A common misconception about whitetail deer is that they will leave an area if there’s too much hunting pressure. Research on radio- and GPS satellite-collared deer suggests otherwise. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The whitetail world is rife with myriad myths and misconceptions. Scientific research has helped to dispel some but despite a plethora of evidence others persist, passed on from one generation of hunters to the next. In the interest of enlightenment, I’ll offer a few of the more familiar examples.

It’s bad luck to shoot a white deer. This misconception is based largely on superstition. Most deer sport a similar brown coat with white undersides, but occasionally you might encounter a piebald deer sporting a mottled brown and white coat. Rarer still is an albino, with an all-white coat, pink eyes and light colored hooves and nose. Both are genetic mutations that are often accompanied by other traits like stunted growth. All these traits put the deer at a disadvantage, which is whey they’re so rare. Nature tends to cull these ill-adapted animals out but there’s no harm in assisting in that process, unless you believe the superstitions.

Deer will leave an area if there’s too much hunting pressure. They might shift a little but for the most part they will remain within their home range. There’s plenty of research on radio- and GPS satellite-collared deer to bear this out. That research also shows the deer simply move less during daylight and more in thicker security cover. This leads to another common misconception.

• The deer aren’t rutting because it’s too warm; we need a good cold snap to trigger it. Decades of data from numerous research projects have demonstrated that for a given area, the rut occurs at the same time every year, regardless of temperature, weather, moon phase or position. If it’s too warm during the day, deer simply move more at night.

It’s better to remove an old barren doe. This one parallels the bear hunter’s old dry sow. Because a doe doesn’t have fawns when hunting season rolls around doesn’t mean she didn’t have them in the spring. Most adult does should breed and give birth to at least two fawns every year. However, mortality rates for young deer are very high. Many perish from disease, starvation, predation or other reasons before reaching their first fall. Research has also proven that older does make better mothers, and they will continue having fawns well into old age.

The dominant buck. This myth gets perpetuated in several ways. It’s true that bucks in a particular area do work out a dominance hierarchy, or pecking order, but it is a very dynamic situation as males continually challenge rivals of similar stature. Things get even more complicated during the rut when bucks wander farther from their core areas and more frequently encounter potential rivals. When two bucks cross paths one is likely more dominant. If not, they’ll sort it out quickly, but there isn’t one buck that dominates all others and breeds all the does in a given area.

Competition gets even fiercer when there’s a hot doe involved, and even unevenly matched rivals will sometimes battle for breeding rights. While they’re busy fighting, a submissive buck might sneak in and do the deed for them. Even the winner doesn’t get exclusive rights to the doe herd. He may spend a day or more tending a receptive doe. Meanwhile, other bucks of various ages are breeding other does.

Turkeys are detrimental to deer. This myth is harder to kill than the Russian mystic Rasputin. There’s ample evidence from research to refute this claim, but one need only walk in the woods this fall and observe acres of acorns to see the birds aren’t out-competing deer for food. Both species eat some of the same foods but deer can feed 24-7 while turkeys only eat during the day. Furthermore, they often share the same food sources at the same time. A boisterous band of birds might nudge the deer out of a specific location temporarily, but the deer will soon return and be none the worse off for it.

These are some of the more common and familiar myths and misconceptions in the deer hunting world. Some – like the need to cull spikes or remove tarsal glands before hanging your deer – have largely died off while others persist. Reasons vary from folklore to superstition and sometimes a need to put answers to questions we do not understand, even if those answers aren’t quite accurate.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.