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How to identify white-tailed deer tracks and signs.

White-tailed deer

About White-tailed deer

White-tailed deer are native to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America.  White-tail deer have also been introduced to New Zealand, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Bahamas, Lesser Antilles, and some countries in Europe, such as Finland, the Czech Republic, and Serbia.  In North America, they are widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains (elsewhere they have been mostly replaced by black-tailed or mule deer).  Subspecies of White-tailed deer include:

Groups and species

North America

Deer tracks by ageO. v. acapulcensis – Acapulco white-tailed deer (southern Mexico)
O. v. borealis – northern (woodland) white-tailed deer (the largest and darkest white-tailed deer)
O. v. carminis – Carmen Mountains Jorge deer (Texas-Mexico border)
O. v. clavium – Key deer or Florida Keys white-tailed deer (found in the Florida Keys an example of insular dwarfism)
O. v. couesi – Coues white-tailed deer, Arizona white-tailed deer, or fantail deer
O. v. dakotensis – Dakota white-tailed deer or Northern Plains white-tailed deer (most northerly distribution, rivals the northern white-tailed deer in size)
O. v. hiltonensis – Hilton Head Island white-tailed deer
O. v. idahoensis – white-tailed deer (western Canada, Idaho, eastern Washington)
O. v. leucurus – Columbian white-tailed deer (Oregon and western coastal area)
O. v. macrourus – Kansas white-tailed deer
O. v. mcilhennyi – Avery Island white-tailed deer
O. v. mexicanus – Mexican white-tailed deer (central Mexico)
O. v. miquihuanensis – Miquihuan white-tailed deer (central Mexico)
O. v. nelsoni – Chiapas white-tailed deer (southern Mexico and Guatemala)
O. v. nemoralis – (Central America, round the Gulf of Mexico to Surinam further restricted to from Honduras to Panama)
O. v. nigribarbis – Blackbeard Island white-tailed deer
O. v. oaxacensis – Oaxaca white-tailed deer (southern Mexico)
O. v. ochrourus – (tawny) northwest white-tailed deer or northern Rocky Mountains white-tailed deer
O. v. osceola – Florida coastal white-tailed deer
O. v. seminolus – Florida white-tailed deer
O. v. sinaloae – Sinaloa white-tailed deer (mid-western Mexico)
O. v. taurinsulae – Bulls Island white-tailed deer (Bulls Island, South Carolina)
O. v. texanus – Texas white-tailed deer
A deer track in the mudO. v. thomasi – Mexican lowland white-tailed deer
O. v. toltecus – Rain Forest white-tailed deer (southern Mexico)
O. v. venatorius – Hunting Island white-tailed deer (Hunting Island, South Carolina)
O. v. veraecrucis – northern Vera Cruz white-tailed deer
O. v. virginianus – Virginia white-tailed deer or southern white-tailed deer
O. v. yucatanensis – Yucatán white-tailed deer

South America

O. v. cariacou – (French Guiana and north Brazil)
O. v. chiriquensis – Chiriqui white-tailed deer (Panama)
O. v. curassavicus – (Curaçao)
O. v. goudotii – (Colombia (Andes) and west Venezuela)
O. v. gymnotis – South American white-tailed deer (northern half of Venezuela, including Venezuela’s Llanos region)
O. v. margaritae – (Margarita Island)
O. v. peruvianus – South American white-tailed deer or Andean white-tailed deer (most southerly distribution in Peru and possibly, Bolivia)
O. v. rothschildi – Coiba Island white-tailed deer
O. v. truei – Central American white-tailed deer (Costa Rica, Nicaragua and adjacent states)
O. v. tropicalis – Peru and Ecuador (possibly Colombia)
O. v. ustus – Ecuador (possibly southern of Colombia and northern of Peru)

White-tailed deer characteristics

Diagonal walkers tracks showing difference in sexThe White-tailed deer’s coat is reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a gray-brown during the fall and winter.  It is easily distinguished from other types of deer by the white underside to its tail.  The average size of White-tailed deer grows larger the further away from the Equator.  North American male deer (buck) weigh around 100 lbs but can weigh up to 150 lbs.  The female White-tailed deer (doe) in North America weigh from 88 to 198 lbs.  Having dichromatic vision, they have difficulty distinguishing oranges and reds (which stand out well to humans).

