Late afternoon. Low sun angle. These four mature whitetail does were seemingly enjoying their time together. Mid-November....cold...chances are a buck was nearby, perhaps awaiting the protective cover of darkness to make his advance with one of these females. The annual rut (mating season) of the deer is underway in southeast Tennessee. The peak of the rut lasts 2-3 weeks typically, with periods of follow-up activity possible on through December. If a doe is not bred during the first estrus cycle, she comes into 'heat' again 28 days later (a third cycle may also occur), thus explaining why fawns are born at different times the following year...from late May to late June usually.
A mature whitetail buck, this one quite an impressive animal. Left undisturbed, deer usually stay within a square mile or so of where they are born. During the rut, however, the males become much more active, even belligerent at times, and often wander. They rub their antlers on saplings (see below), sometimes staging a 'mock fight' with an imaginary rival. Competition among males, in healthy deer herds, can become fierce. Most often the largest and strongest bucks outduel the younger males...who are often forced to wait until next year. It is during this time the big bucks become most vulnerable to their # 1 enemy...the hunter. Interestingly, through the years, I have only witnessed deer actually mating 3 times. The act of copulation, almost always at night, is brief...only minutes in duration. Why? Same reason they never truly 'sleep'. Awareness/survival is the first order of business....mating and the deer's version of sleep only become options after # 1 is achieved. Gestation is typically around 7 months.
Quite a scene. Christmas Day last year. Taken by one of our Stone Creek residents. Priceless.
The track of a whitetail buck. Note the imprint of the dew claws (smallest part of the track...in the foreground of the photo), a sure sign that this deer was relatively heavy. Does, which are typically significantly less weight than the males (for similarly aged animals), rarely leave a mark of dew claws. Also note the splayed nature of the hoof...another sign of significant weight. The track of a doe is typically more rounded with parts of the hoof closer together. In fawns and youngsters, the parts of the hoof may touch or almost so, creating a heart-shaped track.
This young Hemlock bears the brunt of the efforts of a whitetail buck rubbing his antlers. The shavings resulting from the rub were atop the leaves...a sure sign that the buck had only recently passed through.
This doe is surrounded by preferred typical whitetail habitat...thick tangles of vegetation bordered by more open woodlands and brushy fields. This variation of habitat leads to plant biodiversity (along with a safe refuge of cover).... thus a variety of potential food souces....a key to the expansion and growth of the whitetail population across the southland the last few decades. This deer was photographed as I walked along a woodland trail. All the deer fled, it was one of six in a group...and she paused just long enough for the photo before vanishing into the thick growth.
Walking this same area of our properties ten days ago, these buck rubs had not been made. This week, as shown. Colder weather, full moon, mid November.....three key ingredients that stimulate the hormones/reproductive cycle of the deer, and subsequently the rut. The timing of the rut varies in different parts of the USA......typically earlier in northern states and later in more southern states.
These two saplings were not only rubbed by the antlers of a buck...but broken and destroyed....the hormones must have really been flowing.