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How Long Have I Got?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"All the talk about whitetail age classes begs the question: What’s a normal life span for a deer?

QUESTION: How long can a whitetail live?

How Long Have I Got?

ANSWER: I like it; short and to the point. So I’ll give you an appropriately concise answer.

Free-ranging white-tailed deer are exposed to a variety of dangers including disease, predation and hunting, all of which can by fatal. According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the average lifespan for a wild whitetail is about two years, with 10 years being on the high side.

Keep in mind, that’s an average. Many die within the first few days or weeks after birth, while others live to a ripe old age. A study from the SUNY Adirondack Ecological Center reported a doe still producing fawns at age 15. That report also cited a doe, estimated to be 19 to 23 years old by (based on tooth-sectioning and cemental annuli) that was carrying an 80-day-old fetus when harvested in southern New York. But those are extreme cases.

Bucks tend to live shorter lives for several reasons. Most hunting pressure is directed toward them, plus they also greater stress during the rut (including fighting). That’s why there’s an adage among deer managers that you can’t stockpile bucks. If hunters don’t kill them, they’ll thin out their own ranks.

In either case, make sure you complete a soil test and follow directions for lime and fertilizer. It will also help if you can turn up the soil, either with a tiller or ATV disc. And it wouldn’t hurt if you could do a little trimming to let some more sunlight hit the ground.

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