Male deer regrow their antlers every year.  About 1 in 10,000 female deer also have antlers.  Length and branching of antlers are determined by nutrition, age, and genetics. Rack growth tends to be very important from late spring until about a month before velvet sheds. During this time, damage done to the racks tends to be permanent.  The number of points, the length, or thickness of the antlers is a general indication of age, but cannot be relied upon for positive aging. A better indication of age is the length of the snout and the color of the coat, with older deer tending to have longer snouts and grayer coats.  The White-tailed deer’s antlers begin to grow in late spring, covered with a highly vascularized tissue known as velvet.

White-tailed deer eat large varieties of food, commonly eating legumes and foraging on other plants, including shoots, leaves, cacti, and grasses. They also eat acorns, fruit, and corn. Their special stomachs allow them to eat some things humans cannot, such as mushrooms and poison ivy. Their diets vary by season according to availability of food sources. They also eat hay, grass, white clover, and other foods they can find in a farm yard. Though almost entirely herbivorous, white-tailed deer have been known to opportunistically feed on nesting songbirds, field mice, and birds trapped in mist nets.

White-tailed deer possess many glands that allow them to produce scents, some of which are so potent, they can be detected by the human nose.  Scent from the forehead or sudoriferous glands (found on the head, between the antlers and eyes) is used to deposit scent on branches that overhang “scrapes” (areas scraped by the deer’s front hooves prior to rub-urination). Throughout the year, deer rub-urinate, a process during which a deer squats while urinating so urine will run down the insides of the deer’s legs, over the tarsal glands, and onto the hair covering these glands.

White-tailed deer tracking and signs


White-tailed deer tracks have two toes (hooves) that form an upside-down heart-shaped track with the rounded bottom indicating the direction of travel.  The sides of a white-tailed deer track are convex with the tips of the hooves located towards the inside of the track.  Usually the outside toe is slightly larger than the inside toe and the front feet are larger than the hind feet.  Deer typically walk with a direct register where the hind foot lands directly where the front foot imprinted.  Many animals produce similar tracks including pronghorn antelope and mountain goat.  Whitetail deer are nearly impossible to distinguish from black tailed deer without other non-track signs.

Deer track

Because bucks make scrapes, their hoof prints may appear more rounded on the tips.  Bucks typically travel in a straight line and often step directly in or short of the front prints with their rear leg.

Left front and left hind feet of male Whitetail deer
Whitetail deer tracks compared to sheep and pig

White-tailed deer scat

Deer scat will be oblong in shaped (possibly with a nipple on the end) and typically less than 1/2 inch long for does and larger than 3/4 inch for bucks.  Deer scat can be in either pellets or clusters but is typically in piles.

White-tailed deer scat in pellets
White-tailed deer in clusters

White-tailed deer trails

Whitetail deer use trails to get from one area to another, often from daytime bedding areas to food and water sources.  They typically travel through the path of least resistance so sometimes travel on roads and prefer dry to wet ground, hard packed snow to soft snow, etc.  Daytime trails are often located in woods or tall vegetation.  Nighttime trails (when the deer feels safer) may be located in more open areas.

White-tailed deer beds and lays

Whitetail deer beds are oval-shaped depressions in dirt, grass, leaves, or snow.  Beds of northern whitetail bucks are usually no longer than 45 inches with does beds being several inches shorter.  Deer typically make their bed on the downwind side of hills.  Daytime bedding will typically be in heavy cover while nighttime bedding may be in a more open area.  A urine stream in the middle of the bed hints at a buck while urine splatter near the back of the bed indicates a doe.

White-tailed deer rubs (and scrapes)

Sign-post marking (scrapes and rubs) is a very obvious way white-tailed deer communicate. Although bucks do most of the marking, does visit these locations often. To make a rub, a buck uses his antlers to thrash bushes and brush and to strip the bark off small-diameter trees, helping to mark his territory, polish his antlers, and to some degree, strengthen his neck for fighting. To mark areas they regularly pass through, bucks make scrapes. Often occurring in patterns known as scrape lines, scrapes are areas where a buck has used his front hooves to expose bare earth. They often rub-urinate into these scrapes, which are often found under twigs that have been marked with scent from the forehead glands.

Misc white-tailed deer signs

Deer are diagonal walkers.  Deer will often create serrated-edge chews on trees.  Whitetail deer run like a cottontail rabbit, scurrying up and through the brush.  They are usually found alone of in small groups of three or less.  They are typically found in heavy grass or woods at elevations of 4,500 feet or higher.

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