Nature Notes: Deer on the Run – Wisconsin White-tails
By Anna Foster and Jackie Rath
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources refers to the large population of white-tailed deer as an iconic and important part of the Wisconsin landscape and culture. And depending on your point of view, deer can be either a wonderful or troublesome part of living in Wisconsin.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t understand that the idea of hunting was also a form of conservation and rarely had encounters with wildlife. The only thing I had to worry about as a child was the coyotes, which were and continue to be regularly spotted across Portland, roaming the streets and threatening neighborhood house cat populations.
Since moving to Door County last year, I have learned how common it is to hit or be hit by deer while driving and the anxiety that comes with it. However, I have also learned that hunting week is something to consider in line with deer management practices. Deer management done by the DNR in consultation with each County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC) takes into account the hunting and recreational opportunities deer provide as well as their ecological and economic impacts.
A small scope of how this affects the Sanctuary itself is with higher populations of deer, we see a higher rate of deer browsing. White-tailed deer, with historically and unnaturally high population densities, are threatening the existence of such plants as the Showy Lady’s Slipper. When faced with the fact that orchids and other rare plants are browsed by deer, conservation helps keep the number of deer in a more appropriate balance with their habitat.
Fall seasonal shifts, such as the changing and big drop of leaves, also mark another natural change within nature — the transformation that White-tailed deer undergo to shed their thin summer coat and prepare a new coat for winter. This process is known as molting, in which an animal sheds its old feathers, hair, or skin to make way for new growth. Twice a year, white-tailed deer molt their fur, once in the Spring and again in the Fall. This time of year, deer molt their summer coat and grow their winter ones. The process of molting occurs over a span of about 2-3 weeks.
In the meantime, deer may look a bit mangy or patchy. The summer coat is a light reddish-orange color that reflects the sun with shorter and thinner hairs to allow heat to escape. The winter coat is a more muted brown/grayish color made up of thick longer hairs to keep deer warm. The fur in the winter coat is hollow, which traps air and allows deer to retain body heat in an insulating layer.
The behavior of deer also changes in the fall as deer prepare for mating season (also called rutting season), which spans from October to December. During this time, it’s not uncommon to see tree bark shaved off in places from bucks rubbing their antlers and turned-up dirt where they mark their territory. These are commonly referred to as “buck rubs,” and convey the buck’s scent produced from its forehead glands and warn other bucks to stay away. After rutting season ends, bucks shed their antlers in conjunction with falling testosterone levels.
Although deer cross roads in every season — as any Door County resident knows — the highest numbers of deer-vehicle collisions in Wisconsin occur in November and December. This is due to deer being the most active during breeding season, with female does often chased by bucks looking for mates. While vehicle collisions are what we worry about most with whitetail deer, the overpopulation of the species in Wisconsin causes significant impacts to ecosystems, including the resources that deer rely on to survive. Along with vehicle collisions, habitat destruction due to over browsing, crop damage, and disease are all consequences of overpopulation. But what is the cause?
Last year, there were an estimated 1.5-1.6 million Whitetail deer in Wisconsin. This number has risen consistently over the past 15 years. Warm winters, fewer predators, and regulated hunting due to extremely low populations in the 1950s and 60s have led to high populations today. The Department of Natural Resources has an objective to decrease the deer population in Door County over the next three years. Management practices such as the 9-Day Gun Season can help control overpopulation in the state, leading to healthier deer populations and habitats for other organisms.
With responsible hunting practices, such as registration, following hunting regulations, and paying close attention to property guidelines, hunters can help the state effectively manage white-tailed deer.
Ridges Sanctuary’s rustic trails will be closed from November 19 – November 27 for the 9-Day Gun Season.
Hidden Brook Boardwalk will remain open | Hike at your own risk | Blaze orange clothing is mandatory
To better manage The Ridges Sanctuary and to control the damage caused by white-tailed deer, portions of The Ridges Sanctuary are open to hunting during the gun deer hunting season.
While hunting is not allowed on established trails, all Ridges trails are closed during the gun hunting season to ensure the safety of our visitors. This trail closure applies to hiking trails in Baileys Harbor and at The Ridges’ Logan Creek Property near Jacksonport.
If you have any questions, feel free to call the Nature Center at 920-839-2802.
View Ridges Hunting Policies & 2022 Registration forms: