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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
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White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is probably one of the most recognizable animals found in Illinois. They are found throughout the state and can be seen in the swamps of southern Illinois and in Chicago's sprawling suburbs. It is the state mammal and is the only large mammal found in the state. White-tailed deer evoke a lot of different feelings, but they are also not very well understood by most people.

White-tailed deer are easily identified in Illinois. They are tan to reddish brown in the summer and grey-brown in the winter. They have a white throat, chest and rump which are visible when they are running away. Male white-tailed deer have antlers which grow each year and are shed each February to March. Deer have a four-toed foot though the dewclaws in the back are high enough that unless they are walking in very soft mud or deep snow, they are not noticeable.

White-tailed deer prefer a mix of open areas and forests. This mix of habitats provides an ideal mix of cover and food for the deer. Historically, the main predators for them were the wolf and the mountain lion. Now coyotes and bobcats will take a fawn or a weak adult, but for the most part, deer in Illinois do not have a major predator to worry about. This is why hunting is so important to controlling deer populations in Illinois. In areas where the population is particularly dense, the evidence of deer is very clear. In these areas, all vegetation that is within reach of the deer is eaten creating what is called a browse line. White-tailed deer eat all types of plant material including grass, leaves, fruit, acorns and woody material.

The white-tailed deer was abundant in Illinois when European settlers moved into the area that is now Illinois. As settlers moved in and began to remove some of the predators, to fragment the environment creating more wood edges, and planting a concentration of food, deer populations likely increased. This increase was temporary as deer populations in Illinois quickly dropped. In the early 1900's, the white-tailed deer was nearly removed completely. New deer were re-introduced in Northern Illinois in the 1890's and in Southern Illinois in the 1930's. The white-tailed deer now presents a potential threat to native areas because of population. Deer are the single most hunted animal in Illinois, with 145,720 deer being harvested in the 2014-2015 hunting seasons.

Deer do pose a threat or more often an inconvenience to humans. They eat plants and landscaping of our homes, they cause accidents on the roads, and they can eat crops from the fields. They can be controlled by planting trees and shrubs that are less likely to be eaten by deer. There are many smell and taste repellents available as well.

Fun Deer Facts:

Buck, when referring to money, is thought to be an abbreviation of buckskin. This was one of the most common units of trade in early American history. The first use of "buck" to mean money was recorded from 1748.

Antlers are the fastest growing type of bone in mammals.

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