Some must reads on white-tailed deer history

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Over time, many hunters develop an expertise about certain species. For some it’s waterfowl; for others turkeys are the obsession.

But for many, if not most, it’s the white-tailed deer. Such expertise comes from years of field experience. It’s much more than getting into the woods a few weeks each November.

It comes from becoming a student of the animal. The most successful hunters learn to think like deer because they understand how deer live. Unfortunately few hunters can study deer full-time.

So it’s nice to know there are references available from which to glean white-tail natural history. Some are classics. This is the time of year to keep a book by a favorite chair and do a little homework every night.

Early book

One of the first and best of these references was The Deer of North America, edited by Walter Taylor (1956, Stackpole, 668 pages). It opens with a fascinating chapter on the interactions of deer, Native Americans and early pioneers.

The rest of the book details our understanding of deer through the early 1950s. Any biologist who studied wildlife management in the 1960s probably owns this book. The George Reserve Deer Herd, by Dale McCullough (1979, University of Michigan Press, 271 pages), describes the population biology of a deer herd confined within a two-square-mile fence.

It is a more difficult read with lots of supporting equations, graphs, and tables. But I’m unaware that such a controlled study has ever been replicated, so it’s worth the slog.

White-tailed Deer: Ecology and Management, edited by Lowell Halls (1984, Stackpole, 870 pages), is encyclopedic in its breadth of coverage, but thousands of research papers about white-tails have been published since 1984.

Different chapters. However, its treatment of the history of white-tailed deer in North America is excellent. Chapters on behavior and nutrition give hunters a glimpse into the life of white-tails. Seven chapters detail management practices, from capture techniques and immobilization methods to habitat management and the care of captive white-tails.

And the chapter on predation, written by legendary wolf biologist L. David Mech, explains how deer endure despite an impressive list of predators.

The Rut: the Spectacular Fall Ritual of North American Horned and Antlered Animals by Ron Spomer (1996, Willow Creek Press, 155 pages) is a lavishly illustrated and popular treatment of what is probably the most talked about aspect of big game mammals.

Every outdoor writer who uses the terms “antler” and “horn” casually and interchangeably should study this book. After a summary chapter on these bony ornaments, Spomer treats white-tails and mulies, as well as pronghorn, mountain goats, elk, sheep, caribou, bison, moose and musk ox.

Biology and management

That brings us to the recent publication of Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer edited by David Hewitt (2011, CRC Press, 686 pages, $119.95). It is an instant classic that updates our knowledge and understanding of the most studied large mammal in the world.

Though priced out of the casual wildlife enthusiast’s budget, this tome will be purchased, read, and studied by wildlife biologists and managers, outdoor writers, and the most avid deer hunters. It deserves space on the shelves of every Pennsylvania public library and deer camp.

Deer management

Hewitt has assembled the work of 35 white-tail experts. The book covers white-tail anatomy, physiology, nutrition, population dynamics, and ecology across its range from central Canada to South America. It also reviews the history of management of white-tailed deer, from early Native Americans through restocking efforts in the mid 1900s, and more recent deer population spikes that are increasingly difficult to manage.

As a source of information, Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer will be invaluable for years to come.

But, the binding is poor (I had to return the first copy I received), it contains only black and white photos, and it is grossly overpriced. It does come with a CD of all color photos includes in the book, but the reader needs a computer to view the photos while reading the book.

The use of the CD should reduce the price of the book by at least 50 percent. It’s a real stain on a terrific source of information.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.)

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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