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Observations on obtaining white-tailed deer fawns for experimental purposes.

ABSTRACT. -- In an attempt to obtain fawns for experimental purposes, 26 adult female white-tailed deer were captured using a drive net at the Welder Wildlife Refuge, San Patricio Co., Texas, on 12 March 1986. Deer were held in a 1.6-hectare enclosure until the end of the fawning season. Twenty-two does survived and at least 15 produced fawns. Thirty fawns (11 females, 19 males) were born alive between the dates 24 May and 23 June 1986. These results suggest that obtaining fawns from wild-trapped does held temporarily is feasible. Further, the stress of trapping, handling, close confinement, and daily disturbance apparently did not adversely affect birth rates. Key words: white-tailed deer; Odocoileus virginianus; Texas; captives; does; fawns.


Tame white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are used to study physiology, nutrition, growth rates, and behavior or food habits (Robbins and Moen, 1975; Bryant et al., 1981). Fawns generally are removed from their does shortly after birth to facilitate the taming process. Techniques used include capturing fawns in large enclosures where does are maintained throughout their lifetimes (Downing and McGinnes, 1969) or catching them in the wild by observing the behavior of wild does (White et al., 1972).

This paper describes the results of obtaining fawns from wild-trapped females held temporarily in an enclosure and then released back into the wild soon after birth of their young. The purpose of the project was to obtain fawns that were sufficiently tamed at one year of age to obtain data on food habits through direct observation.


Twenty-six adult female white-tailed deer were captured using a drive net (Beasom et al., 1980) at the Welder Wildlife Refuge, Sinton, Texas, on 12 March 1986. No attempt was made to determine if does were pregnant. Each animal was injected with one milliliter of acepromazine maleate (10 milligrams per milliliter) at the time of capture. Deer were transported two to nine kilometers by trailer to a 1.6-hectare enclosure within one to five hrs after capture. When the effect of the tranquilizer wore off, the deer often became excited and ran into enclosure fences, resulting in some minor injuries (lacerations and bruises). In mid-April, two semi-tame does were baited-in, captured and placed with the rest of the does.

The enclosure consisted of four interconnected pens (64 by 32 meters each, Fig. 1 A). By keeping the internal gates open, deer were allowed access to the entire 1.6-hectare enclosure. Outside fences were V-mesh net wire, 2.5 meters high. Inside fences were common net wire (15 by 15 centimeter mesh). To minimize human interference and disturbance by free-ranging cattle, portions of the exterior fence were covered with black plastic sheeting to create visual obstruction. We also covered some internal fences with black plastic to provide a visual obstruction between the deer and people setting out feed or working in the pens. The holding pens were cleared of understory brush and mowed one week prior to capture of does to facilitate searching for fawns. A 30-meter line of brush was piled two-meters high in the fourth pen to provide screening cover.


Because deer are not fed supplements on the refuge, wild-trapped does had no experience eating pelleted feeds. Whole corn was offered ad libitum for 14 days but deer refused this feed. For the next eight days, two-centimeter pellets of cottonseed cake (35 percent crude protein) and 0.6-centimeter pelleted deer food were offered ad libitum. Deer did not feed regularly until alfalfa (Medicago sativa) hay was offered on 3 April. Once deer began eating alfalfa hay, they also began eating the pelleted deer food. The captured deer refused to drink from a trough that was 0.5 meters high as evidenced by the lack of deer tracks at the trough. When deer tracks were observed at a small puddle formed by a leaking water hose, we buried a pan at ground level and allowed a water hose to drip into it. The watering hole was used the same day it was installed and every day thereafter.

Five does died during the first three weeks of captivity. A sixth doe escaped by jumping the 2.5-meter-high fence. The remaining 22 does survived and produced fawns. Some does showed a loss of weight during their captivity but had regained normal body condition at the time of their release back into the wild.

Daily searches for fawns were begun in mid-May. Newborn fawns were tagged with numbered aluminum poultry tags. Males were tagged in both ears and females in one ear. Male fawns were left with does, whereas female fawns were removed 48 to 72 hours after birth. All were bottle-raised in concrete-floor cages until weaning following the guidelines of Kirkpatrick and Scanlon (1984). Female fawns were moved to a 0.5-hectare pen at 14 weeks of age, and fed alfalfa and horse-mule feed or deer pellets (16 percent crude protein) until one year of age.


