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About Deer -- Habitat, Diet & Reproduction


Deer -- general White-tailed deer are one of Indiana's most widely-enjoyed and appreciated natural resources. Deer are also one of the State's oldest native wildlife, once existing alongside saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths. However, due to hunting and habitat destruction, deer were actually eliminated from Indiana by the late 1800s. The last reported deer was documented in 1892 and Indiana remained "deer free" until the species was reintroduced by State fish and wildlife biologists in 1934. Since deer were reintroduced, Indiana deer numbers have not only rebounded, but flourished. Indiana's Deer Biologist writes that:

This reintroduction effort lasted for almost 9 years until 1942, releasing a total of 296 deer. By 1951, the herd was estimated at 5,000 animals and the first hunting season in 58 years was implemented. Hunters that year harvested almost 1,600 deer. Today, only 60 years since deer hunting returned to Indiana, the deer harvest exceeds 130,000 animals a year . . . .*

In large part, this rebound is due human alterations of the natural landscape, including the creation of suburban and exurban developments and the elimination of virtually all predators. While deer were once scarce, they are now abundant.

Habitat: The Edge

Deer are edge species - they prefer those transitional spaces that are situated between forested areas and open spaces, such as agricultural land, grass land and human settlement. Ravines, creek draws, natural areas, and wooded parks create natural bedding areas and cover, while golf courses, open park land, fertilized lawns and flowering or vegetable gardens provide ample and varied forage opportunities. The combination of a mowed, fertilized lawn with a nice garden and a wood's edge makes for a bountiful banquet for local white tails.

Diet: Movable Feast

White-tailed deer are foragers. One of their many defense mechanisms is eating on the go. First they smell, look, and listen to where they are going; then they go. After ten to twenty steps they stop, smell, look, and listen to where they have been. Then they repeat the whole process again. All this moving requires a lot of space. Deer will not camp out at a food source. Instead, they eat a little here, move on, eat a little there, and so on. When it comes to food preferences, deer love fertilizer and no where is fertilizer more abundant than lawns, flower beds and gardens. Indeed, food found in suburban yards is sometimes more nutrient rich than that found in the forest.**

Reproduction & Lifespan

An adult doe usually has twins in the spring. In areas where there is sufficient food, shelter and water and an absence of predation (human or otherwise), deer tend to have high reproductive potential and populations can increase quickly. In these conditions, a deer can live up to eight - even twelve - years.

* Stewart, Chad. 2011. "Deer Reproduction and Localized Management in Indiana," The Indiana Woodland Steward (Vol. 20, No. 1).

**Swihart, R., P.M. Picone, A.J. DeNicola and L. Cornicellli. 1995. "Ecology of Urban and Suburban White-Tailed Deer," Pp. 35-44 in J.B. McAninch, ed., Urban Deer: A Manageable Resource? 1993 Symposium of the North Central Section. St. Lousi, M.: The Wildlife Society.