Smokies Wildlife - White-Tailed Deer


     Shyly they wait among the shadows of the trees, chewing patiently on leaves and tender young buds as they watch with silent eyes. The cars come, long lines curving through the Cades Cove valley, and the deer bound away, swift runners across the wide fields.

     Within the Smokies is found a thriving population of white-tailed deer. Especially visible in the Cades Cove area, this deer is a member of the family Cervidae, and may be recognized by its sleek red-brown coat, enormous brown eyes, and the fluffy while tail that stands up as the deer runs. Found throughout the United States, white-tailed deer are of a smaller size in the southern part of the country. Breeding occurs during the fall, from September to November, and by the springtime one to three young are born. Fawns may be recognized by their white-spotted coats, which disappear by the coming fall. 

     White-tailed deer belong to a special group of mammals known as ruminants, that is, possessing four stomach sections. After food is partially digested in one section, it is returned to the mouth, chewed again (as a cud), then passes to the other stomach sections. Deer feed upon buds, leaves, and twigs of trees and shrubs, particularly those of willow, maple, and birch. Although they are often seen among the cattle on Cades Cove fields, they do not graze along with them.

     The white-tailed deer was an important resource for the survival of the first Smokies pioneers. A source of fresh meat, their venison could also be dried in the sun, "jerked", for eating in the winter ahead. Hides were put to use as clothing, shoe leather, even blankets, and antlers were whittled into knife handles and other tools. Fortunately, the white-tailed deer today is no longer hunted in these mountains, due to its protected status as a resident of the Great Smokies.

~ Elaine Hurst