Beginning in the middle of April you may have noticed some female white-tailed deer feeding almost constantly. It’s been a long winter and they are trying to put on weight.

Getting fatter is important if the doe is pregnant. Since the fall rut, when deer breed, the baby whitetail in the doe’s stomach area has stayed small. By the end of its first four months of life it has grown to only about 2 pounds. But in the last two months before being born, it will grow to five to eight pounds.

The deer’s spotted fawns will be born around late May to mid-June. Before then, the pregnant doe will claim a birthing territory, marking about a 10- to 40-acre area with pee to try to keep other pregnant does and bucks away. The older, dominant does get the best territories.

This helps to spread the deer out away from predators, ensures that the animals aren’t competing for food and since newborn fawns will follow any large animal, it keeps them from following the wrong doe. That’s also a good reason to leave any fawn alone if you stumble across one in the woods; You don’t want it mistaking you for its mother.

Once born, the fawns begin nursing within about the first 10 to 15 minutes. The doe will eventually move the fawn away from the birth site to keep coyotes or bears from finding them by the smells of birth.

Within about two weeks the fawn will double its weight by drinking its mother’s milk about five to six times a day. In another week it will begin eating plants.

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Only about half of all fawns survive to their first birthday. Many are eaten by coyotes, bears, bobcats or other predators. A recent study in Pennsylvania found that fawns living in farm fields had a better chance of avoiding predators than those living in the forest.

A good book to learn more about whitetail deer is "The Hunter's Book of the Whitetail." It has beautiful photos in it that were taken by Billings photographer Michael Francis.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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