Fawning season — coming to an Illinois deer woods near you

Holy smokes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost May!

As a deer hunter, other than hunting season itself, the upcoming month or two is my favorite time of the year. It will soon be fawning season. Perhaps it already is.

Last week, I noticed extremely small deer tracks embedded in the mud. To my recollection, I’ve never seen fawn tracks quite this early. The later part of May, and through the month of June, seem to be a fairly average timeframe for when we start seeing tiny tracks and spots of white. However, a couple years ago, on a specific trail cam, we regularly saw a doe that was pregnant into July. She was likely younger and probably bred very late in the breeding season. Out of curiosity, I checked the camera often. Finally, about the end of the second week in July, the doe began to emerge with a single fawn.

The gestation period of a whitetail is about six months (approximately 200 days). It stands to reason that depending on the style of the rut and its timing the previous year, there could be a substantial gap between the first and last fawns born. Either way, for fawns, coming into the world early or late, each creates its own set of problems. Often, however, each set of problems end with similar outcomes.

The earlier in the breeding season a doe comes into estrous (usually the more mature does) and is bred, the longer the portion of her gestation will take place during the harshest months of the winter. According to Dr. Aaron Moen, professor of Wildlife Ecology Emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., during the last half of the gestation period, fetal growth occurs rapidly. The result is that the metabolic energy required by a doe also increases dramatically. The more pregnant a doe becomes, the more adequate nutrition she requires. If it’s not available, the health of her fawn(s) may suffer. This negative impact can have a trickle-down effect as fawns grow into adult deer.

Unborn fawns whose mothers not only must endure a harsh winter, but if that winter bleeds into an unseasonably late spring, have a double-whammy stacked against them. As her body begins the lactation process, their mother is even less likely to get the proper nutrition to ensure healthy offspring, which demands a much higher metabolic rate than before.

This is where spring and perennial food plots can have a giant impact on doe and fawn health during the crucial periods of gestation and lactation. Generally speaking, plot forage has a much higher nutritional value than most natural forage available. It’s engineered to provide the specific needs of deer and can lead to a dramatic and positive influence on their well-being.

In a coming issue of Illinois Outdoor News, read more about fawning season, including fawns born late in the year, and the importance of helping bolster fawn recruitment numbers, as well as types of food plots that can make a difference.

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