Text & Photos by Tommy Kirkland
Newborn whitetails rely on their instinct to remain motionless and quiet for survival. However, fawns born in food plots and working agricultural fields are more vulnerable to roaming predators in comparison to fawns born in underbrush or forested areas simply because they are easier to spot where the land is maintained for nutrition.
-- The days are warm and vegetation is lush again. Walking the edge, you unexpectedly notice a familiar pattern contrasting amid the green grasses - the tiny white spots of a young white-tailed fawn...
Each year throughout North America from late May and on into July, deer fawns are springing up. If undisturbed, a fawn or fawns' birth site is instinctively chosen by its mother. At times, these birthing areas are utilized by parenting females year after year. Generally, the doe, particularly older females, seek out the best habitat available for the birthing process. The area is usually some 20 to 30 acres with water, concealment and quality nutrition.
Just prior to giving birth, the impregnated female separates herself from the other deer, including her own if she isn't a first-time mother. If no complications arise during birth, then her maternal nature is in full swing by now.
With the condition that the female doesn't abandon the newborn infant, then she is quick to consume the afterbirth. She will also intensely groom the little deer - removing all blood and remains from giving birth. This activity minimizes odors that can attract predators as well as insects.
The commands to teach the fawn are underway as the mother doe nudges the little deer fawn to bed and remain quiet and motionless. She will also command the fawn through vocal sounds. For example, when returning to the vicinity where she left the fawn bedded, the doe may make a maternal vocalization to locate the fawn. The fawn hears it, springs up, and the two reunite to nurse and groom. Also, if the fawn is in distress, it may vocalize a "bawl" or "bleat" sound - signaling its mother for a quick response.
A female deer will periodically clean and groom her offspring to minimize the fawn's scent. This behavior reduces the chances of predators detecting the fawn; and it reinforces the bonding process of the deer family.
During the initial part of the fawn's growth stage, much of its time is spent bedding amid the landscape. Only when the time comes to nurse and groom does the infant stand upright. Its survival is based on its uncanny ability to remain secluded and silent.
Once on its legs, the fawn quickly begins to move - using its agility to playfully run and dart back and forth. The fawn puts its evasive instinct to work, which enables it to out maneuver predators. Time is also taken as the parenting female continuously imprints her young through intense grooming sessions. Here, she reduces odors and stimulates the fawn to excrete waste, which she consumes to also eliminate smells that predators search for.
A healthy fawn weighs anywhere from five to eight pounds. If nutrition from its mother's nursing milk meets its growing demands, then the infant can gain weight as fast as 10- to 12- percent of its body weight per day. The doe's milk also provides natural antibiotics for the fawn to resist disease. The milk is high in protein and the fawn or twin fawns can be nursed from four to eight times a day.
Along with quality nutrition and other variables like genetics, it is very likely some females will give birth to twin fawns and in some cases triplets. Here, survival is more precarious in that there is more demand on the mother doe for nutrition along with the initial health of the fawns. If both or all three survive, the parenting female beds the fawns separately until some weeks later when all the fawns can be spotted trying to nurse at the same time.
During the fawn's growth, proper nutrition is critical - both in nursing from a healthy mother as well as when the infant is capable of foraging on its own. This is where managed food plots help to supplement the whitetails' diet - especially during the spring and summer months.
By the fawn's third to fourth week of life, it is fully capable of consuming natural forage. Here, soft pliable vegetation such as clovers and other legumes play an important role in sustaining the growing infant. The mother also teaches the newborn where the best locales are for good nutrition - both native and exotic foods.
For survival, the fawn is still relying on its camouflage pattern and skill to hide, while being motionless and quiet at this time. Yet the youngster is strong enough to swiftly outmaneuver predators as well as dodge deadfall debris and trees amid forested areas.
Giving them cover by allowing a few old growth fields to be left alone on a rotational basis for a few years provides newborn whitetails a good survival rate in comparison to agricultural fields, which exposes them to roaming predators.
Also, scouting for fawn recruitment can be quite rewarding in the off-season as well as assessing the land and its capacity to produce healthy whitetails. Of course, access and time will determine how much you can assess. Walking vast acreage in search of deer fawns is a bit unrealistic, yet there are other ways to quickly determine this cryptic realm of the whitetails' world.
In reality, the best time to spot deer fawns is not when they are initially born. For the first two to three weeks of life, the newborns spend their life hidden in dense foliage or camouflaged on the woodland floor. Yet as time passes, they become mobile and are active with their mothers during the early morning hours.
Using the same methods to approach your blind or stand, a trip to food plots and sites of prime native forage just before sunrise is a good way to try to determine the number of newborns. Yet the weather must also be in you favor. Avoid windy days and heavy rains. Still, quiet mornings and light rainy days with a good set of binoculars helps to try to identify certain deer and their behaviors.
Using night vision equipment as well as thermal imaging is by far the best way to assess whitetails on the land, but these alternatives are expensive as compared to the work of the human eye alone. In addition, when fawns start to follow their mothers, the use of trail cameras may capture the young deer.
Another way to determine if fawns are present is to look for strange behaviors with female deer. If does are getting up and moving away from bedding areas or darting and stopping, yet never leave the vicinity, then fawns have been commanded to conceal themselves.
Varying birthing times can make determining the number of newborns difficult. For example, a few fawns are born mid- to late May while the majority can be born in early June and the remaining offspring in July. These variations are in sequence with the breeding times during the rut, buck-to-doe ratios and the degree of hunting pressure during the rut.
Although you will probably never get an accurate assessment of the number of newborns on your land, fawn scouting can be a fun and rewarding activity - especially if you're a whitetail fanatic getting a little bored during the summer months.
Despite all the efforts to properly manage whitetails from birth to mature adults, the animals still succumb to various diseases - particularly EHD, the next installment here at Buckmasters.com.
-- Tommy Kirkland
Not A Buckmasters member? Join Now!
Buckmasters | GunHuntermag.com | Rackmag.com | BADF.org | YoungBucksOutdoors.com