The annual white-tailed deer rut is in full swing in our Northwoods and bucks are going crazy looking for females to mate with. At our Nature Education Center, we have seen several bucks traversing our open fields and woods sometimes running, sometimes walking while following the scent of does throwing all caution to the wind.
Bucks have been making scrapes on the ground with their feet and rubbing tree saplings with their antlers. This behavior allows bucks to make their presence known to females by dispensing their ‘attractive’ scent throughout their home range.
What determines the timing of the rut? Countless studies have shown that the timing of the whitetail breeding season is triggered by photoperiod (the amount of daylight in 24 hours), which means that actual peak breeding is consistent year to year. For most parts of the country as the day length shortens, this means that breeding activity will peak around the middle of November. Around this period, bucks and does are very active and easier to hunt, one reason why our deer hunting season is in November.
During the rut, white-tail deer, especially bucks, become more active and less cautious than usual. To avoid hitting deer that can cause extensive vehicle damage, injuries, or even death, drivers need to be extra cautious from October through December when there is a dramatic increase in the movement of the deer population. Many collisions also occur during May and June during spring fawning. Did you know that in 2018 in Wisconsin, 20,183 deer were killed by vehicles leading to the death of four people riding motorcyclists and injuring 515 people in other types of vehicles? According to the Insurance Information Institute, Wisconsin ranks fourth in the country for deer-vehicle collusions with the odds of hitting a deer at 1 in 72!
On average, white-tailed deer weigh 125 lbs. If you multiply that by 20, 183 dead deer, that would yield about 2,522,875 lbs. of deer biomass laying around our Wisconsin roads over a year. That is a lot of deer meat, but not all that meat goes to waste, some goes to food banks.
It also supplies food for a whole host of scavengers including turkey vultures, foxes, coyotes, American crows, common ravens, and American bald eagles, but sometimes at their own peril as they, too, can get killed by vehicles while trying to get an easy meal. That is why when you see a dead deer along the side of a road, you need to be extra cautious, so you don’t hit, injure, or kill other animals feeding on roadside carcasses. This is especially true of bald eagles who benefit from this fresh, unexpected supply of deer meat, but they take risks feeding on roadkill.
Bald eagles taking off from a roadside carcass need a ‘long runway’ to get off the ground and into the air sometimes colliding with vehicles while doing so. Here is a real-life story of a close call I saw while taking pictures of bald eagles feeding on a vehicle-killed deer on the Hwy 13 curve just south of Fifield this past week as seen in a sequence of photos in this article.