Thirty fawns (11 females, 19 males) were born alive in captivity. One set of twins was aborted early in May. However, at least 15 of 22 (68 percent) does gave birth to normal fawns.

Two of the 11 female fawns were born with hind leg abnormalities (abnormal tarsus). This may have been caused by physical damage to the fetus when handling wild-trapped does at capture. The fate of one abnormal fawn released with its dam at approximately one month of age is unknown. The second abnormal fawn was bottle raised but died at six months of age. At death, this fawn weighed the same as a fawn raised under confinement that was two to three months old.

Apparently confinement of the dams for three to four months prior to parturition did not affect birth weights of normal fawns. Fawn birth weight averaged 2472 grams and is comparable to the birth weights mentioned by Haugen and Davenport (1950) and Rue (1978).

These results suggest that obtaining fawns from wild-trapped does held temporarily is feasible. They also suggest that trapping and transporting deer in late gestation did not markedly affect birth rates.

The following are suggestions for maintaining captive, pregnant does.

1. The pen where does are enclosed should be at least 1.5-hectare in size and should include brush or other visual obstructions (1.5 meters high by 15 to 20 meters long) placed in at least one location to provide screening cover for the deer (see Fig. 1B).

2. The enclosure should be located away from areas of human disturbance, and at least 100 meters from the nearest roadway.

3. A buffer area at least 50 meters wide should separate the pen from grazing livestock. The buffer area should contain enough brush or tall vegetation to minimize outside interference.

4. The pen should be fenced with V-mesh net wire at least 2.5 meters high. This wire should be buried 30 centimeters to protect the does and fawns against predators. The pen should be divided for separation of the deer.

5. The pen should be cleared of brush and tall grass before capture of does to facilitate location of fawns.

6. A water source should be installed at ground level.

7. The pen should contain tall trees to provide shelter against weather. The does in this study avoided man-made structures such as a three-meter high roof over feeding areas.

8. Although native foods are best, obtaining them may be labor intensive. If native forage is not provided, alfalfa hay should be provided as soon as the does are placed in the pens. Pelleted feed should be provided to insure a balanced diet.


We thank the many volunteer students from the wildlife classes at Texas A & I University, Kingsville, for helping capture does. We also thank J. Cox and B. Martinez from Welder Wildlife Refuge and B. Rust for their assistance. Funding was provided by the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation, P. O. Drawer 1400, Sinton, Texas 78387. This is a Welder Wildlife Foundation contribution no. 351 and Technical Article T-9-497 of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Texas Tech University.


Beasom, S. L., W. Evans, L. Temple. 1980. The drive net for capturing western big game. J. Wildlife Manag., 44:478-480.

Bryant, F. C., C. A. Taylor, and L. B. Merrill. 1981. White-tailed deer diets from pastures in excellent and poor range condition. J. Range Manag., 34:193-200.

Downing, R. L., and B. S. McGinnes. 1969. Capturing and marking white-tailed deer fawns. J. Wildlife. Manag., 33:711-714.

Haugen, A. O., and L. S. Davenport. 1950. Breeding records of whitetail deer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. J. Wildlife Manag., 14:290-295.

Kirkpatrick, R. L., and P. F. Scanlon. 1984. Care of captive whitetails. Pp. 687-696, in White-tailed deer: ecology and management. (L. K. Halls, ed.), Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, xxiii+870 pp.

Robbins, C. T., and A. N. Moen. 1975. Milk consumption and weight gain of white-tailed deer. J. Wildlife Manag., 39:355-360.

Rue, L. L. 1978. The deer of North America. Crown Publishers, New York, xiii+463 pp.

White, M. F., F. Knowlton, and W. C. Glazener. 1972. Dam-newborn fawn behavior on capture and mortality. J. Wildlife Manag., 36:897-906.


Department of Range and Wildlife Management, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409 (IMO, FCB), Department of Zoology and Wildlife, Auburn University, Alabama, 36849 (LDP), and Welder Wildlife Foundation, P.O. Drawer 1400, Sinton, Texas 78387 (DLD)
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Author:Ortega, Isaac M.; Perry, Lance D.; Drawe, D. Lynn; Bryant, Fred C.
Publication:The Texas Journal of Science
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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