This week on Discover Nature, watch for white-tailed deer in rut.
Each fall, fawns lose their spots, adults’ coats change from reddish-yellow to grayish brown, and bucks boast antlers to fight for territory and mating rights.
Once abundant across Missouri, unregulated hunting nearly wiped them out completely. Thanks to decades of dedicated conservation efforts, our state’s rich habitat once again supports more than a million white-tailed deer.
These animals were essential to Indians and early settlers, providing food, hides, sinews for bowstrings, and bones for tools. Today, deer still serve an important purpose in the wild: as they feed on buds and branches, they encourage denser growth of the plants they forage. In turn, they provide food for predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Humans also harvest these mammals to feed their families. In so doing, they help to balance deer populations, replacing the role of natural predators that once existed in larger numbers.
During “the rut,” or mating season, deer are especially active. This time of year, be on the lookout for them when driving, especially between dusk and dawn.
If hiking in the woods, beware of hunting season dates, and wear bright “hunter-orange” clothing to make your presence known.
Learn more about Missouri’s white-tailed deer herd, including the conservation efforts that brought them back from the brink of extirpation, and how scientists are fighting new diseases that threaten their health today, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.
Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.