One of the most stunning and distinctive deer in the world is the white-tailed deer. Easily noticeable by the white tails that they are named for, white-tailed deer are one of the most common species of deer in the entire United States. Although not as large as some of the other members of the deer family, white-tailed deer are still known for the impressive size that bucks can reach. But just how big can they be? Join us as we discover the largest whitetail deer ever recorded!
Size and Appearance
Also known as Virginia deer, white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are native to North America and large parts of South America. In fact, they are the most common deer in the US, with Texas having one of the largest populations. There are 26 subspecies of white-tailed deer, and 17 of them occur in North America alone. White-tailed deer have also been introduced to Europe, New Zealand, and the Caribbean. They are extremely adaptable and live in a range of forests, grassland, and cropland. White-tailed deer are herbivorous ruminants and spend much of their day foraging for plants, shoots, leaves, and grass.
White-tailed deer are reddish-brown during the spring and summer months but turn greyish brown during the winter. However, they are best distinguished by their tails which have a white underside to them. White-tailed deer tend to raise their tail when they are disturbed, which makes the white underside more noticeable. On the whole, they are medium-sized deer, but their size can vary widely depending on their location. White-tailed deer are generally 37 to 87 inches long, and their tails can be up to 15 inches. Males can weigh anything between 150 and 300 pounds on average, with the largest individuals reaching 500 pounds. Females are typically smaller than males and weigh between 90 and 200 pounds. However, the size of white-tailed deer corresponds with how far from the Equator they are. In general terms, the further away from the Equator, the larger they tend to be.
Like almost all-male deer, male whitetails grow antlers. However, only around one in 10,000 of the females grow them. White-tailed deer grow their antlers in the spring, and the size and growth rate of their antlers is determined by their age and diet. White-tailed deer can have either symmetrical or asymmetrical antlers, with symmetrical antlers being known as a typical antler arrangement. However, antlers that are only slightly asymmetrical can also be described as a typical arrangement.
During rutting season, the males use their antlers to spar and fight with each other when competing for females. The antlers are shed every winter after mating with the females. This is so that the buck can conserve energy and a new set grows each spring. Antlers that have been shed are eaten by birds, rodents, and other carnivores as they are an excellent source of nutrition for them.
The Largest Whitetail Deer ever Recorded
The largest whitetail deer ever recorded was a massive buck that weighed an estimated 540 pounds. This huge male was shot and killed by hunter John Annett in Ontario, Canada in 1977 and is rumored to be the largest white-tail ever seen. This deer broke the previous record, which had been held for 51 years. Incredibly, this massive deer looks to be headed in the same direction as no other white-tail has come close to the same record-breaking size in the 45 years that have passed since.
How do White-Tail Deer Compare?
White-tailed deer are members of the Cervidae family, which includes all true deer. Other members of the family include moose, elk, and caribou. Although white-tailed deer are significantly larger than many other species of deer, they are by no means the largest. Officially, white-tailed deer are ranked seventh in the list of largest existing cervids. Moose are the largest member of the deer family and can reach a maximum of 1,800 pounds with a shoulder height of 7.6 feet. The other deer species which are larger than white-tailed deer are elk, sambar deer, red deer, caribou, and barasinga (swamp deer).
However, the largest known species of deer to ever exist was Cervalces latifrons which lived 1.2 to 0.5 million years ago. This massive species was very similar to the modern moose we see today, and some were believed to reach 8 feet at the shoulder. The average weight was 2,200 pounds, but the largest was around 2,600 pounds, making Cervalces latifrons a similar weight to a modern male American bison, only taller.
Behavior of White-Tail Deer
Following mating during the autumn rutting season, females usually give birth in May or June. Up to three fawns are born, which are extremely distinctive as they are covered with stunning white spots. For the first month of their lives, fawns remain hidden in the safety of vegetation. They are reliant entirely on their mother’s milk during this first month, after which they begin to venture further afield with their mother while foraging. Fawns are usually weaned from around 10 weeks old but remain with their mothers for up to two years afterwards.
Due to heavy predation by humans who regularly hunt them, white-tailed deer are generally a very nervous species. As we’ve already mentioned, they raise their distinctive white tail when they are disturbed. However, this acts as a warning system to other deer about potential dangers. White-tailed deer also use a range of different sounds to communicate. Males in particular, use a unique pattern of grunts, snorts, and wheezes to assert their dominance or to show aggression to others.
White-tailed deer are one of the fastest species of deer in the world and can reach speeds of up to 30mph. Incredibly, they can also jump up to 10 feet high and as far as 30 feet in one leap too! Their speed and ability to jump generally means that they can outrun most of their predators. The natural predators of white-tailed deer include wolves, mountain lions, alligators, bobcats, coyotes, and bears. However, most of these predators prey mainly on the very young, ill, or old.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.