White-tailed Deer

From Ohio History Central
OHS Om3133 3742243 001.jpg


<col width="30%" /> <col width="70%" />
Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
Habitat: Mixture of forest, brushland, and cropland
Adult Weight: male 130 - 300 lb. female 120 - 150 lb.
Adult Body Length: 60 - 78 inches
Birth Period: mid-May - July
Litters Per Year: 1
Litter Size: 1 in first year
Life Expectancy: fewer than 10% reach 4.5 years
Foods: wild crabapple; corn; sumac leaves, honeysuckle leaves and stems; grasses; greenbrier fruits and leaves; clover leaves; acorns; dogwood fruits; and miscellaneous woody browse


The male deer is called a buck and the female is a doe.

The White-tailed Deer has been extremely important in Ohio's history. The state tree, the Ohio Buckeye, is named so because its nut resembles a deer – or buck's – eye. It is based on the Indian word "hetuck," meaning "eye of the buck."

The slang term "buck", referring to a dollar, dates to pre-settlement time when deerskins (commonly called buckskins) were used to trade and barter for supplies. According to a report in 1779, "A large buckskin is valued at a Spanish dollar; two doeskins are regarded as equal in value to one buckskin."



White-tailed Deer have been in Ohio since the end of the Ice Age, living in the unglaciated portion of southeastern Ohio. The deer played a very important role in the lives of practically all of Ohio's prehistoric cultures. They are found most frequently at the archaeological dig sites of the Late Woodland and Late Prehistoric people. These villages were occupied for longer periods of time and the corn grown by the Late Prehistoric culture attracted the deer. Its meat, hide, bones and antlers were used for food, clothing, tools, and for ceremonial purposes. Bones and antlers made good agricultural tools. Deer antlers sheathed in copper have been found at a prehistoric site and Hopewell shamans have been depicted wearing deer antlers.


The deer populations before 1775 were healthy and stable because of good food and cover. Numbers were kept in control by predators such as the wolf and cougar as well as the American Indians. White-tailed Deer was an important meat source for American Indians. As during prehistoric times natives used deer for many purposes. It was considered a rite of passage when a young American Indian boy killed his first deer.

The first deer a boy shoots proves the occasion of a great solemnity. If it happens to be a buck it is given to some old man; if a doe, to some old woman…. When they [the old man or woman] reach the village, they turn to the east, having the whole or part of the animal on the back, always with the skin, before entering the house and give vent to a prolonged call, which is the old man's or old woman's prayer to the Deity in behalf of the boy, that he may always be a fortunate hunter.

David Zeisberger's History of North American Indians, 1779-80.

Europeans considered the hide to be very valuable. Deerskins were used in barter and trade between the Europeans and Native Americans. The competition for furs was a major factor in the Beaver Wars.


With the change from forest to farm as well as unrestricted hunting caused large numbers of deer to die.

Nineteenth Century

As the population of settlers in Ohio grew, the deer population decreased. Hunting restrictions were established in 1857. However hunting seasons that lasted over a month with no bag limits continued through most of the 1800s. In 1882, A.W. Brayton wrote, "The Virginia Deer is rarely met with in Ohio at present, except as domesticated in parts." There were no hunting seasons between 1897 and 1899.

Twentieth Century

By 1904, White-tailed Deer were extirpated from Ohio. In the 1920s and '30s, a limited restocking program began as well as the natural migration of deer from surrounding states into Ohio. By 1937 they were reported in 28 counties. By 1943, they were recovered [glossary] enough to begin a regulated hunting season, with hunting in all counties by 1956. By 1995, the deer population had reached 550,000. Deer are found in all 88 counties and are kept in control by a regulated deer season. The importance of the deer in Ohio was confirmed in 1988, when it was recognized as the official state animal.

See Also


  1. Hulbert, Archer B., and Schwarze, William N., eds. David Zeisberger's History of the North American Indians. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1910.