White-tailed Deer Fawns | The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Aww….so cute….right? How could something so terrible happen to a helpless and innocent fawn? What terrible things can happen? You want the good, the bad, or the ugly first? Unlike Clint Eastwood’s movie it will start with the ugly, then the bad, and finally the good. If you’re the light heartened, save yourself the heart break and skip to the good. If not proceed on. Late spring and summer is fawning season, learning this information of white-tailed deer fawns could possibly make you a savior to some fawns, give you the ability to educate others, or even increase your own hunting success!
Fawns can drop from late April thru August depending on the area of the country. When born, whitetail fawns will bed in cover nearly scent-free for the majority of their time, especially in the first week after birth. A lowering heart rate, perfect spotted camo pattern, and laying still even when touched are all defenses undertaken by the weak and growing fawns. These adaptions help ensure making it to around 3-4 weeks, until they can outrun most predators. These critters fall prey to some ugly scenarios… many times these adaptations to survive can be their downfall. They developed adaptations to protect against predators, mostly coyotes. During the spring and early summer coyotes directly switch the majority of their diets to whitetail fawns. Trapping these predators can greatly reduce fawn mortality, but studies have shown coyotes will make an astonishing comeback after removal. Trapping every year is required to make a difference and increase survival of fawns, which could be the next “Booner” on your property! Coming back to the point though, the fawn’s defenses against predators can often end in the same deadly result.
You have probably seen it on social media or the internet around this time of year. Perhaps the most horrific and gruesome scenarios involving fawns are hay mowers. The vast, thick, tall fields can be a safe place from predators but it hides the fawns too well, resulting in a dreadful scene. There is not a lot to do for the saddened worker. Walking the field beforehand might help but can take a lot of valuable time away. You can time your mowing dates to not occur during higher whitetail fawn drop dates but it’s hard with early or late births. You can discover the dates, and another strategy to avoid fawn mortality, by reading on to the good news.
Before this gets to the good news, it’s time for the bad…fawns sometimes choose unusual, seemingly safe beds such as your landscaping, under your porch, or even under your car. While it might seem like a safe place, they are sometimes found by people and adopted by them. It might be with the best of intentions but they are doing more harm than good. No, the mother did not abandon it and she’s probably not dead! Picking the fawn up and “raising it” can be detrimental. But there are some exceptions.
There might be scenario presented where a dead whitetail doe on the side of the road has fawn next to it, or calling out in the distance. In some cases a fawn acting unusual, walking around in a neighborhood calling out in distress, will require involvement. Even in these scenarios you should not take it under our wing, call your local conservation officer or DNR, who will ensure the fawn’s well-being. Knowing more information about whitetail fawns leads to less mortality, increased recruitment, and even better deer hunting. Yes the good news is next!
Even in the worse situations like a pregnant doe hit on the road can result to some good coming from it. Fawns retrieved from the doe can be used for deer science. That’s right conception dates, drop dates, and even peak breeding (the rut) can be determined. Using a fetus scale, measuring the unborn fawn, gives how old in days the fetus is. Taking the date of the doe’s death and subtracting the age on a Julian calendar can reveal the date of conception. Adding the gestation period of a white-tailed deer (~ 198 days) will reveal time of birth. Multiple fawns will give you accurate data to insure you’re not mowing your hay field during the first week when most fawns are dropped.
If you discover a great deal of spread in conception or drop dates it might be time for more deer management, doe management in particular. Lower whitetail doe numbers will intensify the rut, leading to tighter conception dates and birth dates. Which means a lot of fawns hitting the ground in a shorter period of time. This can overload predators, increasing fawn survival. It will also lead to…you guessed it, awesome rut hunts! Yeah more chasing, intense fighting, and big buck encounters. Even your calling will end in greater success. Couple this more habitat management will do wonders for you herd and your property!
Giving you habitat a makeover will also insure fawn survival. Some TSI work or even prescribed fire will lead to high quality forage and milk for fawns. This will also insure good cover to hide in during the first weeks of life. It might also draw them away from hay fields or neighborhoods. Surviving the first couple of weeks, getting high quality milk, and high quality forage later will lead to healthier and stronger fawns. Giving them a head start on antler growth!
There is a good, bad, and ugly to whitetail fawns. Yes the bad and ugly are just that…bad and ugly, even horrific. Unfortunately these critters are subject to grisly deaths, but there are lessons to be taught from even the most disheartened and dreadful scenarios. Overall a message you see and hear over and over again is correct. Herd and habitat management can benefit you, the deer, and you’re hunting.