After the rush of fall migration has passed, I often switch my focus to photographing White-tailed Deer. Fall is mating season, also known as the rut, for these large mammals making them highly active at this time of year. Unlike other times of the year when deer are more active at dusk and dawn, during the rut White-tailed Deer are easily located during daylight hours. Large bucks are often observed at close range as they are less wary of humans during the rut as they have only one thing on their mind.
Research suggests the second full moon following the fall equinox triggers the peak of the rut in White-tailed Deer. With last Friday’s full moon being said moon, I grabbed my camera and headed to the woods in search of some White-tailed Deer.
Making my way into the woods the imprints of fresh deer tracks were present in the mud, and I knew that the day’s target species couldn’t be too far ahead. A short distance down the trail rustling in the bushes caught my attention as the first White-tailed buck of the day came into view.
Raising may camera I took several photos as this was a decent sized buck with an imposing set of antlers. As he crossed the trail in front of me, a doe behind him was observed grazing on vegetation. A few minutes passed and a smaller buck came into view. The first buck quickly turned and chased the second buck out of the area.
Doubling back on the trail to not disturb this pair, I made my down another trail. Hearing more rustling in the bushes another buck passed only a few meters in front of me presumably chased by the first buck encountered. Making my way deeper into the woods, several more bucks of various sizes were observed. Some were young bucks with only small antlers while other were mature bucks displaying more remarkable antlers.
In total, six bucks were observed in this small area all within sight of each other. Mixed in with these bucks were several does. Keeping my distance, I watched from behind a large oak tree. A medium sized buck to my right was busy chasing two smaller bucks whenever they came too close to the does nearest him.
To my left, two larger bucks briefly locked antlers but as I attempted to raise my camera for a photo, a smaller buck was running in my direction as he tried to escape the pursuit of a much larger buck. Not wanting to take my eye off these moving bucks, I failed to capture an image of the battling bucks, but no picture is worth risking my safety. The two bucks quickly unlocked antlers as the slightly smaller of the two seemed to give up rather easily as the exchange was short lived.
Watching this rutting behaviour was certainly fascinating, and I was grateful to experience it first hand. One other observation I made was the respect that the largest buck in the group commanded. He was the least active of the group, but his limited actions were responded to most by all of the other bucks. As the other bucks chased each other and defended their own small areas, all activity ceased when the largest buck so much as turned his head. One step in any direction and the 5 other bucks were on the move. Observing this chain of command was truly impressive and I could only imagine the battles this buck has lost and won over the years to achieve his spot in the forest’s hierarchy.
If you are planning on heading out in search of White-tailed Deer in the coming weeks there are a few things to keep in mind. Be aware of the hunting seasons in your area and whether or not hunting is permitted on the land you plan to search. The area I chose is a public area within the city limits and hunting is not permitted. Remember, White-tailed Deer are wild animals and large bucks do defend their territory and the does within it aggressively so be sure to keep your distance. The average weight of a mature White-tailed buck in Ontario is between 140 lbs and 250 lbs, add in a large set of antlers and this is not something you want to be on the receiving end of. Play it safe and observe and photograph mature deer form a distance.
Despite the peak of the rut coming to an end, White-tailed Deer will continue to breed into December and thus will remain quite active. With the remaining leaves quickly falling from the trees, the added light in the forest makes locating deer and observing them much easier. Many of our ESAs, conservation areas, and other public lands have healthy populations of White-tailed Deer, so travelling far to observe these impressive creatures is not necessary.
Taking in a late fall hike and observing White-tailed Deer is a great way to spend time in nature. Next time you are out at your favorite natural area, listen for movement and keep an eye out for fresh tracks on the ground and you might just be rewarded with an excellent view of a White-tailed Deer.