The Importance of Fawn Cover for White-tailed Deer

The most frequently asked questions I get about white-tailed deer concern fawn crops. Most landowners and managers don’t believe they can do much to impact fawn survival[1], but they are mistaken.   One of the most beneficial practices we can engage in is to manage for “fawn cover” and now is the time of the year to start planning and implementing.

Desired fawn cover consists of grass, “shin-high” or taller. Research has shown that around 90% of does, 3 years and older, in a healthy white-tailed deer herd will be carrying twins.  Average fawn survival rates across Texas can range from less than 10% or as high as 125% in the fall at weaning time. This large variation in fawn survival is directly related to the amount and stature of fawn cover. When fawns are born, the mother cleans the birth residue from the fawns and within hours separates them. This strategy increases the chance of survival from predation. If the fawns are separate, the odds are greater that an opportunistic predator will not find both offspring. The mother will keep the fawns separate for several weeks or until they are mature enough to “keep up” with her. Their survival is dependent on staying still and remaining undetected by predators. On bare ground or in insufficient cover they are easy prey and have a low chance of survival.

Due to unpredictable rainfall, now is the time to plan to save some grass or promote grass growth for necessary fawn cover during June, July, and August. One needs to plan for areas they will defer from grazing and shredding from late April or early May throughout the summer. Large blocks or entire pastures are ideal.  The more abundant the cover, the closer together (although still adequately separated) the mother will be able to keep the fawns. This allows her to feed and clean the fawns on a regular basis.  A fawn that goes too long between feedings and becomes hungry is likely to stand up and move in search of food resulting in “bleating” or crying out, which dramatically increases the chance of detection by lurking predators. By the way, if you like to call for predators, try the “fawn bleating” call during fawning season. It can be very effective.

This particular year provided good winter and spring moisture. Since this followed an extended drought, the pre-moisture range conditions consisted of a high percentage of bare ground. This resulted in great weed and forb production which is great for wildlife nutrition. However, these weeds will suppress some of the grass growth, so as some of the weeds mature and go to seed, it may be necessary consider shredding areas to help promote the grasses.

Every fall I get asked what kind of hunting season will we have. My response is always the same, “How many buck fawns did you have 5 and 6 years ago?”  If you didn’t raise any fawns, you won’t have any mature bucks to hunt. It’s that simple. You can make a difference. Don’t overgraze and pray for rain.

[1] Fawn Survival is defined as: The number of fawns still alive at weaning time (usually expressed as a percentage derived by dividing the number of fawns observed by the number of does observed in a survey).