The Columbian Black-tailed deer ((Odocoileus hemionug columbianus) is one of three closely related subspecies of deer in British Columbia most closely resembling the larger mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus). They are considered one of the highest prized deer in hunting since they are usually an animal that seeks cover. They are often seen in coastal areas around Vancouver Island and some have become quite used to people, so it is very likely you will see them while staying here. Hunting is a different story. Most Blacktail prefer cover and will more likely come out of cover when it is raining or at night time.
Black-tailed deer do not move in large groups like some other deer, though can be seen together feeding around clearcuts and cleared areas and they will hang around others of the same sex. Does will often stay within a small group of other does she is related to. The alpha doe is usually the older mother and the first one to breed. Young bucks will seek out the company of other bucks and they must establish their status through sparring. The Columbian Blacktails are largest around late November during time of rut (mating) and they lose up to 25% of their weight over the winter time. By January they shed their antlers and grow them back during summer months. Their coat changes from a reddish brown during the summer to a greyish color in the winter months.
Mating and life cycle
Vancouver Island blacktails mate from November to December. If a doe is not bred she will go through additional estrus cycles (about a day) which are about 25 days apart. Bucks may follow a doe for 2-3 days before mating and 3-4 after mating. While following the doe around before mating they often follow keeping their head down and displaying the dew claws. Bucks can be seen running in the pursuit of does across road ways and open places. The bucks tend to hide and rest after the rut often nursing wounds. They can suffer broken antlers and will have lost weight since their focus is on mating and not eating. During the month bucks may mate with 3-4 does.
Fawns are born about late May to mid-June usually weighing from 2.7 to 4 kilograms (6.0 to 8.8 lb) and often walking with a few hours.. Does usually give birth to 1-2 babies. Fawns will stay with the mother for the first year. When babies are born they lack scent which enables them to hide from predators. Most of the time is spent curled up on the forest floor sleeping. Fawns can walk when they are just a few hours old. Mild winters during the past few decades have increased survival rate of fawns in their first year. Fawns have brown and white spotted coats until the first winter when the spots disappear. Many does will become pregnant when they are about 1.5 years old and the majority will be pregnant by the 2.5 year mark.The life cycle of a blacktail is 9-10 years in the wild and 17-20 years in captivity. Bucks will most likely live between 3-6 years since they are the target of hunters every fall.
Black-tailed deer belong to the cervidae family which has five distinguishable features. They have four-toed feet which included two even toed hooves and two dew claws. Only males have antlers and the dew claws will show at certain times. They also have a lachrymal depression in front of each eye and 32 teeth. Black-tailed deer lack top incisor teeth and must grip the vegetation to tear it. Other animals with incisor teeth will neatly cut of the plant tip.
Since black-tailed deer are ruminants they have a four-chambered stomach, chew cud and regurgitate food more than once before finally swallowing it. Deer scat is an oval pellet with dimple on one end and the point on the other end. Their ears can move independently of each other and often serve as a way to warn other deer of impending danger. The heart-shaped prints of deer are easy to identify and the pointed end of the print indicates the direction of travel. When deer are walking you can tell whether it was a buck or a doe since males tend to have wider shoulders and the hind tracks will be on the inside. The doe’s has wider hips which cause the hind tracks to land on the outside. When deer are running they mark differently.
Deer have excellent sight and smell. They communicate through sight, ear movements and the smell of scent and pheromones from several glands located on the lower legs. The metatarsal outside of lower leg lets off an alarm scent and the tarsal inside of hock is used for mutual recognition. The interdigital between the toes leave a scent trail when deer travel. This also makes it easier for predators such as bears, cougars and wolfs to follow them.
Black-tailed deer are roamers though usually stay within a territory. During the winter and early spring, they feed on young maple shoots, new growth on cedar trees and Douglas fir, huckleberry bushes, grasses, blackberries, blueberries, apples, salmon berries, salal, deer fern, and lichens growing on trees.