights slightly will make it easier to see deer.
  • Be especially watchful when traveling near steep roadside banks. Deer will pop up on the roadway with little or no warning.
  • Be aware that headlights confuse deer and may cause them to move erratically or stop. Young animals do not recognize that vehicles are a threat.
  • Deer hooves slip on pavement and a deer may fall in front of your vehicle just when you think it is jumping away.
  • Deer whistles, small devices that can be mounted on your vehicle, emit a shrill sound that supposedly alerts deer nearby. Humans cannot hear the sound. How well the devices work is not scientifically known.

October and November is the breeding (rutting) season in the Midwest.  The males (bucks) are sparring with their antlers and fighting with each other for the right to breed with the females (does).   We get most of our calls on adult deer during this time of year.

Although a deer fence or other barrier is the best insurance against damage, landscaping with deer-resistant plants is a more aesthetic alternative. In addition, there may be areas where a deer fence isn’t practical.

There are multiple websites available to assist you with deterring deer from destroying your garden, as well as assisting you in creating a garden that is deer friendly.  Please visit one of the following sites for more information:

Deer repellents use a disagreeable odor or taste, or a combination of both, to dissuade deer from eating the treated plant. They are easy to apply, and homemade solutions are inexpensive.  Numerous odor and taste repellents have been developed to reduce deer damage and new products are continually becoming available. There have been numerous studies to test the effectiveness of these repellents, often producing conflicting results. No repellent eliminates deer damage entirely.

Mix the following in a 1-gallon tank sprayer:

  • 2 beaten and strained eggs— strain them to remove the white strings surrounding the yolk, which otherwise will plug up your sprayer.
  • 1 cup milk, yogurt, buttermilk, or sour milk
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
  • 20 drops essential oil of clove, cinnamon, or eucalyptus, found in small bottles at health food stores
  • 1 tsp. cooking oil or dormant oil
  • 1 tsp. liquid dish soap
  • Top off the tank with water and pump it up. Shake the sprayer occasionally and mist onto dry foliage. One application will last for 2 to 4 weeks in dry weather.

Before you apply: Most repellents function by reducing the palatability of the treated plant. Repellent effectiveness depends upon the availability of wild deer food. Repellents are more appropriate for short-term rather than long-term problems and are the most practical for residential users experiencing low to moderate deer damage.

Repellents work best if applied before the deer develop a routine feeding pattern. This means applying repellents before leaves or flower buds emerge, and as new growth appears. It’s easier and more effective to prevent a feeding habit from forming than to try to break an established one.

Spray-on repellents need to be applied frequently to protect the new plant growth and will need to be re-applied after rain and long exposure to hot, dry, or windy weather.

Deer may become accustomed to the same repellent over time, and eventually ignore it. Alternating repellents may help keep deer confused and more wary of eating your plants.

Repellents that are applied to plant surfaces are generally more effective than capsules containing garlic oil, bags of hair, or other devices that produce an odor intended to protect a specific area.

Finally, before putting complete faith in a repellent, first try it on a small area. Always use commercial repellents according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Like most animals, deer are neophobic (fearful of unfamiliar objects), and many scare tactics take advantage of this behavior. However, deer soon get accustomed to new things and damage resumes after they realize no actual harm will come to them. As with repellents, a given tactic will work on some deer, but no single one seems to work on all of them. If the animals are already used to feeding in the area, scare tactics will last an even shorter length of time.  Scare tactics can be visual (scarecrows, bright lights, spare blankets), auditory (noise making devices such as exploders, whistles, etc.), or olfactory (predator urine or droppings).  Several rows of heavyweight fishing line strung around open border of your yard about chest height to a deer (something they can’t see that touches them) with several 2” x 10” strips of white cloth or white plastic bags(flash of white “tail” is a danger warning) has had some success.

One recent innovation is a motion sensor combined with a sprinkler that attaches to a hose. When a deer comes into its adjustable, motion-detecting range, a sharp burst of water is sprayed at the animal. This device appears to be effective by combining a physical sensation with a startling stimulus. Similar in approach but less effective are radios and lights hooked up to a motion detector.

A dog can help keep deer away, especially if it is large and awake. To keep the dog at home while simultaneously repelling deer from your property, use a “dog trolley” or an invisible (buried electric) fence, where practical. Avoid tethering a dog near stairways and fences, and provide at least 15 feet of cleared space for it to move around in. Do not use a choke chain and remove all debris that could tangle or injure your dog. Provide shade, water, and shelter for the dog.

Contact Operation WildLife for help.

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