The whitetail deer is one of the iconic American animals; majestic, plentiful, and across nearly every stretch of land across the country… but it wasn’t always this way.
In 1900 there were only 500,000 whitetail deer in the United States. In some places, it was hard to find any at all.
Through hard work and conservation efforts of Aldo Leopold, Theodore Roosevelt, and many others, there are now over 32 million whitetail deer in the U.S.A. (a 64 fold increase). Every year, American hunters kill around 6 million deer and consume 300 million pounds of venison after deer hunting expeditions.
Within this guide, we’ll focus on some of features and characteristics that make whitetail deer special. We will also provide an entire section on hunting whitetail deer for those who desire to commune on a deeper level with the animal.
Whitetail Deer Features
As their name implies, whitetail deer are characterized by one feature in particular: their white tail. Often this isn’t clearly on display unless they’re alerted or scared, but when you see it, the tail will be quite obvious.
Compared to other species, like mule deer or sitka deer, the whitetail tend to be smaller in size. Bucks weigh in around 140 – 300 pounds (rare to find them that heavy) while the female does are in the 90 – 180 pound range.
The whitetail deer fur changes throughout the year; in summer it’s a reddish brown, but in the winter is more of a grayish brown. The whitetail bucks have an antler with a single beam and unbranched tines.
Where to Find Whitetail Deer
Despite deer loving free reign over large territory, whitetails also seem to co-habitat urban, suburb environments and farmland. In south and central Texas, it isn’t uncommon to find deer within large cities like Austin or San Antonio. They simply adapt where they need to.
The deer are usually forest dwellers and there are plenty of places across the U.S.A. for them to roam.
While there are some rocky mountain and west coast regions where whitetail are not found in abundance, that is usually because of competition with other deer species (namely mule deer and coues deer).
Whitetail Deer Behavior
The behavior of whitetail deer is similar to that of many other deer species. They are prey animals, which makes them extra skittish with a keen sense of smell, sight, and sound. If you are in the field hunting whitetail deer, there are a few behaviors to keep an eye out for.
For one, whitetail have a habit of licking their lips and flicking their tail right before they move. If you have lined up a perfect shot and see a whitetail make that motion, consider waiting until it moves to a new spot.
Another common behavior of whitetail deer is to stamp their hooves on the ground and snort. If you are out compound bowhunting and see a deer doing this, you probably gave yourself away. This is an indicator that you’ve been “found out”. Don’t worry, it happens to rifle hunters too.
During the rut, behavior can take quite a turn. The rut is a period where whitetail bucks are more active seeking to mate with females. The rut is usually towards the fall and winter months, which is why hunting season is so productive.
Bucks that usually are nocturnal or remain out of sight during the day become audacious during the rut. In fact, if you find a group of female does (who often travel and remain together), you’ll probably experience bucks harassing them constantly. Sometimes as a hunter, this provides the best opportunity for shots.
While laughably dated, this 5 minute video gives a pretty good overview of a whitetail buck’s behavior during the rut:
Finally, whitetail deer (like most other species) are especially active during two specific parts of the day: dawn and dusk. When in warm climates, the deer typically bed down during the day to prevent overheating. When it gets cold they may move around a bit more. A decent (but by no means perfect) rule of thumb is to look at livestock nearby if you can.
If the cows and bedded down, deer probably will be as well.
How to Hunt Whitetail Deer
Hundreds of thousands of American hunters gear up in the late Fall for whitetail deer season and it is one of the most ubiquitous meat sources. A whitetail deer hunt can be organized in a number of ways, but we’ll focus on three:
- Spot and stalk (on BLM public land)
- Ambush hunting (often sitting in a blind near a feeder)
- Driving game
The last option is the rarest, but can perform well especially with a medium to large group of hunters. Driving game dates back tens of thousands of years. To hunt whitetail deer via the driving method, you’ll probably need a few years of experience and at least a few other helping hands. The good news is, once you get driving methods down, it’s a reliable source for years.
Public Land Whitetail Hunting
For some people who have hunted whitetail deer on private land, doing so on public BLM land seems a waste of time. In reality, some of the best finds are on BLM land. It’s one of the most affordable ways for a beginner to start hunting and provides a healthy combination of enjoying the outdoors (hiking and camping) in addition to hunting.
Check online maps to see if your state and area have public land where you can hunt. Even states with relatively little BLM land (like Texas) still have a few places to begin for eager enthusiasts.
Private Land Hunts
For those who seek to skip some of the waiting and skill can start out on hunting trips with outfitters or on the private land of a friend. Usually the outfitters can help educate a new hunter on the finer points and skill behind hunting. A whitetail deer hunting excursion is a basic place to start because there are so many whitetail across the country.
Hunting on private land could be as simple as going out with a friend to their land as well. Some suburban or rural areas have deer that are more comfortable with humans and wander into living areas to acquire food. In such situations, going out on private land or learning how to hunt isn’t really necessary; it may be possible to hunt deer from your porch!
Whether you desire to appreciate the beauty of whitetail deer, take photographs, and marvel in their beauty or take life and harvest meat, this creature can be found across the country in great abundance. All you have to do is look!
If you are interested in hunting whitetail in a controlled environment with a focus on conscious taking of life, the APEX retreats may be a good choice.